Tag Archives: Scott Skiles

Magic Need to Get Older to Make the Playoffs 

The Magic are in need of a shake up, having lost their last 7 games and 1-9 in the last 10.

The Orlando Magic are 20-24 and in the midst of a 7 game losing streak, having only won 1 game in their last 10. Their once realistic playoff dreams are quickly turning into a nightmare. General manager Rob Hennigan and head coach Scott Skiles need to do something drastic before the February trade deadline in order to stop this downfall and save the season. My solution… trade for a veteran.

It’s difficult to say a NBA team that’s average age is 24.9—5th in the league—should give up some of it’s young talent to get older, but they NEED to. This team’s inexperience has shown by blowing big 4th quarter leads and losing several games by one possession. They’re also 1-6 in overtime games. The losses are of the variety that don’t happen with experienced teams.

While youth and athleticism is a premium in the Association, and growing pains are part of the deal, that doesn’t mean it needs to serve your purpose on the court, but rather in acquiring other better fits. Now is the time to use the pieces they have to turn this once playoff bound team from a couple of weeks ago, that is now lottery bound, back into a playoff contender.

You don’t need to make a splash that’s going to win national headlines, and cause breaking news alerts or break the internet. Making a move for a franchise player is not the move I’m calling for, more like a vet that is playing out the end of a contract on a team that he’s likely not to resign with, or a strong role player with five or more years of experience. Three names come to mind,  and two are former Magic players.

First, power forward Ryan Anderson of the New Orleans Pelicans. He’s averaging 17.4 points per game and grabbing 6.1 rebounds with a PER of 17.6. Anderson was a fan favorite during his time in central Florida and blossomed playing the stretch 4 next to Dwight Howard.

Anderson blossomed in his three season in Orlando. He could be the missing piece for this squad.

Since he left the Magic his game has gone to another level playing next to another talented big man in Anthony Davis. Lately, he’s been showing the ability to also score tough baskets on the block as evident by his career high 36 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists performance Thursday night against the Sacramento Kings with Davis out of the lineup.

He could do the same playing with Nik Vucevic in place of Channing Frye who’s only giving Orlando 5.5 points a game to go along with 3.2 rebounds. Anderson could also anchor the second unit when Coach Skiles mixes in the rotation players.

The second name that comes to mind is Courtney Lee of the Memphis Grizzlies. Lee was a rookie starter on the Magic team that made the 2009 NBA Finals in his only season in Orlando. Lee has gained valuable big game experience in his time in Memphis, Boston and Houston.

 While he averages only 10.2 points a game on 45.3% shooting from the floor and 35.2% from 3-point range, he has made several clutch shots playing off All-Stars Marc Gasol and Zachary Randolph. Lee’s value is greater on the defensive end where the Magic struggle late in games.

The last name is power forward Danilo Gallinari of the Denver Nuggets. The 27-year-old is averaging 19.4 points, 5.7 rebounds per game with a PER of 19.8. While he still has 3 years left on his deal, he like Anderson are versatile stretch 4’s that while compliment Vucevic, the main piece in Orlando.

 

Mixing an older guy with this young talent isn’t a fresh idea to Magic management. In the offseason they tried to remedy this problem when they extended a max offer to the Atlanta Hawks All-Star Paul Milsap—another versatile 4-man, sensing a theme?—during the summer. So I’m not telling them anything new, only now it’s a red alert, or this team will tie the longest playoff drought in franchise history (1989-1992).

Gallinari has the versatility to compliment the Magic’s key player, Nik Vucevic.

Currently the Magic are 12th in the conference and sit 3 games out of the 8th seed in the East playoffs. While 20 wins at this point in the season is an overachievement when you look at the past three seasons. But they’re so close to the playoffs that something has to be done. In my opinion, everyone on the current roster should be on the trading block except Nik Vucevic.

 

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.

5 takeaways From the Magic’s 1st Win of ’15

A matchup of 0-3 teams is not usually tantalizing to hoop fans, but the game between the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Pelicans was. With New Orleans, you have a top three player in the Association in Anthony Davis who is making his case to be number one. For Orlando, a stable of young, athletic talent looking to take the next step in their development and earn a playoff spot for the first time in three seasons. The Magic got the better of it, with a 103-94 win for their first W of 2015.

Here are 5 key takeaways from Tuesday night’s victory:

1. The Magic can dominate the paint, even when they’re playing against one of the league’s best big men.

Coming into Tuesday’s game, Orlando averaged 48 points a game inside. Against New Orleans, they got 56, 10 of those on fast breaks, created by 14 Pelican turnovers. Nikola Vucevic got the better of the big man matchup with Davis (14 its, 9 rebs.) He scored 22 points on 10/21 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds for his 2nd consecutive double-double.

2. The Magic have several scoring options.

Fournier scored a career high 30 points vs. New Orleans. Photo Credit: @OrlandoMagic/Twitter.com

 They’ve had 3 different leading scorers in their 4 games. Victor Oladipo had 17 game one against the Washington Wizards, Tobias Harris with 30 in the game two double overtime thriller versus the OKC Thunder, and Evan Fournier has led the team twice. 19 against the Chicago Bulls and a career high 30 on 12/20 shooting, 4/9 from 3 point land versus the Pelicans.Head coach Scott Skiles’ squad also produced 22 points off the bench. That helped them hit their season average of 103 points per game.

3. They still commit too many turnovers.

The Magic handed New Orleans the ball 18 times on the night, 12 times in the first half alone. On the season they’re averaging 17 a game. But, I guess that’s to be expected from a young team. The positive is that they cut out those mistakes in the second half, allowing them to escape the 504 with the W.

4. Dwayne Dedmon and Aaron Gordon need more playing time.

The Magic were +10 in the 12 minutes he played. Against New Orleans he had 6 points, 4 rebounds, a block and changed several other shots at the rim. I sincerely believe Dedmon can be groomed into a Tyson Chandler/DeAndre Jordan type of player. A hustle & heart player who can clean the offensive and defensive glass, hold his ground in the post on defense, block and change shots and get easy dunks on the offensive end. Let me make this clear, he’s nowhere near that yet. But, remember what they were at this stage of their career.

Orlando was also +3 in Gordon’s 4:28 minutes of action. In the first two games of the season he was seeing key minutes and was very active on both the offensive and defensive backboards, while contributing effectively on the offensive end. On the season he’s averaging 10.3 ppg and grabbing 5.7 rpg in 19.7 minutes.

5. The Magic have had double-digit leads in three of their first four games.

On Tuesday, Orlando led by as many as 18 points, and 17 at the half. But, they allowed New Orleans to cut it to 6 midway through the 3rd, and led by only 9 going into the fourth.

The positive, unlike against Washington and OKC, every time the Pelicans cut the lead to single digits, the Magic pushed the lead back to double digits before winning by 9. They’ve clearly learned from the mistakes made in those first two games.

Next up for Orlando, James Harden, former Magic superstar Dwight Howard and the 1-3 Houston Rockets, Wednesday night in Southeast Texas.

5 Takeaways From Magic vs. Bulls 

The Orlando Magic fell to the Chicago Bulls Sunday night 87-92. All of their losses are by an average of 3 points. Even though they’re 0-3, this team is right there. Here are my takeaways from Sunday’s game.

1. The double overtime thriller against the Oklahoma City Thunder may be worth two losses for the Magic. The heavy minutes, combined with the travel to the Windy City, showed as the team looked more and more sluggish as the game wore on. After scoring 26 points in the first quarter, they were only able to muster 14 in the second quarter which led to a 14 point halftime deficit. The shooting was atrocious, as they hit only 38.9% of their field goals, 30.4% from three and an abysmal 58.8% (10-17) from the free throw line; Chicago made 19 of their 22 freebies for 86.4%. You could say the game was lost at the charity stripe.

Vucevic has turned himself into one of the NBA’s best bigs. Photo Credit: @OrlandoMagic/Twitter.com

 
2. Nikola Vucevic is now one of the premier bigs in the NBA. He can score at will from either block and elbow against anyone. While he only scored 15 points in 34 minutes, he went at future Hall of Famer Pau Gasol with a foray of offensive moves. He also pulled down 11 rebounds, 3 on the offensive end.

3. Aaron Gordon needs more minutes, especially with the first unit guys. He’s active on both the offensive and defensive boards (7 rebounds vs. Chicago), blocking shots (2 vs. Chicago), he’s hitting perimeter shots to stretch the defense, and he’s another ball handler who can make plays for others.

In the first quarter he grabbed a defensive rebound and pushed it up the court for a lay-up when no Bulls defender stepped up to stop him. His activity through these first three games has been key in sparking the second unit. A lineup of Elfrid Payton, Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo plus Gordon make up a quick, versatile unit that is difficult for many teams to matchup with. Especially on the defensive end where their athleticism would allow them to switch seamlessly.

4. Head coach Scott Skiles isn’t married to a particular rotation and is willing to adjust on the fly. Against the Bulls he played twelve guys, two of them for the first time this season (Channing Frye & Andrew Nicholson.) Sunday night in the third quarter he trotted out the biggest lineup we’ve seen in this young season. Vucevic at center, Jason Smith at power forward and Gordon at small forward.

Skiles even switched up his back-court rotation, going with Shabazz Napier—who played only 30 seconds this season, before Sunday night—as his first point guard off the bench to replace Payton. In the first two games, C.J. Watson was his first choice. We also saw less of rookie Mario Hezonja. Hezonja had played 25:16 and 14:16 minutes per game in the first two; only 5 minutes Sunday night.

5. This team will never quit. While they had the lead for most of their first two games against the Washington Wizards and OKC, when the going got tough they did not fold. Down 17 points in the 4th quarter to the Bulls, the Blue & White went on a 14-0 run to cut the lead to 82-83 with a little over 4 minutes remaining. The only starter on the floor during the run, Victor Oladipo. They outscored Chicago 47-38 in the second half, 24-17 in the fourth.

I’ve said it before, this team will make the playoffs. For now, disregard the 0-3 record and just look at the quality of teams they’ve faced. 2 teams that made it to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2014 and a team that very well could’ve competed for a NBA Championship had it not been stricken with the injury bug. The schedule makers have done no favors for the young Magic, and it won’t get easier over the next three games; at Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans, at James Harden and Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets before returning to central Florida to face the Toronto Raptors. It’s a tough road to haul, but these are the games that will build the character they’ll need to finish 2015-2016 with a playoff trip.

The Much Improved Orlando Magic

The 2015-2016 Orlando Magic will make the postseason! You can book it, guarantee it, bet on it, whatever.

The young Magic are poised to bring playoff basketball back to Central Florida. Photo Credit: @OrlandoMagic/Twitter.com

Yes, I’m aware we are only two games into the season. You’re correct, they lost them both. And, I know they haven’t made the playoffs since the 2010-2011 season. I’m well aware that they’ve had 3 consecutive 50+ loss seasons (62 losses in 2012-2013.) All those are very important points. But, I trust my eyes, and after watching this team struggle the last three years of the post-Dwight era with a lack of talent, then a lack of chemistry and confidence, I now see they’ve reached a breakthrough point.

Friday night this team went toe to toe with the last two NBA scoring champs, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and the team many “experts” have picked to represent the Western Conference in the 2016 NBA Finals. Even though they lost 139-136 in double overtime, It’s very likely that last season’s team, or the last three for that matter, wouldn’t have even been in the game to force overtime to begin with.

Victor Oladipo registered a triple double, 21 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. Photo Credit: @OrlandoMagic/Twitter.com

6 players reached double figures—in regulation—for the Blue & White. 4 had 20+, with Tobias Harris leading the way with 30. The Magic have shown—through two games—they can get easy buckets inside by playing through center Nik Vucevic, who made his first 9 shots and finished 10-14. Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris continue to slash defenses for lay-ups and mid-range jumpers. This team can also stroke the three ball with Evan Fournier, Channing Frye and rookie Mario Hezonja.

Coach Scott Skiles has them playing with the tenacity and hustle that he was known for during his 10 year playing career. There was no slouching  when the Thunder cut their 18 point 4th quarter lead to force overtime. Then, they kept fighting in the first OT down five points with no made field goals before Victor Oladipo tied the game with a three at the buzzer.

Defensively they are a better team. They forced the Thunder into 20 turnovers and the Washington Wizards into 17 on opening night.

The Magic’s biggest weakness right now is defensive rebounding. Oklahoma City beat them up on the glass 62-49. Against both OKC and Washington they had significant 4th quarter leads before ultimately losing in the last moments. Learning to hang on to them will come with experience as they’re in more close games. That wasn’t the case in season’s past because they were getting blown out.

Again, I know it’s only two games, but something is different with this team. You can’t tell me you don’t see it. Maybe, just maybe, this Orlando team will be this season’s Milwaukee Bucks of a season ago or the Boston Celtics, and bring playoff basketball back to the Magic Kingdom. The schedule doesn’t get any easier. Next up for the Magic, at trip to the Windy City to face Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls. Orlando’s next four games are against playoffs teams from last season.