May 18, 2018, 2:43 pm
Remember when the Magic were 8-4 out of nowhere and everything seemed like it was looking up? And then remember when the Magic won eight of their next 40 games? Most Magic fans probably prefer not to remember anything and move past yet another disappointing season with no playoffs and what seems like no plan. This is now six years in a row without a postseason berth. It’s hard to conjure the silver lining from this angle but we’d be remiss if we didn’t try.
Things that went well for the Magic this year:
- Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier had career years.
- Nikola Vucevic found a 3-point stroke.
- Some low-end signings like Khem Birch and Jonathon Simmons panned out to be decent role players.
Things that didn’t go well for the Magic this year: Everything else. The aforementioned career years for Gordon and Fournier were curtailed by injury. The strong season from Vucevic with the new jump shot range was also curtailed by injury. The Bismack Biyombo experiment was curtailed by his incompetence. The Elfrid Payton experiment was curtailed by his unwillingness to abide by the Frank Vogel hair care program (which involves aggressive hair loss primarily due to stress. Evan Fournier certainly bought in.).
This was the first full season of a new front office with president Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond after the team tread water under Rob Hennigan in the aftermath of the Dwight Howard saga. Hammond put his first fingerprints on the roster with the selection of Jonathan Isaac with the sixth pick of the 2017 draft. The free agency period that followed was unspectacular but not crippling like past offseasons. The magical start to the season was unlikely to last and the injuries ravaging the team at midseason, mainly to Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic, were death blows to the team’s chances to be a first-round exit in the playoffs. With the team fading away, they traded starting point guard Elfrid Payton to the Suns for a second-round pick in the upcoming draft. It seemed like a weak return for a former lottery pick at the time but it’s clear that Payton wasn’t in the long-term vision for this group and getting some return for their asset was imperative. With a final record of 25-57 and just small victories overshadowed by yet another failure in the bigger picture, it was time for another reboot and some fresh faces. Frank Vogel is gone, joining the fans’ patience that left years before him.
After two years at the helm with a pretty shocking roster, Frank Vogel was let go as the Magic choose to inject a new voice onto the bench. As of now, their search rages on. Vogel’s dismissal ended up being very divisive among fans and analysts alike. On one hand, getting only two years with this group is a tough sell. Vogel took over in May of 2016, just a month before the Magic moved Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and a first round pick (Domantas Sabonis) for Serge Ibaka. Obviously, that move backfired for them and Ibaka was moved out shortly thereafter. It hasn’t exactly been a roster dripping with talent, especially with Oladipo now a true star with the Pacers organization where Vogel made his name. Vogel’s coaching success came with a Pacers team that really thrived in a defensive, bruising system with strong wing defenders and good paint patrol. With Oladipo out of town and Serge Ibaka a shell of the shot-blocker he was early in his career, Vogel got neither. Instead, he had to rethink his strategy and adapt his style to fit the personnel. This Magic roster is built around Aaron Gordon and the new front office is focused on making this team more adaptive to the modern NBA.
With that noted, this firing is indicative of Hammond wanting to choose a coach for his regime that fits his vision. Vogel just wasn’t that guy to no real fault of his own. It would be surprising to not see him in some sort of coaching role in 2018-19. For Orlando’s purposes, they will have to find someone who fits the modern mold of a smaller and quicker NBA as they push forward into whatever their future holds in the Aaron Gordon era.
ADP: 59/53 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 60/57 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 33/28 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 57
2017-2018: 29.5 MPG, 16.4 PTS, 1.1 3PM, 9.2 REB, 3.3 AST, 0.9 STL, 1.1 BLK, 1.9 TO, 0.475 FG%, 0.819 FT%
Aaron Gordon might be the sexy name on this roster but for fantasy purposes, Nikola Vucevic is the star. Vucevic is just good. It’s not always exciting and he gets forgotten sometimes but he has made strides consistently to become better. This season, he officially added the 3-pointer to his game while improving his free throw percentage by a whopping 15%. It’s rare to find a center who isn’t a drain on either 3-pointers or free throw percentage (oftentimes both) and Vuc is just that. Of course it was never going to be rosy, as he broke a bone in his hand that forced him to miss 23 games in a row. It was an unlucky turn for the squad and foiled a special fantasy campaign. Additionally, that loss put the nail into the coffin of the dying season as the parade to the injured list continued the rest of the way. No doubt that the battle for lottery odds swayed some of those inactives across the roster, but missed games are missed games.
The Magic have two options with Vucevic this upcoming year. He has been with this club longer than anyone else on the roster and frankly, deserves better than to toil in obscurity in his prime. As a pending free agent in summer 2019, management could choose to trade him for a sizable haul this summer or at some point during the season as a rental. At the same time, that leaves the Magic with Bismack Biyombo as the probable starter, which scares no one. Vuc doesn’t necessarily fit the bill of a modern-day center. Finding 3-point range helps him and he is serviceable on both ends, but the traditional seven-footer who can play with his back to the basket is a dying breed and there’s no guarantee Vuc will be able to keep pace and be highly productive in an up-tempo league. Still, size is a commodity and he figures to be underrated yet again especially if he holds down his position on this team so he should be a prime target for quiet value at the center position.
ADP: 87/90 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 114/118 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 65/64 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 58
2017-2018: 32.9 MPG, 17.6 PTS, 1.9 3PM, 7.8 REB, 2.3 AST, 1 STL, 0.7 BLK, 1.8 TO, 0.433 FG%, 0.697 FT%
Everything this franchise wants to do hinges on the impending contract decision on Aaron Gordon. As a 22-year-old restricted free agent coming off a career season in the current NBA landscape it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Gordon doesn’t receive at least close to a max offer from either the Magic or another team, which the Magic match to keep their franchise cornerstone around. It should be an easy decision for this squad bereft of elite young talent but the injury concerns that crept up must be considered. Gordon suffered at least two concussions during the season in addition to other nagging injuries to his hip and calf that limited him. Concussions are very unpredictable and multiple documented concussions have a significant chance to elevate the risk of further issues in the future.
Let’s assume a few things. Gordon receives a huge raise and stays with the Magic. He plays 75 games in 2018-19. He works on his shooting and makes strides with his efficiency from the floor and the free throw line. At that point, Gordon is easily a top-40 option in all formats and well on his way to fantasy and NBA superstardom. At the ripe age of 23, he has plenty of time to grow into a true star and be in the conversation with the special players of the new guard.
ADP: 86/85 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 125/120 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 70/67 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 57
2017-2018: 32.2 MPG, 17.8 PTS, 2.2 3PM, 3.1 REB, 2.8 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.2 BLK, 0.458 FG%, 0.867 FT%
Fournier was well on his way to a career season before a sprained left knee knocked him out of the last 17 games of the year. He posted career-high averages in scoring, 3-pointers made, rebounds and free-throw percentage. Even more impressively, he didn’t show a dramatic drop-off in shooting percentage despite taking another career-high 14.1 field goal attempts per contest.
The five-year commitment the Magic made in 2016 indicated that they were interested in building this team with Fournier as a linchpin. Obviously, the attractiveness of this market for free agents played a role there and the front office had to hold onto the pieces that were accessible. Even though Fournier has led the team in scoring for the last three seasons and has easily been their most consistent player while he’s on the court (which admittedly has not been often enough), it’s very possible that this leadership group may look to move on to clear up cap room and start over again. A trade might be good for Fournier’s hair situation too. At least with Frank Vogel gone he may no longer subscribe to the Vogel hair care regimen.
ADP: N/A/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 134/149 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 165/175 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 75
2017-2018: 23.4 MPG, 10.2 PTS, 1.5 3PM, 2.1 REB, 3.8 AST, 0.7 STL, 0.0 BLK, 1.7 TO, 0.452 FG%, 0.867 FT%
It was a really nice comeback season for Augustin in 2017-18 after a dismal debut season in Orlando primarily as a backup to Elfrid Payton. With Payton missing time this season with injury and ultimately being traded at the deadline, Augustin was called upon to start at various points and was the primary starter and ballhandler to close the year. All things considered, it went well when nothing else did. He and fellow point guard Shelvin Mack basically split minutes down the middle. Augustin was the more productive on account of his solid 45.2% shooting (an eight percent jump from last season) and the highest 3-point percentage (41.9%) since his rookie season all the way back in 2008.
Augustin is a nice player, a journeyman who has played for eight teams so far in his 10-year career. He will stick around on this team after doing an admirable job in an unenviable position. However, it seems very plausible the Magic spend the sixth overall pick on a point guard in the vein of Trae Young or Colin Sexton, who will expect to see enough minutes to make Augustin and Mack both volatile assets for fantasy purposes. In all likelihood, Augustin shepherds in the rookie and then steps back to maintain a steady role as an 18-to-20 minute reserve who leads the second unit and pitches in as an assist specialist.
ADP: N/A/138 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 156/183 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 158/207 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 69
2017-2018: 29.4 MPG, 13.9 PTS, 1 3PM, 3.4 REB, 2.4 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.2 BLK, 2.1 TO, 0.465 FG%, 0.767 FT%
Jonathon Simmons was a sneaky signing by new GM John Hammond last summer. After a very impressive postseason for the Spurs in 2017 for Spurs reasons, Simmons found himself an attractive asset. A fairly affordable deal for an NBA-caliber wing is one of the lesser concerns for this squad right now.
From a fantasy angle, Simmons was fine in spurts as a late-round guy especially in 8-category formats (We could have done without the 2.5 turnovers per game.) and figures to be a rotation piece for this squad next year, especially if some of these wing pieces move on to greener pastures. He did miss time with at thumb injury and struggled at points during the season but in general it’s hard to complain about Simmons’ play in his first season as a full-time player. If anything, there’s some indication that this new regime is more meticulous with talent identification than the last. We’ll have to wait and see what his role is after the pieces fall into place over the summer but for now he’s an uninspiring streaming option.
ADP: N/A/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 133/126 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 163/147 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 75
2017-2018: 22 MPG, 9.6 PTS, 1.2 3PM, 3.7 REB, 1.4 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.4 BLK, 1.2 TO, 0.443 FG%, 0.819 FT%
At long last, we finally got to see a glimpse into Hezonja’s potential as a fantasy producer. The last two months of the year were very kind to him as a top-75 player in 9-category formats. Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon missed much of the second half of the year and Hezonja capitalized. Still, there is some mirage in this breakout as Hezonja’s 1.1 steals per game (1.6 per game in the last two-months) was by far a career-high. Of course, jumping almost 240 spots in per-game ranking for 9-category scoring was due to far more than just this steals bump as he was better in every fantasy category sans turnovers, which was just a function of having more responsibility and playing the most minutes since his rookie season.
Hezonja is an unrestricted free agent this summer and considering that his current skillset pigeonholes him into a small-ball four instead of the shooting wing he was drafted to be, it’s very unlikely he will be the first priority for the Magic because they already have Jonathan Isaac in place and plan to build this team around Aaron Gordon. Plus they declined his option early in the year. One wonders what might’ve happened if they delayed that decision until after he got the chance to shine. Another team will offer Hezonja more money and more term than the Magic are likely to do, so it’ll be interesting to see where he lands and whether he will see enough time to realize his potential and become a consistent fantasy option.
ADP: 140/140 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 325/313 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 193/178 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 27
2017-2018: 19.8 MPG, 5.3 PTS, 0.5 3PM, 3.6 REB, 0.6 AST, 1.2 STL, 1.0 BLK, 1.0 TO, 0.381 FG%, 0.760 FT%
Any semblance of progress for this roster will require the development of their first-round pick in 2017, Jonathan Isaac. He’s a tantalizing talent with all the tools to be a great NBA player. He has the length of a center with the mobility of a shooting guard and is some offensive development and physical growth away from being an Aaron Gordon clone. Here’s the issue: The Magic have an Aaron Gordon clone. It’s Aaron Gordon. Isaac and Gordon are both tantalizing players from an NBA level, but it’s not about putting together a bunch of superb athletes who can defend all five positions for 94 feet and become a headache. At this point, Isaac is a small-ball power forward, like Gordon. His shooting is suspect, like Gordon’s was. His offensive game is unpolished, like Gordon’s was. Gordon has had time to hone his game at the NBA level and Isaac just has catching up to do to get to that level.
The hope is that Isaac puts in time in the weight room, gets stronger and really works on his shooting. If he can add a consistent 3-pointer to his arsenal, there’s a chance he and Gordon can play off each other and wreak havoc on opposing wings at least on the defensive end. (Editor’s Note: Those per-minute defensive stats are rather attractive.) After being limited to just 27 games with a nagging right ankle sprain as a rookie, Isaac will have to earn minutes behind a somewhat crowded frontcourt. The talent should shine through because of the lack of quality on this team but it isn’t a foregone conclusion.
ADP: N/A/141 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 185/178 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 252/258 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 82
2017-2018: 18.2 MPG, 5.7 PTS, 0 3PM, 5.7 REB, 0.8 AST, 0.2 STL, 1.1 BLK, 1.0 TO, 0.522 FG%, 0.649 FT%
Sometimes the best ability is availability. Unfortunately, that’s Biyombo’s only ability. The Magic shelled out a ridiculous four-year deal to a feel-good story from one season in Toronto. Well, it was year two in Orlando and he had another disappointing campaign in blue. There was a jolt of life in his game with Nikola Vucevic shelved but it’s safe to say this fit just isn’t working out. Unfortunately for the team, it’ll continue not working out to the tune of $17 million dollars a year for one more season plus a player option that Biyombo would be dumb not to take (What is this contract?). This is an essentially immovable drain on any flexibility the Magic have financially and if they’re lucky they might be able to pay a team to take the contract in year four.
Until then, it’s hard to expect much more than a blocks specialist who doesn’t miss (or take) many shots. If Vucevic is moved for rebuilding purposes to another team and Biyombo actually gets a minute bump, it’s not inconceivable that he’s a late-round asset and slightly more than generally irrelevant for standard leagues.
ADP: 140/143 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 337/336 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 196/199 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 24
2017-2018: 25 MPG, 8.7 PTS, 1.2 3PM, 3 REB, 1.5 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.5 BLK, 1.2 TO, 0.397 FG%, 0.750 FT%
The centerpiece of the Serge Ibaka trade only made 24 appearances this season and joined most of this squad in fantasy irrelevance. It was an unfortunate year for Ross as he came into the year nursing a hamstring issue, got off to a slow start and then missed a huge chunk of time (56 straight games) with a sprained MCL in his right knee and a non-displaced fracture in his right leg. This spelled doom for his season after a promising start to his Magic career in 2016-17, though he was at least able to get a couple games at the end of the season after it was thought he wouldn’t return at all.
With Mario Hezonja a candidate to sign elsewhere as a free agent after a pseudo-breakout, it seems very likely that Ross will retake his role as a backcourt starter in 2018 as the roster currently stands. He isn’t an enviable fantasy asset but starter volume could put him on the periphery of top-100 production as he was in his last healthy season.
ADP: N/A/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 222/234 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 250/271 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 69
2017-2018: 19.7 MPG, 6.8 PTS, 0.6 3PM, 2.4 REB, 3.9 AST, 0.7 STL, 0.1 BLK, 1.3 TO, 0.429 FG%, 0.711 FT%
D.J. Augustin got marginally more playing time and outproduced his co-point guard significantly, but Shelvin Mack played a nice role as a reliable option for the second unit. That didn’t translate to fantasy production across the board yet somehow Mack’s whopping 3.9 assists per game were enough to lead the team (Elfrid Payton would have been the team leader at a 6.2 assist clip had he not been traded.).
Here’s the reality: Mack is fine as an NBA player and can be a middling backup in this league. He’s a smart player who doesn’t make a ton of mistakes and is a respected veteran voice. D.J. Augustin is… kind of that guy too. With the Magic looking to upgrade the point guard position as their most obvious need, either via the draft (more likely) or free agency then we’ll see Augustin and Mack slide down one spot on the depth chart to make room for the shiny new toy. It’s hard to justify rostering the third point guard for a bad team, who wasn’t really relevant for fantasy purposes when he was the second man up as is. There’s a good chance Mack isn’t with the Magic in 2018 for salary cap purposes and we’ll have to reassess his status if he lands somewhere intriguing.
ADP: N/A/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 331/319 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 336/313 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 42
2017-2018: 13.7 MPG, 4.2 PTS, 0 3PM, 4.2 REB, 0.8 AST, 0.3 STL, 0.5 BLK, 0.5 TO, 0.539 FG%, 0.688 FT%
There was one unquestioned development from Khem Birch’s season. He played hard. He was never the sexy option or the one the Magic expected to trot out, but he outhustled, outmuscled, and outplayed Bismack Biyombo, who was supposed to be the obvious incumbent after the loss of Nikola Vucevic. In fact, over the final 15 games of the year Birch averaged 18.2 minutes per game to Biyombo’s 15.4. Birch is very likely to remain on this roster as a high motor player off the bench and will go into 2018-19 as the third string center by default because of optics of Biyombo’s ridiculous cap hit but BB should be peeking over his shoulder. With enough playing time Birch could find some specialist value as a rebounder in deep leagues.
ADP: N/A/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 323/312 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 397/385 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 62
2017-2018: 16.4 MPG, 3.6 PTS, 0.1 3PM, 2.2 REB, 0.9 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.1 BLK, 0.5 TO, 0.426 FG%, 0.723 FT%
Iwundu shuttled back and forth between the main roster and the G-League and ended up starting in 12 of his 62 appearances. It wasn’t very surprising to see him make some appearances as an early second round pick in the 2017 draft (33rd overall). With the Magic dealing with injury issues to Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier on the wing, Iwundu found himself forced into almost 20 minutes of action per contest over the last two months of the lost season. He wasn’t a fantasy factor and his skillset doesn’t really translate to fantasy production in the future. He’s going to be buried on the depth chart even if Mario Hezonja finds a new job as the Magic will be hoping for full seasons from Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier who missed large chunks of the year.
This roster has countless holes and just lacks the talent to be a contender in the short-term. Finding a replacement for Elfrid Payton, locking up Aaron Gordon and begging someone to take the last two years of Bismack Biyombo’s monstrous contract are at the top of the to-do list for 2018. The draft is the next major project, where the Magic will pick sixth overall. At this point, Trae Young seems to be a perfect fit for the Magic to be their point guard of the future. Realistically, finding a new home for Biyombo isn’t feasible so it’s more likely the Magic just eat these two years and wait it out while making sure to do whatever it takes to keep Aaron Gordon.
While Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic have been good players for this organization it may be in their best interest to seek out trade scenarios and feel out the market. If either could net a lottery-level pick (maybe the eighth overall pick from the Cavaliers?) to add youth and upside to this barren roster it could be worth the consideration. A combo of Trae Young and Mo Bamba would set up this team with a potential future starting lineup of Trae Young-Evan Fournier-Jonathan Isaac-Aaron Gordon-Mo Bamba and suddenly there is light at the end of the tunnel. Well, for now there is no light while Bismack Biyombo is the highest paid player on the team and even a magician couldn’t make this team a contender.