By John Denton
Sept. 20, 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 power forward position. Orlando has a variety of options at the position, led by the blossoming play of Gordon. Isaac could also see the bulk of his playing time at power forward because of his height, rangy arms and willingness to defend. Mario Hezonja and Marreese Speights can play other positions, but they might ultimately be best suited as power forwards.
Without further ado, let’s break down how the Magic look at the power forward position:
POSITION: Power forward
PLAYERS: Aaron Gordon (6-9, 220, 3 NBA seasons); Jonathan Isaac (6-11, 210, NBA rookie); Marreese Speights (6-10, 255, 9 NBA seasons); Mario Hezonja (6-8, 225, 2 NBA seasons); Khem Birch (6-9, 220, NBA rookie).
PROJECTED STARTER: Gordon (2016-17 stats: 12.7 ppg., 5.1 rpg., 1.9 apg., 0.8 spg., 0.5 bpg., 45.4 FG percent, 28.8 3FG percent, 71.9 FT percent).
PROJECTED DEPTH: Isaac (2016-17 stats at Florida State University: 12 ppg., 7.8 rpg., 1.5 bpg., 1.2 spg., 50.8 FG percent, 34.8 3FG percent, 78 FT percent); Speights (2016-17 stats: 8.7 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 0.8 apg., 44.5 FG percent, 37.2 3FG percent, 87.6 FT percent); Hezonja (2016-17 stats: 4.9 ppg., 2.2 rpg., 1.0 apg., 35.5 FG percent, 29.9 3 FG percent, 80 FT percent); Birch (2016-17 stats in Greece: 37 games (21 starts), 7.3 ppg., 5.6 rpg., 62.4 FG percent.
STRENGTHS: The Magic should have more than enough athleticism at the power forward position what with Gordon, Isaac and Hezonja capable of playing the position – something that should be a big help to the team considering the sweeping trend across the NBA to play small-ball lineups. Gordon proved late last season that he is much more confident and comfortable at the power forward position instead of playing on the wings and his production took over in February, March and April. Isaac’s position is a bit of a wildcard because of his thin frame, but he ultimately projects as a versatile power forward because of his towering height and length. Speights can play either center or power forward off the bench and is capable of giving the Magic an injection of offense wherever it is needed. Hezonja was used at power forward in short spurts last season and he was effective there because of his willingness to play with physicality. Birch has played well in Turkey and Greece the past two seasons and he might be able to help the Magic inside with his strength and toughness.
WEAKNESSES: Shooting from distance will once again be a concern for the Magic at the power forward position. Orlando would prefer that Gordon attack the rim for lobs and dunks, but there will be times when defenses will back off of him and dare him to make 3-point shots. He didn’t shoot the ball nearly well enough from beyond the arc last season (28.8 percent) and neither did Hezonja (29.9 percent). Both need to be able to connect on corner 3-pointers on a consistent basis to keep defenses honest. Speights is a vastly improved 3-point shooter – an adjustment to his game last season – and he can make big men pay for backing off of him. That ability to knock down 3-point shots could earn him additional minutes at power forward this season. Isaac showed an ability at Florida State and in the Orlando Pro Summer League to hit 3-point shots, but NBA teams will definitely make him prove this season that he can make those shots.
ANALYSIS: While the Magic will undoubtedly stress the team concept all season, much of their ability to make a major jump in the standings could come down to the improvement of Gordon. He is, in many ways, Orlando’s most important player because of his star potential and his room for major growth.
Gordon averaged 16.4 points per game after the NBA All-Star Break – and after he was shifted from small forward to power forward following the trading of Serge Ibaka to Toronto. Five of his highest-scoring games of the season came over the final 24 games, including a 32-point effort against the Boston Celtics. He clearly prefers playing on the inside where he can use his strength and length to get dunks and point-blank looks at the rim. Now, he must prove that he can give that same sort of production over the entire season.
Isaac, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, will be eased into the rotation this season as he makes the adjustment to the pro game. He clearly needs strength and more refinement in his game, but the Magic feel that he can contribute right away in some areas because of his jaw-dropping physical gifts, his high basketball IQ and his commitment to playing defense. Just how much he plays will come down to how he handles the physicality of the NBA game.
Speights will shoot jumpers and ask questions later, and the Magic know what they have in him even though it’s his first season playing in Orlando. The Magic still aren’t quite sure what to make of Hezonja, who has struggled mightily with his jump shot, confidence and defense in two NBA seasons. A move to playing more at power forward could finally help him bring out his massive potential as a versatile player.
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.