With the Orlando Magic going nowhere this season, a lot of talk recently had turned to whether point guard Arron Afflalo had done enough to make the Eastern Conference All-Star team as a reserve. We found out late last week however, that this would be a resounding no. Despite the fact that the East is not exactly blessed with a plethora of talent, unlike the West, still Afflalo could do nothing to ensure he would be at the big game in mid February. Now that this has become fact, will Afflalo be able to put that to the back of his mind and continuing leading this young team? More important still, with that pleasant distraction aside, how will Orlando continue to get themselves motivated for games, with their season now essentially over.
In Sunday’s very open game against the Boston Celtics in Boston, which the Magic lost, Afflalo was their best player when on the court. He led the team in scoring with eighteen points, but has so often been the case this season, it wasn’t enough to carry the team to the win though. This is still an encouraging sign, as it showed that Afflalo was channeling his rejection in the right way, and using it as fuel to motivate himself to play better for the team. He didn’t go out and look for massive numbers to swell his stat sheet and show those who overlooked him that they were wrong to do so. He simply played the complete game he has been playing all season, the type of game Orlando need going forward to ensure they become a better team, but he could do with some help. Of course that help won’t come until the summertime, with a move before the looming trade deadline looking unlikely. For the mentality of the team however, it is so important that Afflalo continues to be one of the better players on the court every single night, as it is this type of play which will make the team grow stronger as the rebuilding faze hopes to bump up a gear next year.
While Monday’s thumping at the hands of the Indiana Pacers was hardly a surprise, a worrying trend has begun to develop for this team, going back to before the aforementioned Celtics loss. Watching the Magic play can be enjoyable, they do run the ball and push the tempo of the play quite well, the youth in their legs allowing for a fast paced game that occasionally tired teams struggle to hang with. The defending though, is loose to put it mildly. This was particularly noticeable against Boston, with players failing to track back and follow their man when they lost the ball. The players were spread too thinly across the court, which allowed Rajon Rondo, the top level point guard that he is, to pick apart the Magic on the break with some astute passing. While it is about the bigger picture, it is important for head coach Jacques Vaughn to instill a strong work ethic now, as it will be valuable at a later date when this team is actually relevant again. Too often before we have seen bad teams with decent young talent, such as the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats, give up on playing serious defense far too early in the season. If the Magic can work hard without the ball now, when they do actually acquire some real talent, as well as nurturing their own, that combination of quality and hard work will bring massive rewards for this team.
With the losses column getting bigger by the day and the defending been thrown to one side, seeing Arron Afflalo make the All-Star team would have put some sort of shine on this season for the team. It would have been the tiniest vindication that the Magic are slowly turning things around, and that their best days are undoubtedly ahead of them. As it happened this wasn’t to be, and so right now is a testing time for any Magic fan. Even Victor Oladipo, the shining light early in the season, has seen his productivity slow down recently as well. This year was always going to be bad, but occasional wins, exciting young players and the breakout campaign of Afflalo gave Magic fans timely distractions and hope that things were actually going to get better quicker than most imagined. Yet suddenly we’ve hit February, and June can’t come quick enough.