The start of each new year is supposed to bring with it cause for hope and optimism. January is a time to kick old habits and attempt to better improve yourself for the year ahead. Somebody needs to tell the Orlando Magic this however, as so far 2014 has been nothing more than 2013, the sequel. The team has lost three games straight to start the year, including another hammering by their in-state rivals, the Miami Heat. With so much negativity currently around the team, how soon before 2014 can begin to look a little brighter?
First, a word on the Magic’s schedule. As stated here before, this period was always going to be a rough one, losses to the aforementioned Heat, Golden State Warriors and even the messy Cleveland Cavaliers exemplifying this. A needed and unexpected win over the Atlanta Hawks on New Year’s Eve gave a glimmer of hope that some wins may be accumulated, but this has turned out to be far from the truth. Upcoming games against the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers start a five-game West coast trip, with five losses a big possibility. So, poor as they’ve been, at the very least the schedule will ease up a little in time. Looking at the Magic’s overall statistics to see if any area is a glaring concern, there are none that jump out straight away. In fact, this is a solid rebounding team, averaging 42.7 a game, good for slightly above average in the league. Just over nine of these rebounds are on the offensive end as well, which shows us that the aggression from this team is still there, even if they do not have the victories to show for it.
One area however that could do with some improvement going forward though, is free throws. The Magic have made roughly 75 percent of their free throws all season. Three out of every four free baskets is not a bad return, but looking past that number things begin to get a little ugly. The Magic are only attempting 20.8 free throws a contest. To put that into context, the putrid Milwaukee Bucks are averaging 20.2, and they are not a team you want to have similar numbers to in any statistical category. Even the Chicago Bulls, who have long since lost so much of their paint penetration with the absence of Derrick Rose, get to the charity stripe 23 times a game. In Arron Afflalo and Victor Oladipo, Orlando have guards who are both savvy (Afflalo) and athletic (Oladipo) and if both attacked the rim more, they would absolutely get more chances to tack on points at the free throw line. Oladipo in particular can terrify defenses when he is moving in full flight. Yes it is his rookie campaign and he is still learning, but running at defenders a little more is hardly something that takes years to perfect. He should give it a try now and see if it can improve the Magic’s performances in any way.
What makes this moment even more annoying for Magic fans is the fact that the team truly is better than their record suggests. In fact, it would be fair to say they are probably playing better basketball than both the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks at this moment in time. Sadly for Orlando, both of those struggling teams have both recently strung two wins together, to push themselves away from the Magic, who will be left at the bottom of the pile with the Bucks if they are not careful. Short term, it should be about keeping pace with these two if possible. The season was lost from the beginning, so creating goals like sticking with, and trying to overtake, two underachievers could help create a little momentum for the team.
One final noteworthy statistic coming into 2014 regards the minutes of Oladipo. In garbage time this season, (Minutes when a team is either 16 points ahead or behind their opponent) the Indiana rookie ranks in the top five in minutes played. Basketball is about the little things and with Oladipo playing so much of what you might call pressure-free time, it can only help him as he continues to figure the game out. Assuming he stays injury free as a result of these unnecessary minutes, and young bodies usually do, this could prove a shrewd move by head coach Jacque Vaughn. (Interestingly, the Chicago Bulls had five players in the top 59 who have played garbage time this season, could this have something to do with their chronic injury situation?)
In the short term, there is a lot this Magic team to ensure that it wins some more games. Long term however, this is exactly how it was supposed to go for the team. They knew they would be bad, and they have been. Possibly what has made all of this losing worse though, is the fact that through short stretches this season, the true potential of this team has shown itself, and it has looked wonderful. Orlando are a rebuilding side, only they’re a little further along than they probably thought they would be. Fans can see this too, and so losing the way they have has hurt more. For Orlando, it may be the new year, but the best of what 2014 can give this team may not be seen until their ping pong ball decides just what they can do this summer.