Magic’s Up & Down 1st Half of ’15-’16

Coach Skiles has this young team headed in the right direction, UP. Photo Credit: Orlando Magic.com

The Orlando Magic finished the first half of their season Wednesday night with a record of 20-21 after a 96-87 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at Amway Center. While the All-Star break on February 12-14 is the NBA’s official mark to the end of the first half of the season, Orlando has already completed the first half of the 82 game schedule.

This season has already been filled with a handful of ups and down. Win 6 of 7, then lose 8 of 9. There has been a max win streak of 5 games, and two 4 game losing streaks. With a young team—Orlando is the 5th youngest in the league with an average age of 24.9—you have to expect several growing pains. But, there have been more positives than negatives. 

For perspective, the Magic didn’t win their 20th game last season until game 63 on March 6th, 2015. They finished the season with 25 wins. Check this out from the last 3 seasons:

  • 2014-15: 20th win came in game 63 on 3/6/15, and they were 14-27 after 41.
  • 2013-14: 20th win came in game 72 on 3/25/14, and they were 11-30 after 41.
  • 2012-13: 20th win came in game 79 on 4/10/13, and they were 14-27 after the first 41.

Matter of fact, they haven’t won 20 or more games this early since the lockout shortened season of 2011-2012 when they went 37-29 the last season Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard were in the Magic Kingdom. After that season, Coach Van Gundy was fired, Dwight was traded, and the rebuilding process began.

The Magic are on pace to win 40 games, a mark the franchise hasn’t reached or passed since the 2010-2011 group that won 52 games. Currently this team sits one game out of the 8th and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. If they make the playoffs, they would avoid tying the longest playoff drought in franchise history from 1989 to 1993, which was their first 4 seasons in the NBA.

Their December record of 10-5 was good enough to earn 1st-year Magic Head Coach Scott Skiles the honor of Eastern Conference Coach of the Month. At the end of November on the 25th, they started a 5-game winning streak, their longest of the season thus far, that ended on December 5th.

Nik Vucevic is the budding All-Star at the forefront of the Orlando rebuild. Photo Credit: Orlando Magic.com

Fans of the NBA outside of central Florida may be wondering who is their star. The last time Orlando had success, they were anchored by a budding superstar in Howard, and he was a known commodity before the three Defensive Player of the Year awards, Dunk Contest Championship, playoffs and NBA Finals appearance. He had become a marketing magnet that even the casual NBA fan knew about.

Ironically or not, the face of this rise in the Magic Kingdom is another big man, the one in which Orlando got in exchange for Howard, Nik Vucevic.

“Vooch”, as he’s known by his teammates and Magic fans, scores 16.8 points a game while shooting 51.5% from the field and pulls down 8.5 rebounds a game. He is a double-double machine. This season he already has 17. Last season he finished the season with 45, which was good enough for 5th in the Association, and in 2013-2014, he had 36 in the 57 games he played. He was 3rd in the NBA during the 2012-2013 season with 46 out of 77 games in his first season in Orlando.

“Vooch” is surrounded by versatile players who can either knock down threes in the case of Evan Fournier (13.6 ppg, 37.9% 3PT) and Channing Frye (40.7% 3PT) or slashing playmakers in Tobias Harris (13.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.2 apg), Elfrid Payton (11.2 ppg,5.2 apg), Victor Oladipo (13.5 ppg, 4.9rpg, 4.0 apg) and Aaron Gordon (7.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 48.6% FG). This group is loaded with long, athletic talent. They could be this season’s Milwaukee Bucks.

Payton sets the table for this young talented team. Photo Credit: Orlando Magic.com

Unlike many young teams, they have shown no signs of selfishness. The Magic are 9th in assists per game at 22.5, and have 5 guys averaging double figures with Vucevic being the leading scorer.

Expectantly, under the defensive minded Skiles, the defense is drastically improved. The Magic are 7th in the Association in opponents points per game at 98.7 and 11th in forcing turnovers at 15.1 a night. They’re also holding their opponents to 44.2% shooting from the field and 34.% from 3 point range which both are good for 12th in the NBA.

Unfortunately right now they’re in one of those down periods. Since the calendar turned to 2016, they are 1-8, and in the midst of their second 4 game losing streak of the season. This is the first time they’ve been under .500 since November 25th when they were 7-8. In the month of January, they’re only averaging 88.7 points per game, which is down from 100.1 ppg in December, 100.6 in November when their record was 19-11 in that 30 game span.

Like most inexperienced teams, they have a losing record on the road at 8-11, and of their 21 losses, 7 (Washington (4), Phoenix, Sacramento & Philadelphia) have come to teams with worse records than them.

If this team is going to make the playoffs, possibly before, or at the trade deadline on February 15th, they will need to add a veteran to help this young unit become more consistent and climb higher in the Eastern Conference seedings. Adding key veterans from 2006-2009 like Tony Battie, Adonal Foyle, Anthony Johnson and Ty Lue helped this team make the postseason six consecutive seasons. And fans in central Florida may remember, the 2008-09 Magic that made the NBA Finals, added established veterans like Rafer “Skip to my Lou” Alston mid-season, along with the aforementioned vets to mix with the young talent in Howard, Jameer Nelson, Courtney Lee and J.J. Redick to help aid their growth.

I’m not saying this team is ready to compete for an NBA title, but so far the rebuilding process that started three seasons ago is working. The playoffs are in clear sight, and General Manager Rob Hennigan should do whatever is necessary to see that the fans in central Florida get a chance to witness postseason basketball A.S.A.P. It’s time to reward their patience.

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