The 2019-2020 NBA season returns this week in Orlando, with all 22 participating teams preparing to finish the season on a positive note. In the Eastern Conference, six teams already booked their spots in the playoffs before the suspension of the season due to COVID-19. There is still competition between three teams with the last two playoff spots still up for grabs. One of the teams currently in contention to make the playoffs is Orlando Magic, who presently lies 8th in the Eastern Conference with a 30-35 win-loss record and a .462 win percentage. For Orlando Magic, this season has been a campaign full of ups and downs. However, they have still managed to get themselves in a good position with a few games remaining.
Ahead of the NBA restart, we take a look at some of the questions surrounding Orlando Magic and their preparations for the remainder of the season.
Will there be any improvement in the Magic’s defense for the remainder of the season?
Since January, the Magic’s defensive problem has been apparent even though the team has built a defensive identity in recent seasons. The Magic’s defense had been extremely inconsistent before the suspension of the season. The defensive problems have been the ultimate price the Magic had to pay to improve their offensive play after the All-Star Break. After the All-Star break, the Magic had a 115.9 defensive rating. Their defensive rating ranks them 26th in the league. Orlando Magic’s 1.9 net rating is also the 12th best in the league.
Before the suspension of the season, Orlando Magic’s defense ranked 10th for the season at 108.7 points allowed per 100 possessions. The team was also down to 111.3 points allowed per 100 possessions after January.
Their defensive record since January has been a contrast from their defensive record in the early stages of the season. In the opening weeks of the season, Orlando Magic was one of the best defensive sides in the league. During the early stage of the season, Orlando Magic gave up fewer than 100 points in five of their first 11 games. Despite the numerous injuries they suffered in November, the Magic were 11th in the league in defensive rating giving up 104.2 points per 100 possessions.
With the presence of Aaron Gordon, Michael Carter-Williams, and Jonathan Isaac in the team, Orlando Magic had a solid defense that restricted their opponents’ offensive plays on numerous occasions. However, the injury to Jonathan Isaac back in January has seen the Magic lose their consistency in defense. Before his injury, Isaac was a contender for Defensive Player of the Year. Before his injury, Isaac had managed to record a higher combined number of blocks and steals than any other player in the league. In just 32 games, Isaac averaged 2.4 blocks per game (2nd league-wide) and 1.6 steals per game (18th) for a combined total of 4.0 per game (1st).
He will feature for the Magic in the restart. His return will be a welcome boost for the Magic and could be pivotal in their race to make the playoffs this season.
Will Nikola Vucevic get back to his best form after the NBA restarts?
Despite averaging 19.5 points per game, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game this season, the Magic’s star man Nikola Vucevic has struggled to replicate the All-Star consistency he had last season.
After his impressive showings earned him a spot on the All-Star team last season, it appeared that Vucevic had finally reached his full potential and become an elite player. However, injury coupled with poor form has limited his influence in most of the games he has played this season. Even though Vucevic was averaging 17.1 points per game on 45.0-percent shooting with 11.6 rebounds per game, his start to the season wasn’t excellent. His shooting was poor, and he was more effective in the defense than offense. In late-November, he suffered an ankle injury that saw him miss 11 games. Before his injury, Vucevic’s post-ups dropped to 3.9 per game this year in contrast to the 5.4 possessions per game from last year.
There was an improvement in his game before the suspension of the league, especially after the All-Star Break. Before the All-Star Break, 379 of Vucevic’s 731 field goal attempts came within 10 feet of the basket (51.8 percent). That aspect of his game changed after the All-Star Break as he took 100 of his 179 field goal attempts within 10 feet of the basket (55.8 percent).
In the ten games he played after the break, Vucevic averaged 21.8 points per game and 12.0 rebounds per game. He also shot 52.0-percent from the floor and recorded 3.4 3-point field goal attempts per game. He also recorded four of his seven highest-scoring games during that period. Vucevic’s form was also instrumental for the Magic’s offensive game as they began to pose real threats to their opponents.
Vucevic would have to be at his very best for the remainder of the season to boost Orlando Magic’s chances of qualifying for the playoffs for the consecutive season.