Welcome to the Orlando Magic installment of Blogabull's Eastern Conference preview. A reminder that these previews are a series we're running on Blogabull that fall in line with the SBNation NBA previews.
Last year: 25-57 (13th in Eastern Conference)
'15-'16 Vegas Over/Under: 32.5 wins
The Magic had 3 very painful losing years under head coach Jacque Vaughn. The team is looking to turn things around quickly with the guy who has a reputation for doing just that, coach Scott Skiles. Long-time assistant coach Adrian Griffin left the Bulls to rejoin Skiles this year as well.
In: CJ Watson, Jason Smith, 5th overall pick Mario Hezonja, Coach Scott Skiles and Assistant Coach Adrian Griffin
Out: Kyle O'Quinn, Moe Harkless, Luke Ridnour, Ben Gordon, Coach Jacque Vaughn
The Magic are still a while away from competing, but they're hoping Skiles can make a big difference. Skiles notably created massive jumps in wins with the Suns, Bulls, and Bucks, leading all 3 to the playoffs within their first two years.
Believe it or not, Skiles was a star player for the Magic back in the day, so it's cool to see him reunited with his old team. He still holds the NBA record for most assists in a game (30 assists!) that he set with the Magic.
|Elfrid Payton||Victor Oladipo||Tobias Harris||Aaron Gordon||Nikola Vucevic|
|CJ Watson (IND)||Evan Fournier||Mario Hezonja (R)||Andrew Nicholson||Jason Smith (NYK)|
|Shabazz Napier (MIA)||Melvin Ejim (R)||Devyn Marble||Channing Frye||Dewayne Dedmon|
|Keith Appling (R)||Jordan Sibert (R)||Greg Stiemsma (TOR)|
|Nnanna Egwu (R)|
The Magic are still extremely young. Nikola Vucevic is the oldest guy in the starting lineup at the ripe old age of 24. They also signed a bunch of new young guys to short-term or non-guaranteed deals.
The organization is in that team-building phase where they are evaluating a lot of young talent, but they have also already acquired some very nice pieces to build around in Elfrid Payton, Olaidipo, and Vucevic.
What to expect
Orlando Pinstriped Post predicts a 35 win team.
Skiles is such a perfect coach to lead this team. He has a bunch of young, impressionable players that will probably listen to him before he burns them out. He's shown he's good at developing this type of group - he can really take advantage of their athleticism to make formidable defensive units, and he's said he's going to use the energy of his players to run a lot.
Usually it takes Skiles into the second year to see that massive improvement jump, so I think the team may still struggle early before finding an identity later in the year.
More about the Magic around SBNation
How They Play the Bulls
The Bulls were really inconsistent against bad teams last year, and the Magic were a perfect example of this phenomenon.
Despite being cellar-dwellers last year, the Magic were 2-2 against the Bulls. Summing up all four games in the season series, both teams scored the exact same amount of points against each other.
There's something about the Magic that exposes the Bulls' weaknesses. A big part of that is that they're really good at getting steals and offensive rebounds against the Bulls. Also I think the Bulls really like hanging out at the beach in the middle of cold Chicago winters.
Another big reason why the Bulls struggle so much against the Magic is because of Elfrid Payton. He plays some of his best basketball against the Bulls. He really punishes the Bulls' guards as well for not boxing him out - he averages a shade under 3 offensive rebounds per game against the Bulls, which is what an elite center should be getting you. Pretty impressive for a point guard.
The teams are slated to play 3 times next year. Their game on March 2nd looks particularly trap game-y; It's at the end of a back-to-back and the first game is against a potential contender in Miami. This could be a classic emotional letdown if the team gets a big win or decides to party in Miami the night before.
The Magic won't be contenders in the East this year, but they could still be a pesky thorn in the Bulls' side. Don't expect this team to roll over, especially with Skiles lighting a fire under his players.
[BaB's own Kevin Ferrigan gives his take using his own statistical model, described as: a plus-minus that used two years of data blended with predictive real plus-minus, and minutes projections from Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com]
The Magic have an entire team of guys who are on the right side of the aging curve (under age 27), so they figure to make improvements on that basis alone. I have them pegged as about a 35 win team based on a standard aging curve for their players and their past performance.
Subjectively, I like their talent more than that and think Jacques Vaughn suppressed the production and talent of some of their guys in the past. I also think the difference between Vaughn and Scott Skiles might be worth 5 to 7 wins on its own. As a result, I think they could oust the Pacers or Bucks from the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.