The Orlando Magic are currently sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference. It’s only been 5 games, but regardless of how many games have been played, nobody thought Orlando would be sitting in first place at any point in the season. With a record of 4-1, their record to start the season is impressive, but what’s more impressive about their record is that two of their four wins have come against the Cavaliers and Spurs.
Anytime you can beat LeBron James it’s an impressive win. The Spurs have been without Kawhi Leonard to start the season, but before they played Orlando, they were undefeated. Those two wins against two of the leagues best teams weren’t games that came down to the wire. Both of those wins were blowout victories. This is something we wouldn’t have seen from Orlando in recent years.
The Orlando Magic seem to have turned things around this year. How have they been able to turn things around? Offense. Orlando is currently ranked second in points per game, scoring an average of 118.0. Believe it or not, they’re scoring just two points less than the Warriors right now. Again, it’s only been 5 games, but that’s still impressive.
Orlando scored an average of 101.1 points per game last season, which ranked them 27th in the league. When you can find a way to score roughly 17 more points per game than the previous season, of course you’re going to be better.
The defense for Orlando from last year to this year has been almost the exact same. Last season they allowed 107.6 points per game, while this year they’re allowing 107.2 points per game. Their defense is within 0.4 points of what it was last season, but this year they’re just outscoring their opponents.
Biggest Offensive Differences
As I’ve been following the Magic through their hot start, here are three things I’ve noticed for their huge offensive improvement.
1. Aaron Gordon’s Improvement
Aaron Gordon finally looks comfortable. Gordon has been taking a big offensive load for Orlando so far. He’s only played in three games, but in those games he’s averaged 23.7 points. Last season he averaged 12.7 points per game. Gordon has increased his playing time by about four minutes, and with those four extra minutes he’s improved his offensive game by 11.0 points. That’s huge!
What really jumps out to me about Gordon’s improvement on offense, is his shooting. Not only is Gordon scoring more, but he’s scoring more while shooting a much better percentage. Gordon had a 45.4% overall shooting percentage, with a 28.8% 3pt percentage last season. This season he’s shooting 59.5% overall, with a 72.7% 3pt percentage. His 3pt percentage will come down. 72.7% is just ridiculous, but it does show us that he’s improved his long range game. At the very young age of 22, Aaron Gordon seems to be finally learning how to properly use his athleticism and abilities to effectively score.
2. Nikola Vucevic Has a Long Range Game
Nikola Vucevic has always been a pretty good scorer around the rim. His worst field goal percentage in a season has been 45.0%, and that was in his very first NBA season. Where Vucevic has struggled offensively, is with his long range shooting. In his first season, Vucevic shot 37.5 percent from 3pt range, but since then he hasn’t shot better than 33.3% from long range.
Through 5 games this season, Vucevic is shooting 45.5% from long range. Along with being a threat to score inside, he’s extended his range to become an outside shooting threat. Between the long range improvement by Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, and others, Orlando is shooting a league leading 45.9% from 3pt range. This is a huge improvement from last years 29th ranked 32.8%. 3pt shooting is something Orlando desperately needed, and their key players are giving them just that.
3. Bench Production
Orlando has a solid second unit this year. The bench is led by veterans Jonathon Simmons and D.J. Augustin. Augustin has been in the starting line-up recently with Elfrid Payton out, but he’s produced when coming off the bench. Both Simmons and Augustin are scoring over 10 points per game, which is what you need from bench players. Another reason why these two have been so productive is because they’re both shooting career highs in 3pt%.
To go along with Simmons and Augustin, Orlando has two solid defenders on their second unit in Bismack Biyombo and rookie Jonathan Isaac. Biyombo has never been a great offensive threat, and Isaac still has a long way to go with his offensive game. Pairing them with very capable scorers in Simmons and Augustin, as well as pairing them with the starters in some occasions is a great combination. Players who struggle to score need to be surrounded by those who can, especially Jonathan Isaac. Orlando needs to give him time to grow slowly, and they have a perfect combination of players to allow him to do so.
Even though they’re sitting at the top of the conference, many don’t see Orlando as a championship contender. That’s very reasonable. I wouldn’t either. It’s way too early to say that about this team, but what we can say is that this team can now compete in the Eastern Conference. They seem to have a great combination of players. I think Orlando will make the playoffs this year, but I’m not so sure they can make a deep playoff run. Although they seem much improved, this team still has a lot to learn. Making the playoffs would be huge for this young team, so instead of saying they’re contenders, we’ll say they’re competitors. Orlando can now compete.