The Orlando Magic may be a playoff outfit once again, but trying to figure out who is their third-best player is not a straightforward task.
Despite still not having a roster capable of contending for a championship, the Orlando Magic over the last two seasons have been in a better place than where they were for most of the last decade. Former general manager Rob Hennigan made a number of bad decisions, which kept the organization in a prolonged state of mediocrity.
Despite still having a lot of inconsistencies, particularly offensively, the team is on a better trajectory now. Had the season not been forced to stop they looked set to make the playoffs for the second year in a row, and with a young core they were continuing to build towards what they hope will be an exciting future.
Which makes the task of trying to decide who the Magic’s third-best player is right now a surprisingly difficult one. On the one hand, this is good, there were plenty of seasons over the last decade where even finding three potentially good players on the roster was a difficult task. But, on the other hand, this is something that needs to be sorted so that the team can continue to grow.
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There are realistically two guys jockeying for this position, although we can try to make a case for two other players as well. Before looking at who these various players are, we also need to establish who the top two guys on the team are so that they can be taken out of the conversation.
The first choice is easy, and that is center Nikola Vucevic. A first-time All-Star last year (and the organization’s first since Dwight Howard), Vucevic is basically a 20-and-10 guy, who despite regressing this season is still putting up big numbers on a nightly basis. He’s lost some consistency but is still the best player that the Magic have.
The second guy is a tougher pick, but we’re going to have to go with Jonathan Isaac in that slot. Isaac went down with a knee injury on New Year’s Day that looked really bad, but thankfully was not. He is still only 22 and was averaging 12 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. These numbers are only going to improve, but it was his play defensively that put him in this spot.
He has the potential to be in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation in time, and the team did not look as airtight on that end once he went down. The hope is that he will be the best player the Magic have, but for now second will have to do. He is the player the franchise is least likely to consider trading, which tells you all you need to know.
That leaves two clear choices for the third spot. Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier. Beginning with Gordon, it is somewhat disappointing that he is in a fight for this position at all. It was hoped he could be a franchise savior, but after six seasons that has not happened. He also yo-yos more than any other guy on the roster as well, looking like their best player one night, and just another guy the next.
Gordon has never had a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) higher than 16.5 (league average is 15), and that was two years ago. For context Vucevic’s PER during his All-Star campaign last year was 25.5, and was the ninth-highest mark in the league.
Inconsistency is Gordon’s problem, and although you are in a good place if Gordon is your third-best player, the fact he can dip well below being even that from game to game means it is difficult to select him unopposed for this position on the team, even though if he could make this spot his own the Magic would take another step forward. Which is where Fournier comes in.
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Since Isaac has gone down, you could make the case that Fournier was actually the Magic’s best player. He was averaging a career-high 18.8 points per game, on an impressive 40.6 percent from 3-point range. The team was a mess offensively up until the All-Star break, and it is scary to think how much worse it could have gotten without Fournier.
Interestingly though the Magic did make a huge leap on that end after the midseason exhibition, but this continued even after Fournier went down with an elbow sprain. So he can’t take all the credit for jump-starting them offensively either. He’s also not too optimistic on the season returning, even if he would likely be back on the court himself having had extra time to recover.
So really it depends on what you want out of your third-best player and what will get you further. Gordon’s inconsistency and going from being the best player one night, to not even a top-five guy in the rotation the next. Or the scoring of Fournier which the team desperately needs but which also sometimes involves him taking too much out of the ball.
The two other players who could sneak in and take this position before the season is over are Markelle Fultz and Terrence Ross. Fultz has had a really promising first year with the Magic, and if he continues to improve then the sky is the limit for him. With Ross, he’s a flamethrower off the bench who had rediscovered his shooting touch and was crucial in keeping the team ticking over by scoring points when the starters went to the bench. He was also closing games too.
For now though let’s take Fournier as the Magic’s third-best player, which is a worrying place for Gordon to be in. Could there be a time in the not too distant future when the organization considers trading him to see what else they can build around?