In many ways this is the toughest part of the season for the Orlando Magic. With the team out of the playoff picture and rooted to the bottom of the Southeast Division, there is nothing left to play for this season. Yet playing more games is exactly what they have to do, as they play out their remaining games before they take the summer off and the playoffs begin. Keeping the players motivated will be extremely tricky as they have one eye already on their summer vacation. If the Magic could just put in some final hard work now however, it could pay huge dividends next season.
This work needs to start on the offensive end of the floor first and foremost. This is because the team currently ranks 24th in the league in points scored at 96.8 per contest. When you look at this roster, you do realize that this team does not really have a single pure scorer who can put the ball in the hole. Arron Afflalo has taken on that role this season, but before then he was known more as a do it all kind of combo guard, who could play a balanced type of basketball on both ends of the court. Asking him to carry the offensive load, which to his credit he has stepped up and done admirably, is a tad unfair given he does so much else for this team as well. Victor Oladipo also looks to be more than just an out and out finisher, his athletic abilities allowing him to do more than that. So going forward this team needs that player who maybe struggles without the ball, but can fill up the stat sheet when he has it is in his hands. We’re not talking Carmelo Anthony good here, just a nice complimentary piece who can step up. Failing that this team does need to find another scorer from within.
Although the Magic rank 20th defensively, that might not be as bad a number as some think. Plenty of room for improvement sure, but it also means that this group of young players are a better defensive unit than one third of the league. Getting youth to buy into defending is one of the most difficult things that a team has to achieve in order to be relevant again, and this team do at least seem to be making the effort. It is not always pretty, but just to see that effort is refreshing. In fact, with Nikola Vucevic anchoring the paint going forward, there is no reason to believe that a smothering defense won’t be this team’s identity next year. Every team needs an identity of course, and this Magic team doesn’t really have one yet. Offensive improvement does look hard to see for this team if they stay as they are, and after all defense does win championships. So if this team could put in some work and effort now in these pointless games, it could result in a big improvement next year.
Staying on that defensive theme, Vucevic’s eleven rebounds a game are certainly something worth building around. Hard work on the glass is such an important part of any playoff team’s make up, and Orlando has sufficient youth and length within the team to become good at rebounding the ball. If each player could pick up their numbers starting today even slightly, it would make a big difference going into next season. This all comes down to effort though, and how much this team is willing to try right now, even though winning games and playing well won’t mean a thing. Looking at the team though you have to like the character they have shown,they seem a focused group of players, so don’t be surprised if they do play hard as the regular season winds down, Certainly the gave the San Antonio Spurs a scare the other night, almost ambushing them with their up tempo play after San Antonio had gone toe to toe with the Miami Heat the night before and won. Seeing that energy at this point was encouraging.
Few could blame the Magic players for switching off now, Glamorous though the NBA life appears on the outside, it is filled with long journeys and endless hotel rooms. Throw in a lot of losses, forty-five to this point to be exact, and it can wear a team down, especially a young an impressionable one like this. Yet still Orlando are turning up every night and putting in a shift, and the fans have to be proud of that. Numbers don’t lie though, and on both ends of the floor massive improvement is needed. Why not start now though, finishing off the season with a momentum that could carry into next season. Get off to a fast start then in a weakened Eastern Conference, and who knows what could happen next? Surely that’s all the motivation a team needs?