By John Denton
Sept. 22, 2017
ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic had an extremely busy offseason, restructuring their front office, dramatically altering the look of the roster with the addition of several proven veteran players and drafting an elite prospect high in last June’s NBA Draft.
Now, with training camp set to open in a week, it’s time to delve deeper into the roster and evaluate the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Orlando’s first order of business in the offseason was changing its decision makers in the front office. In President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond, the Magic have more than five decades of professional basketball experience on board and two men who have long histories of success.
The Magic then stacked their roster with more experience and talent by signing forward Jonathon Simmons, big man Marreese Speights, wing Aaron Afflalo and point guard Shelvin Mack in free agency. Those veterans will be charged with mentoring promising rookie forward Jonathan Isaac, the No. 6 pick in the draft, and second-round addition Wesley Iwundu this season.
That new group, combined with head coach Frank Vogel and the returning core of Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Bismack Biyombo, Terrence Ross, D.J. Augustin and Mario Hezonja, gives the Magic the belief that they could be a playoff team this season following a five-year absence from the postseason.
Training camp opens Monday (at the Amway Center), the first preseason game (in Memphis) is Oct. 2 and the regular-season opener (vs. Miami at home) is Oct. 18.
Today, we look at the Magic’s strengths and weaknesses at the point guard position. Payton finished last season with a promising flourish and he should be safe as the starter for a third straight season. The Magic did sign Mack, an underrated, hard-nosed veteran to push Payton at point guard. Augustin returns following a disappointing first season in Orlando and the Magic need him to get back to being a solid playmaker and someone who can bury wide-open shots from the point guard and shooting guard positions.
Without further ado, let’s break down how the Magic look at the small forward position:
POSITION: Point guard
PLAYERS: Elfrid Payton (6-4, 185, 3 NBA seasons); Shelvin Mack (6-3, 203, 6 NBA seasons); D.J. Augustin (6-0, 183, 9 NBA seasons).
PROJECTED STARTER: Payton (2016-17 stats: 12.8 ppg., 4.7 rpg., 6.5 apg., 1.1 spg., 47.1 FG percent, 27.4 3FG percent, 69.2 FT percent).
PROJECTED DEPTH: Mack (2016-17 stats: 7.8 ppg., 2.3 rpg., 2.8 apg., 0.8 spg., 44.6 FG percent, 30.8 3FG percent, 68.8 FT percent); Augustin (2016-17 stats: 7.9 ppg., 1.5 rpg., 2.7 apg., 0.4 spg., 37.7 FG percent, 34.7 3FG percent, 81.4 FT percent).
STRENGTHS: The Magic have three players at point guard who they can trust to start and/or play big minutes – something that is very much needed in a league where point guard is arguably the deepest and most talented position in the NBA. Payton’s play took off last season when the Magic shifted to a faster, small-ball look and Orlando is hopeful that it is a look at his production for the season to come. Mack has split his time as a starter and a reserve and should be comfortable in either role throughout the season if injuries should arise. He is an underrated defender and shot-maker and could see big minutes late in close games.
WEAKNESSES: Perimeter shooting, as it is with just about every position for the Magic, is a major weakness at point guard. Payton shot just 27.4 percent from 3-point range last season and he rarely even attempted threes (less than one try a game) over the final 24 games of the season. Mack (30.8 percent from 3-point range) and Augustin (34.7 percent from 3-point range) both struggled mightily with their outside shots last season after connecting at a much better rate the year before. All three point guards must improve in this area to keep defenses from sagging back into the lane to disrupt offensive sets.
ANALYSIS: Payton played the best basketball of his career late last season after the Magic made a dramatic shift in their style of play. Over the final 2½ months of the season, the floppy-haired point guard had five triple-doubles – tied for the fifth most in the NBA. He averaged 13.5 points, 8.4 assists and 7.0 rebounds and shot 50.8 percent from the floor in the 24 games after the All-Star break as opposed to averaging 12.5 points, 5.7 assists and 3.8 rebounds and 45.7 percent shooting in the 58 games before.
Mack didn’t have a great year last season while backing up George Hill in Utah, but he’s proven himself throughout his time in the NBA to be a solid rotation player. The Magic need him to bring a nastiness and a defensive edge to their point guard position – and the more 3-point shots he knocks down, the better.
Augustin mostly struggled in Orlando’s slow-paced offense and never found his rhythm as a playmaker or touch as an outside shooter. He will be a good role model and leader for young players such as Isaac, Iwundu and Payton, but the Magic need more shot-making and play-making out of him this season.
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.