Season Preview: Orlando Magic

The surprise “winners” of the Dwight Howard trade, Orlando got off to a surprisingly strong 12-13 start before remembering that they weren’t any good. The 2012-13 season was always going to be rough, but there were some positive steps taken to push the team back in the right direction.

Rookie coach Jacque Vaughn was brought in specifically because the team was rebuilding, and he managed to do a solid job while basically waiting for help to arrive. On his watch several young players showed promise, including Mo Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, and Tobias Harris, who was acquired at the trade deadline in exchange for J.J. Redick.

After that deadline deal sending long-tenured Magic (Magic player? Singular team names are the worst) Redick out of town, the front line featured this trio and they played fairly well, especially given that one of Harris and Harkless was always playing out of position at power forward. This sacrificed the defense a bit, as it was no longer simple to switch assignments between the bigs, an early strategy employed by Vaughn.

The basic principles of Vaughn’s D (the ones that kept it from competing for worst in the league, and left it in the mid-20’s instead) were to protect the rim by keeping a big inside, have the roll man defender hedge hard and then retreat to the middle of the floor, and to overload the strong side, though not as much as several other defenses around the league. This worked well when there were two bigs to switch assignments down low, ensuring that a big would be in the paint almost constantly.

With Glen Davis likely returning to his starting spot this season the Magic will be able to return to their core principles on defense. The trickle down effect of Davis’s return will likely be a move to the bench for one of the late-season forward duo. Either Harkless or Harris will be able to help out a bench that could use more firepower. Potentially joining him will be Arron Afflalo, who may be displaced as a starter as early as opening night by 2nd overall pick Victor Oladipo.

Vaughn’s work with the offense met with less success (relatively of course – their 27th offense wasn’t exactly holding back the 25th defense). The Magic attempted an offense built around quick hitting passes and cutting after initial penetration, often off of a pick and roll, but often would settle into a pick and roll attack that was a lot more vanilla as the game went along. As a result Jameer Nelson was far more integral to the offensive process than he should be at this stage.

One would expect the same sort of offense this season, but with the hope of greater execution. Nelson will probably have to carry the load a little too much again, but the hope is that Oladipo can start to take the reins as the season goes on. The inevitable Oladipo-as-point-guard experiment sounds like the sort of thing a tanking team would do, but the offense should be smoother nonetheless.

The tanking team bit really informs the rest of the season though, because yet again Orlando is looking to pick up a high pick in the upcoming and much vaunted draft. That means this year is going to feature a lot of losing, and potential trades of any vets who step up and have value on the market. Vaughn and company will be given another year to learn and develop, and if they can manage that while acquiring assets in the draft and through trades Orlando has a chance to be very good in a few years. For now though, all they can do is wait.

Predicted Finish: 21-61 | 5th place in Southeast Division | 14th place in Eastern Conference