When Dwight Howard finally, mercifully left Orlando for LA this past August, the prognosis for the Magic was not good. Even with the arrival of Arron Afflalo, this looked like an exceedingly weak Orlando team, one who would limp their way to a 20-win season, not unlike the post-Lebron Cavs of two years ago.
Except, it hasn’t really gone down that way.
Granted, their current record of 9-13 is hardly anything to write home about, but they’ve certainly been competitive, and their group of talented young players has certainly been turning heads. Glen Davis has made a better starting power forward than anyone would have guessed, and Nikola Vucevic made good on the promise he showed in Philadelphia as a rookie, and is putting up close to a double-double on a nightly basis. Rookie Moe Harkless has also entered the starting lineup, and while his numbers don’t look impressive at first glance, his stingy defense has made him a welcome addition. He also has a great ability to get to the rim, and if he asserts himself more, he could develop a solid offensive presence in the future.
The most impressive player by far, however, has been rookie power forward Andrew Nicholson. In just 15 minutes per game, Nicholson has given the Magic roughly 8 points and 3 boards a night. This translates to per-36-minute averages of 19.4 points and 7.6 boards. More impressive than this, however, is how Nicholson is acquiring these numbers. Quite simply, the man has been shooting the lights out. With a field goal percentage of .556, and a true shooting percentage of .599, Nicholson has been absolutely deadly this season. Amazingly enough, he has the potential to get even better in this regard; he was an excellent three-point shooter in college, shooting .434 from downtown in his senior year. If he adds the three to his NBA repertoire, the Magic can space the floor more, and become even stronger with Nicholson on the court than they are now.
Of course, it hasn’t just been the young dudes; Orlando’s veteran backcourt has been solid as well. Afflalo has been good for 16 a night, while Jameer Nelson seems to have recovered from his rough start to last season. The star of the backcourt, however, has been J.J. Redick, who has been huge off the bench, putting 14 points and 5 assists. The assists has been a huge surprise, considering that prior to this, he never averaged more 2.5 dimes per game in a season. Redick’s improved passing has made him a far more complete player, and one of the best sixth men in the league.
The combination of experience in the backcourt, and youth up front has added up to a team playing better than anyone expected them to. They might not make the playoffs this season, but they have a solid foundation for the future. If Nicholson can replicate (or come close to replicating) his shooting numbers when given more minutes, he could be the franchise player the team needs with Howard gone. Additionally, Vucevic looks like he could be the team’s starting center for the foreseeable future.
Unlike the Cavs, who wilted once Lebron skipped town, and only recovered when they drafted Kyrie Irving the following year, the Magic have wasted no time creating a new identity for themselves. They are a solid, competitive team that can put a fight against anybody, and they’re only going to get better.
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