Monday, June 30, 2014

A Proposal for LeBron James to Come to Orlando

Hey, LeBron. Believe it or not I represent a large quotient of Orlando folks who don't like you. But I have a proposal for you that forces me to swallow a lot of pride...sign with the Orlando Magic.

Believe it or not, there was a time I supported you.

I remember when you were young how you were a huge Penny Hardaway fan. Anfernee will forever be my favorite basketball player ever.

I remember venturing out to a sports bar on International Drive during the 2007 playoffs where you single-handedly knocked out the Detroit Pistons. A Pistons team that ended up tormenting our Magic franchise for over half a decade. So I was more than thrilled to watch you dethrone them.

I remember your 'The LeBrons' campaign. Those were surprisingly funny and creative.

Somewhere between that and those damn puppet commercials of fake you and fake Kobe did it start going downhill. The basketball commercial market was over-saturated with you, and you hadn't even won a ring yet.

I remember basking in the joy of not only the Magic knocking out your Cavaliers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009 on my 21st birthday, but savoring in your immaturity for not shaking hands with your opponents. Then failing to properly explain your way out of it.

I honestly didn't have an issue with 'The Decision' because I knew the funds made from the event were all going to charity. My obvious qualm with your 2010 free agency is that you went to Orlando's vehemently hated rival... the Miami Heat. That was the main reason why it was easy for Magic fans to boo you, you were on that other Sunshine State team.

I thanked the basketball gods when you lost to the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals, and being dethroned by the Spurs just a few weeks ago. I cursed those same basketball gods when you greatly helped Miami win its second and third NBA championships in '12 and '13. It's a 3-0 Heat trophy advantage over Orlando and that doesn't sit well with me and a lot of other Central Florida natives. We're starving for a championship.

I'm willing to bury the hatchet if you are. Start over. Clean slate. Come to Orlando, erase your perceived image of egoism and whining. You saw how well we shielded Dwight Howard's image and kept it as sparkling clean as possible. Los Angeles and Houston can't and has not done that. No matter what you did with the Heat, LeBron, you know that Dwyane Wade is Miami's beloved son. With Jameer Nelson being waived, the longest-tenured Magic player is currently Andrew Nicholson. Win Orlando a championship and you will truly be placed at the pantheon of Orlando sports and public figures.

Not 8.

Not 7.

Not 6.

Not 5.

Not 4.

Not 3.

Not 2.


Preferably one from an 82-game regular season and not a Lockout year.

We already have enough bandwagon Heat fans in Orlando solely because of your success and stature in the basketball world, LeBron. They'll will be chomping at the bit to buy a Magic jersey with your name and number on it if you sign with this franchise.

You wouldn't even need to sacrifice any money. You can get a maximum contract and still have the supporting cast around you more than suitable enough to win a championship this season. How does this starting five look:

Nikola Vucevic - Age 23
Aaron Gordon - Age 18
LeBron James
Victor Oladipo - Age 22
Elfrid Payton - Age 20

Boom. So much transition offense, so much potential for a legendary defense. Oladipo is a young Dwyane Wade. Then off the bench you have a 22-year-old Tobias Harris (who is a lot like Carmelo Anthony), a 21-year-old Evan Fournier, a 21-year-old Maurice Harkless, a 24-year-old Kyle O'Quinn, and more. If you come, LeBron, we can round out the roster with solid veterans who will be craving for a ring knowing that any team that has your services will be in one of the best positions to raise a championship banner.

You're 29 years old. You can carry the Magic franchise to a dynasty if you so choose. It'll be your team. No mention of the 'Big 3'. You're the star. It'll be like in Cleveland except this Magic team will be better than any of those Cavaliers squads. When you get older, if you choose to stick around some more, you'll have the younger guys happily carry a larger load and continue to grow your dominating legacy.

Come to Orlando, LeBron, and you very could be the first Magic player to ever have his jersey retired. You'll have statues, artwork, probably a street or two dedicated to you if you help this franchise reach its ultimate goal. The city is growing, and it can use a community ambassador such as yourself. I'm sure your kids love our theme parks. Orlando is a sanctuary from the chaos that comes with living in an enormous city. Come to Orlando, LeBron, and put the 'King' in Magic Kingdom.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Examining Victor Oladipo's 2013-2014 Magic Season

Over the course of the Magic's offseason, leading up to the NBA Draft, I'll be analyzing all of the Orlando players that are still on the roster and how they did in their 2013-2014 campaign. I'll be going in ascending order based on games played. I won't be assigning grades or scores.

Previously in the series:

Maurice Harkless
E'Twaun Moore
Andrew Nicholson
Arron Afflalo
Kyle O'Quinn
Jameer Nelson
Tobias Harris
Nikola Vucevic
Doron Lamb
Jason Maxiell
Ronnie Price
Dewayne Dedmon

Let's take a look at Victor Oladipo.

The last player review is saved for the most exciting player this season. So in that instance, Victor's rookie season was a rousing success without even looking at statistics. I never knew so many Indiana Hoosier fans and alumni lived in Orlando, but they came out in droves to support their favorite current son in Oladipo. Those fans had plenty of games to watch Victor do his thing too as the rookie suited up in 80 contests, starting 44 of them.
Brooklyn Nets Head Coach Jason Kidd on Oladipo following Orlando's November 3rd win"He's a talented rookie. He's everything that he's been built up to be, and his future is very bright."
Former Magic guard now current L.A. Clipper J.J. Redick on Oladipo following the Magic's November 6th win"He is an energy guy. Right now he plays with a lot of energy and he plays in attack mode. His skill set is clearly developing but it is there. He will be a fantastic player." 
Oklahoma City Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks on Oladipo following Orlando's February 7th win"He's a good player. He's an aggressive player. He's offensive minded. He can score. He can put it in the basket at many different spots on the floor. He's only going to get better. He seems like a great kid that works hard, and they've got a good group of guys that coach him."
Vic has earned the entire basketball world's respect. He had to go through a trial-by-fire situation by playing point guard - like Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook did in their first seasons in the Association - when Victor is clearly best as a SG cutting to the basket. But that experienced has proven invaluable for his future going forward. Oladipo has proven to be a very reliable ball handler.

As you can see there's room for improvement, and that's awesome because Victor did absolutely everything asked of him this year by the coaching staff. He's mature beyond his 22 years. His 13.8 ppg, 4.1 apg, 4.1 rpg, 1.6 spg, and 0.5 bpg on 41.9 FG% and 32.7 FG% was almost enough to win Rookie of the Year. But alas, Michael Carter-Williams claimed the award. I've already made my case as to why Victor should have been the ROY award recipient. His 3.2 turnovers per contests should concern no one since he was experimenting for the first time as a main ball handler the entire year.

Oladipo's best month of the season proved to be in January when he averaged the most minutes as well. At 35.3 minutes per contest over 17 games, Victor averaged 15.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.3 apg, 43.2 FG%, and 32.7 3PT%. Victor's best month for shooting was the 8 games he played in April where Oladipo only averaged 23.6 minutes per game. Oladipo finished his rookie campaign strong by posting 46.8 FG% and 50.0 3PT%. Not bad, rook, that's a great way to enter the offseason.

62 times out of his eighty games played did Victor Oladipo score 10+ points. There were twelve games in which he poured in 20+ points. That shows consistency. There isn't really any where on his game log sheet that you can point to and say he hit the 'rookie wall'. That's just a testament to how NBA ready his body was. Oladipo had numerous impressive outings, more than I dare to list in this post, from his triple-double in Philadelphia to his 35-pointer against the Bulls.

With Arron Afflalo being traded, the door is open for Oladipo to slide into a more comfortable starting shooting guard role. Oladipo is making just a hair under $5 million in '14-'15, but that's enough to be the highest guaranteed salary on the current Magic squad with Jameer Nelson's contract only being partially guaranteed. Rob Hennigan has a lean, mean, and young roster at his fingertips with Victor Oladipo being part of the main core.

Oladipo has a phenomenal work ethic, he's hungry for personal and team success, and he'll do what is necessary to improve his game this summer. His defense is already fantastic. If he can continue to raise his shooting averages, he's going to be an All-Star in no time flat. A better jump shot will open up lanes for cleaner scoring chances at the rim. I would say Oladipo is as close to untouchable as one can get on this Magic roster. He's quickly become a fan favorite with his personality and charisma. Victor oozes determination, heart, swagger, and almost everything he does is electric. In a word: 'Feathery'.

Final 2014 Magic Draft Predictions

I'm in the mood for going out on a limb and probably embarrassing myself. So below are my predictions and expectations for what will occur on this crucial day for the Orlando Magic's path towards championship contention.

The rumor that the Magic have offered the Cavaliers Arron Afflalo, the #4 pick, and the #12 pick for Cleveland's #1 pick has caught fire and seems to be a true offer. The Cavs are just waiting to see if any other suitors can offer a better trade package. That and Cleveland is apparently trying to acquire a solid veteran or two with the #4 and/or #12 pick.

Hennigan I think is offering too much to move up 3 spots. Despite ESPN Chad Ford being at the forefront of this rumor, I will disagree with his tweet in that I believe the Magic prefer Andrew Wiggins over Jabari Parker. Hennigan clearly isn't thrilled with the possibly that he'll be left with an injured Joel Embiid as his best option at #4. He'd like more options so that's why he's exploring moving up.

Come Draft time later tonight, I believe another team will have a better trade package - possibly the Sixers or Jazz - than what Orlando is currently offer. The Cavs will trade that #1 pick, but it won't be to the Magic.

It doesn't look like it'll happen, but if the Magic do indeed trade down I think it'll be with Utah to get the #5 and #23 picks from the Jazz for #4. At that instance I see Hennigan taking Marcus Smart who is good value at that spot. One spot makes a big difference. If that exact trade goes down then I think Rob would snag Cleanthony Early with the #23 selection.

Orlando will hold on to their #4 and #12 selections by the end of the evening. I hope Rob can move up, and he'll try all he can within reason, but Orlando I predict doesn't budge from those 2 spots.

At #4 I am praying to the basketball gods that Dante Exum lands in Orlando. I've been foaming at the mouth to get the Aussie in a Magic jersey. I'm holding out hope that the 76ers take Joel Embiid or Noah Vonleh 3rd so that Exum falls to the Magic. I just don't think Philadelphia at #3 passes up on him. Their Head Coach Brett Brown believes in a system with two ball handlers and Exum could work well next to Michael Carter-Williams.

Hennigan hasn't confirmed anything, but I believe Rob and his staff did receive Joel Embiid's medical files. Embiid is the best prospect in this class, and I think Orlando selects Joel with the 4th pick. Even if he sits out a year, the chance of pairing him next to Nik Vucevic is too fantastic to pass up for guys like Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle, or Marcus Smart. Even a 70% Embiid provides so much more than those other prospects.

Somehow and some way the Magic will luck out and have either Nik Stauskas or Doug McDermott fall into their lap at #12. This would be phenomenal because Orlando could definitely use an outstanding outside shooter. Plus, both guys performed very well at the Draft Combine and both are a lot taller than J.J. Redick.

I believe that 'Henny' will trade either Jameer Nelson or Andrew Nicholson in a package that will include a late first round pick or an early 2nd round pick. This Draft is very deep with numerous serviceable players in that range. I already mentioned Early. Jerami Grant would be a wonderful athlete to bring in. Of course I like Thanasis Antetokounmpo. There's some great wing value as other guys like K.J. McDaniels and Glenn Robinson III will be in that range.

There will be wheeling and dealing. Whether the Magic are at the top of those transactions, we'll just have to wait and see. At the end of the day 'In Henny We Trust' still holds true whether Orlando makes drastic changes or not.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Examining Maurice Harkless' 2013-2014 Magic Season

Over the course of the Magic's offseason, leading up to the NBA Draft, I'll be analyzing all of the Orlando players that are still on the roster and how they did in their 2013-2014 campaign. I'll be going in ascending order based on games played. I won't be assigning grades or scores.

Previously in the series:

E'Twaun Moore
Andrew Nicholson
Arron Afflalo
Kyle O'Quinn
Jameer Nelson
Tobias Harris
Nikola Vucevic
Doron Lamb
Jason Maxiell
Ronnie Price
Dewayne Dedmon

Let's take a look at Maurice Harkless

Call me naive, idiotic, a homer, ridiculously optimistic, whatever, I still believe that Maurice Harkless will become a Tracy McGrady-Paul George hybrid. The man just turned 21 years old and has this gift of almost effortless explosiveness. Combine that with this season's strides in improving his already solid defense along with developing into a 3-point shooting specialist, and the Magic have a player who is about to enter his third season on the cusp of kicking his career into another gear.
Magic Head Coach Jacque Vaughn on Maurice Harkless following the November 1st win over New Orleans"We want all our guys to be aggressive and I think overall his focus at the beginning of the game from the tip, from warm-ups, from his concentration in film. I think overall he was ready to play tonight and it showed. That's the mindset and the attitude that every player has to have each night.
For Maurice it was just great to see him actually go through a full Summer League, training camp, and preseason. His sports hernia robbed him of that during his rookie campaign, and that caused him to play catch-up the entire year. His sophomore season saw Maurice stay healthy as his lanky frame put on a lot of muscle. That meant improving his finishing in the paint from last season which he did along with the rest of his shooting. 

Harkless played in 80 contests this season, 4 more than his rookie campaign. His FG% slightly improved to 46.4% despite going from 59 starts to only 41 starts and seeing his season minutes drop by 1.6 per game. He also went from 7.4 shot attempts per contests to 6.0. Free throw shooting needs to get better than 59.4 FT%. The 6'9" wing had 30 games where he scored 10+ points this season, one more than last year. 

The 21-year-old only topped 20+ points three times. His season-high was 22 points.

Maurice's largest strides came from behind the 3-point line going from 27.4 3PT% to 38.3%. Keep in mind, Maurice was in an awfully bad rut in December after losing his starting job. But after the All-Star Break, man did Maurice look like a great shooter. 47.6 FG% and 40.0 3PT% in his final 28 games is so encouraging heading into his third season. Improving his dribbling will open up those jump shots. 

The New York native is set to make about $1.8 million in '14-'15. Then GM Rob Hennigan and company will have to decide on whether or not to exercise Maurice's '15-'16 team option which is valued at about $2.9 million. Harkless was the 15th overall pick taken by the Sixers in the 2012 Draft. The year before it was Kawhi Leonard, who just won a championship with the Spurs and claimed Finals MVP. No one is expecting Harkless to be Kawhi, but Maurice needs to continue to up his shooting reliability and claim the job as Jacque Vaughn's best wing defender to ensure his long-term future in Orlando. Below are some numbers that show Maurice is a better defender than well-respected defensive stopper Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of Charlotte.

Maurice will be participating in international duty for the first time in his life as he will be starting for the Puerto Rican national team - along side ex-Magic man Carlos Arroyo and the tiny JJ Barea - in the FIBA World Cup that will run from late August into September in Spain. It's something that anyone with an interest in Harkless should view intently to see how Maurice can acclimate to a foreign environment against top competition on a global stage. I believe this will be the start of Harkless making his leap in finding his identity and showing us how valuable he will be going forward. Especially now that Orlando will actually be focused on winning. This guy is going to be special if his development stays on track. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fran Vazquez Expected to Remain in Spain for Next 2 Years

I believe that we can FINALLY say with certainty that Fran Vazquez will never play in an Orlando Magic jersey. Multiple news outlets confirm that the 31-year-old is finalizing terms of a renewed contract with current squad Unicaja Malaga. Monetary figures are unknown, but he's taking a pay cut in exchange for a longer contract term. The new deal will be for 2 full guaranteed years that will include a team option for the 2016-2017 campaign. There are expected to be strict financial penalties over the next two years of the contract should Fran wish to escape his deal.

Shut the coffin, lower it into the pit, get the shovels, and start filling in the dirt. The #11 selection of the 2005 NBA Draft will remain one of the worst lottery selections in the Association's history whilst being an infamous black mark on Orlando Magic history.

Fran's clever agent Jose Cobelo mentioned that he had spoken with the Magic front office a few months ago and claimed that larger Spanish teams like Real Madrid were seeking the center's services for next season. This wasn't coincidental timing with Vazquez being asked by Malaga to take less money as the team is going through a shaky financial period. Fran himself almost sabotaged his agent's work by continuing to say he was eager to re-sign with Malaga.

Negotiations were put on the backburner until Real Madrid eliminated Malaga from the ACB playoffs on June 12th. Apparently Rob Hennigan even showed up to one of Malaga's playoff games to chat with Fran. After being eliminated - ending a much improved Malaga campaign from last year - Fran went on repeating constantly that he wanted to remain in Malaga despite other Spanish teams being rumored to sign Vazquez. Either way, job well done to Cobelo then for keeping his client happy as Fran gets to continue playing for his first professional franchise.

Still, I will miss Fran's lisp, his awkward workout videos, and his awesome highlight clips:

Fran is a great player who Magic fans don't need to pay attention to any longer. Vazquez owns a lot of ACB records. Especially when it comes to blocks. He has the most swats in a game with 12. He's 2nd on the all-time ACB league blocks list. With Fran staying at least another 2 years in his nation, he'll own that record as well soon. Vazquez has left his professional mark, unfortunately for Orlando it's just not in the NBA. Fran is still going strong too having a better season than last year. It's a shame because there truly is space on this Magic franchise for a player of Fran's size and skill set. Surely we won't be dealing with Vazquez madness when he's 33 or 34 years old, right? Right? RIGHT?!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Examining E'Twaun Moore's 2013-2014 Magic Season

Over the course of the Magic's offseason, leading up to the NBA Draft, I'll be analyzing all of the Orlando players that are still on the roster and how they did in their 2013-2014 campaign. I'll be going in ascending order based on games played. I won't be assigning grades or scores.

Previously in the series:

Andrew Nicholson
Arron Afflalo
Kyle O'Quinn
Jameer Nelson
Tobias Harris
Nikola Vucevic
Doron Lamb
Jason Maxiell
Ronnie Price
Dewayne Dedmon

Let's take a look at E'Twaun Moore.

It's a bit of a surprise to note that E'Twaun played the 3rd-most games on the Magic roster this year. Moore just didn't seem to have much of an impact on the vast majority of contests. The 3rd-year guard posted a career-high 0.8 steals per game and 42.8 FG%. Everything else decreased along with Moore's minutes. Credit to that goes to Victor Oladipo's solid rookie season.

The 25-year-old averaged about 19 minutes per contest this season - three less from last year - in his 79 games played. Moore's points per game dip from 7.8 ppg last year to 6.3 ppg mirrored that. His 3 starts are a huge drop-off from the 21 contests he began last year. Moore's 35.4 3PT% is slightly better from his first season in Orlando, but still not good enough to warrant extra playing time. Not when his assist-to-turnover ratio was a below average 2-to-1. 

A lot of inconsistencies above, but that shot chart is still better than last year's. It's weird though that his worst 3-point spots last season were his best ones this season and vice versa. Perplexing to say the least. When the Magic went into tank mode post All-Star Break, E'Twaun got more minutes and that extra parquet floor time resuscitated his statistics for the overall season. Going unnoticed is the Purdue Boilermaker's immense improvement in his midrange shot. Moore is still weak in the paint, but he did slightly improve. His patented running floater is my favorite part of his game.

There's not much to like though about what E'Twaun can provide Jacque Vaughn's coaching staff. Moore can't be depended on to be a long-term ball handler, he's too short to defend most shooting guards, Moore's lateral mobility and lack of speed isn't acceptable to succeed against most point guards, his shooting is awfully erratic, and he hasn't been anywhere close to the tenacious defender that he was in his rookie season with the Celtics. 

Coach Vaughn on E'Twaun following a November 6th win over the Clippers: "He's a gamer for one. He loves playing the game of basketball and he loves competing. That gives him a good chance when he steps out on the floor. He's not afraid of the moment either. I don't know if it's his background and the fact that he's not afraid of the moment. Two big 3s by him tonight. We put him on Jamal Crawford, one of their better 1-on-1 players. Hopefully it shows the confidence that I have in him."
Moore's game logs indicate that E'Twaun has just been ridiculously inconsistent. Moore tallied 11+ points only a dozen times this season out of 79 games. That's not good enough when E'Twaun has been given countless opportunities to be the seventh or eight player man off the bench. It's why fans and some media clamored for Doron Lamb and even Ronnie Price to take up much of Moore's court time. 

Magic GM Rob Hennigan has brought a lot of guard prospects into Orlando recently in preparation for Summer League, and that spells bad news for E'Twaun. The franchise has to make a decision on whether or not to utilize this summer's qualifying offer to retain Moore's services. So a decision on whether or not Orlando will spend about $1.15 million to keep E'Twaun for the '14-'15 season will be made very soon.

If a decision has to be made between keeping E'Twaun or Doron Lamb, my preference is retaining D-Lamb. Lamb is cheaper, younger, slightly bigger, and a better defender than Moore. E'Twaun is no longer the 23-year-old intriguing combo guard prospect that he was when he arrived from Boston 2 years ago. If there are better options in Hennigan's eyes to replace E'Twaun - there are - then Moore's Orlando days are numbered.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

To Embiid or Not to Embiid?

That is the question for Orlando Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan with the NBA Draft approaching. By now the entire basketball viewing world knows that 20-year-old Joel Embiid is unable to participate in any basketball activities for the next 4-6 months following surgery on Friday to fix a stress fracture in his right foot. It's unknown how the fracture occurred. Embiid needed 2 screws inserted into his foot to help heal and support the navicular bone. This following a stress fracture in the Cameroonian's back that kept him out of the NCAA tournament.

So why do I still want 'Henny' to select Embiid with the #4 pick on Thursday? Because he's the best player in this class. He thoroughly impressed front offices with his workouts and interviews over the past month. It was well known that the Cavaliers were going to take the Kansas Jayhawk center #1 before this most recent setback. He also very well could be very similar to Hakeem Olajuwon, and Joel's only been playing basketball for a few years.

Joel's defense is already elite and his offense will only get better with more touches and honing of his skills. Embiid is highly praised as having a great work ethic and utilizing his high basketball IQ to adapt and improve on his mistakes. The 7-footer is fantastically agile and explosive for his enormous size. That's because Joel used to be a volleyball player before ever touching a basketball. If Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, and Dante Exum get taken with the top 3 picks, then Embiid is worth the risk because there is no player below Joel who can come close to bringing as much as an impact to an NBA franchise that Joel can.

The most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement has also removed some of the financial shackles that come with selecting a possible injury bust in the top five. Embiid is only getting about $3.5 million per season for the first 3 years of his contract. That's it. After that third year, the Magic can separate themselves from Joel if in fact he remains to be plagued by injuries throughout his pro career. Even if Joel is only healthy for half of his first 3 years, I still value him much higher than other #4 pick options such as Marcus Smart and Noah Vonleh.

Obviously the Magic need access to Embiid's medical files as well as speak with Joel and his agent Arn Tellem to see if he even wants to come to Orlando. If Joel shows excitement for playing in O-Town, then the Magic shouldn't avoid selecting Embiid. Even with career-long injury worries:
Dr. Jung told me this is going to be a big concern. "Having multiple stress fractures can certainly indicate a systemic problem. Stress fractures can occur due to metabolic reasons where the body's ability to heal from the stress of working out is overloaded. Factors affecting bone health include endocrine/hormones, diet, and genetics. Training regimen plays a huge factor, especially if the individual is undergoing intense workouts or a new workout regimen."
It's something that I'm sure Hennigan is talking to his medical staff and consultants about thoroughly. I know Joel's foot injury is similar to Yao Ming's, Brendan Haywood's, and others. But Joel is much younger than those guys were when they got their injuries. It's pointless to bring up Kevin McHale and Bill Walton. Medical technology and treatment strategies for these athletic injuries continuously progress at a rapid rate.

There has also been mention of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Brook Lopez, but their foot injuries were more extensive than what Embiid has gone through thus far. Joel is also much more athletic than both of those big men. And any people whispering the names of Greg Oden and Sam Bowie need to realize that they had knee problems which makes a vast difference in risk in comparison to a person's foot.

Still, it's not something to take likely. Embiid again hasn't played basketball more than 3-4 years. Joel has not acclimated himself fully to the rigors of constantly playing basketball. His body couldn't make it through a 40-game college season. Who is to say it'll ever make it through a full Summer League, training camp, preseason, 82-game regular season, and playoffs? Don't forget about potential national team duty in the future as well. It's a lot to contemplate, but that's what Rob is getting paid to do. Weigh all of the options on the table.

Just because Hennigan didn't trade Dwight Howard for Brook Lopez or Andrew Bynum doesn't necessarily indicate that he'll avoid Embiid or any other players with injuries. The Nets and Lakers didn't exactly offer great trade packages. Lopez and Bynum also both would have been massive salary cap chunk takers. Both have differing injury, health, attitude, and work ethic worries.

Hennigan could have picked Nerlens Noel with the 2nd pick in last year's draft when the Cavaliers surprising passed on him. Instead, Rob avoided the Kentucky Wildcat center who had ACL surgery and went with Victor Oladipo. For me, there is no one as great as Oladipo or Embiid to select at #4 come June 26th.

We all know that Hennigan and Head Coach Jacque Vaughn will be entering their 3rd season together, and obviously they'll be expected to boost the team to win 30+ games in '14-'15 to show to the DeVos family and Magic fans that they're progressing toward becoming a championship contender. The pressure to have their #4 and #12 draft picks come in and contribute immediately is there, but it can't cloud prospect evaluations.

Barring Exum, Parker, or Wiggins falling to them, Joel Embiid is the best talent available at #4. Even if he sits half the season or even his entire first season. This Magic team without Embiid will be good enough to win 30+ games. Add Joel into the mix come January, and a playoff berth isn't out of the question.

But Adam, why draft a center when we already have Nikola Vucevic? Because our Montenegrin isn't a rim protector in the way that Embiid is. The 20-year-old is going to enter the NBA immediately as one of the best big men defenders in basketball. Joel is mobile enough that he can play PF next to Nik in the frontcourt to create a new twin towers. Embiid can shoot the jumper, and post-up, so he and Nik will be able to play on offense together without too large of a concern about crowding the paint. Both are also above average passers for their stature. That'll make any coaching staff smile at the possibilities of panicking the opposition.

Why the dislike for Marcus Smart and Noah Vonleh?  Let's take a look.

The Magic probably would have selected Smart over Victor Oladipo had Marcus remained in the Draft last year. Unfortunately for Smart, he stayed another year at Oklahoma State only to not improve his game or his perceived image. Marcus is a bad shooter who worsened his assist-to-turnover ratio and also had folks question his character with his incident with the fan and some questionable emotional outbreaks on the court.

Smart is also an inch shorter than Oladipo and having a 6'3" and 6'4" backcourt pairing could be an issue considering both have similar styles. If the Magic picked 5th and Exum, Embiid, Wiggins, and Parker were off the board, I would more than happy with taking Marcus. It's just Smart isn't the correct choice at #4.

Vonleh has youth on his side in being only 18 years old, but he's more of an athlete with huge hands and a great wingspan than an actual basketball player in my eyes. Noah got taken advantage of by lesser competition on both ends of the court and never displayed nearly enough aggressiveness. His lack of explosiveness mirrors that of Andrew Nicholson and that's a problem despite his size. I don't believe a low basketball IQ fits well with what Hennigan and Vaughn are building in Orlando.

I value Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, and Dario Saric more than I do Vonleh. If the Magic take the Indiana Hoosier, I hope he proves me wrong.

To emphasize once more, if Wiggins, Parker, and Exum are all snatched up when it comes time for the 4th pick, then Joel Embiid should be the selection as the best player available. As long as Hennigan does his homework (which he will) and Embiid along with his representation are ecstatic at the possibility of landing in Orlando, then Joel is a rare talent that the Magic can't pass up on. I know folks are still traumatized by Grant Hill's 7-year Magic nightmare, but calculated risks need to be taken. I deem selecting Embiid to be one of those.

Smart or Vonleh are considered safer picks but their impacts are limited in comparison to what a healthy Joel can provide. Embiid not playing in his first professional season could still translate into Joel being a main piece to a potential basketball dynasty. Can you say that about any other prospect available at #4?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Examining Andrew Nicholson's 2013-2014 Magic Season

Over the course of the Magic's offseason, leading up to the NBA Draft, I'll be analyzing all of the Orlando players that are still on the roster and how they did in their 2013-2014 campaign. I'll be going in ascending order based on games played. I won't be assigning grades or scores.

Previously in the series:

Arron Afflalo
Kyle O'Quinn
Jameer Nelson
Tobias Harris
Nikola Vucevic
Doron Lamb
Jason Maxiell
Ronnie Price
Dewayne Dedmon

Let's take a look at Andrew Nicholson

That 18-point Opening Night showing in Indiana feels light years away now. Within a year, Nicholson went from a steal of a draft pick selection at #19 and playing in the Rising Stars exhibition at All-Star Weekend, to struggling on both ends of the court and being buried on Jacque Vaughn's bench. Sophomore slump or not, can someone find the Canadian his confidence again?

Nicholson somehow managed to step onto the court in 76 games this season, one more than his rookie year. Andrew though dropped from 28 starts to only 5 in '13-'14. He upped his free throw shooting to 82.5% and his rebounding slightly improved despite playing fewer minutes.

The positives end there. His points per game went from 7.8 last year to 5.7 this year. Nicholson only managed 15 games in which he scored 10+ points. Last year it was 28 contests. His 2-point shooting percentage also plummeted from a sturdy 52.7% last season to an average at best 45.9%.

The biggest media criticism about the St. Bonaventure product in 2012-2013 was that he wasn't exactly the most outgoing guy to interview. Being short in his answer replies is the least of his problems now. That shotchart is bleeding out of control in comparison to Andrew's tidy chart from his rookie campaign.

Last summer the 24-year-old added a 3-point shot - after not attempting a single 3-ball his rookie year - to what had been deemed an already deadly offensive arsenal. It appeared to pay off at the FIBA Americas tournament as well as early on in the Mississauga native's '13-'14 Magic campaign where Nicholson demanded immediate respect for his inside-outside repertoire. Andrew also developed a nifty driving floater that I wished he'd use more. But that 3-point shot ended up poisoning Andrew's entire season.

Andrew's 31.5 3PT% easily would have been worse if not for a respectable April during Orlando's tanking stretch. His field goal percentage was a bad 42.9%. Andrew's technique with both his footwork and shooting form grew sloppy and inconsistent. He continues to display large lapses in both man-on-man and help defensive awareness.

Nicholson's two outstanding performances in late October to open the regular season should have been a sign of things to come. Instead, the 6'9" big man hit an awful shooting stretch between mid-December all the way through March. Worse yet, Andrew is still a defensive liability especially when it comes to being sluggish in help situations. So there was no incentive for Jacque Vaughn to play Nicholson. Not when Kyle O'Quinn was taking advantage of playing time. I drank the Andrew Kool-Aid and right now all of our drinks are spiked.

As awful as Nicholson was this season, it's way too early to give up on a guy who has only played basketball about 6 years total in his life. Rob Hennigan is only scheduled to pay Andrew about $1.5 million next season. Andrew began to right the ship finally in April so he's not broken. Not yet anyway. Andrew doesn't have any Canadian national team duty this offseason, so he can focus solely on his Magic duties.

Would I trade Nicholson for a late first round pick in this '14 Draft? Yeah. I'm a big fan of guys like Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. However, Andrew isn't worth that right now. Maybe a great 2nd rounder. Orlando is better off holding on to Nicholson and seeing what his mental strength is when it comes to facing adversity. Hopefully Coach Vaughn and his staff gave Andrew a proper regiment to get their man back on track again.

I believe Nicholson can bounce back in his third season, but he needs to focus on improving his athleticism (he made some noticeable strides this year), becoming mediocre enough on defense to warrant Coach Vaughn keeping him on the court for more than a handful of minutes, and finding his dominant and efficient paint offense once more.

Andrew is behind Tobias Harris, Kyle O'Quinn, and even Dewayne Dedmon on the PF depth chart. He'll be buried even more if Orlando drafts another big man. Andrew needs to realize that he is fighting for his roster spot heading into training camp in October. Nicholson's on-court progress will have to improve if the Magic are going to pick up his $2.4 million team option for 2015-2016.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Majority of Mock Drafts Have Magic Picking Foreigners

We're a week away from the June 26th NBA Draft, and the picture is beginning to clear up about who the Orlando Magic are targeting with their fourth and twelfth picks.

ESPN - Chad Ford in particular - has currently settled on the Magic nabbing the 6'6" Australian guard Dante Exum at #4 and the Croatian PF Dario Saric at #12. Below is a detailed breakdown of the two prospects that include some fancy ESPN The Magazine graphics. Open the pictures in another tab to enlarge:

Scouring the web for other mock drafts I noticed Bleacher Report believes Orlando will get Dante Exum and Michigan 3-point specialist Nik Stauskas due to Saric not being available for the Magic at #12. You won't find any complaints from me if Orlando does end up with Stauskas. Nik looked outstanding at the Chicago Draft Combine and Jacque Vaughn has great use for another shooter. However, I would be stunned if Stauskas is still on the board come the twelfth selection.

The always highly respected DraftExpress currently has Orlando picking Dante Exum at #4 and the 6'11" Bosnian center Jusuf Nurkic at #12. They along with Bleacher Report believe that Dario Saric will be picked by Denver at #11. Nurkic doesn't fit a need. The Magic have Kyle O'Quinn and Dewayne Dedmon to fill the center spots with Andrew Nicholson and Jason Maxiell still on the roster as well. Nurkic plays for a winner but his conditioning is spotty and his defending abilities are worse. Jusuf isn't a good fit in Orlando.

The official NBA website's most recent consensus mock draft has Orlando getting Dante Exum. They also list Dario Saric being taken by Denver at #11. That leaves quite a large variety of options at #12. Listed in a tie are Nik Stauskas, Michigan State SG Gary Harris, Duke wing Rodney Hood, Kentucky wing James Young, Louisiana-Lafayette 6'4" guard Elfrid Payton, and Creighton forward Doug McDermott.

McDermott's chances at being available at #12 are better than Stauskas'. Doug is legitimately 6'8" and he didn't disappoint in combine workouts. I'd be content with 'Dougie McBuckets'. Payton is rising on mock drafts because of his private workouts, but I don't trust a Sun Belt player who didn't impress on the court. Pass. Harris is undersized and Rodney Hood has a bad wingspan for a professional basketball player. Young's athleticism is actually worse than Stauskas and McDermott so the Wildcat is lower on the totem pole for me.

HoopsHype's mock draft has the Magic getting Exum at #4 while passing up both Saric and McDermott at #12 in favor of Duke's Rodney Hood. I value Dario and Doug ahead of Rodney and I hope Rob Hennigan and his draft crew does as well. Hood shot the ball well with the Blue Devils, but was abysmal in the Tourney once the pressure and physicality amped up.

Over at CBS Sports, Gary Parrish and Zach Harper both have Exum landing in Orlando while Matt Moore has the Magic taking Julius Randle with the #4 pick. I believe Randle is the better power forward prospect over guys like Aaron Gordon and Noah Vonleh, but I'd rather the Magic get Exum. If Dante's off the board at #4, then trade down and get Marcus Smart. Orlando needs a point guard and I haven't heard any interest in Tyler Ennis. Stay away from Payton and Zach LaVine.

As for the #12 selection, Parrish says Orlando takes Michigan State big man Adreian Payne. Payne could be a good pro, but even at that spot he's too risky to select. Payne is already 23 years old and he has lung issues that can limit his playing time. Pass. Zach Harper has Orlando snagging Nik Stauskas while Matt Moore sees Dario Saric being taken. I'm more than happy with either.

Finally, let's take a peek at what the Basketball Insiders crew have in their mock drafts. Alex Kennedy has the Magic taking Indiana big man Noah Vonleh at #4 while Joel Brigham, Steve Kyler, and fellow Greek Yannis Koutroupis say it'll be Dante Exum. I hope Alex is wrong because Vonleh for me is no better than Bismack Biyombo (I know Noah already has better offensive weapons) at this point in time. Looks good on paper, decent athlete, but nothing in his work indicates he'll be even a decent NBA player.

Looking at the #12 spot there's plenty of variety. Alex Kennedy thinks it'll be Elfrid Payton going to Orlando. Again, I hope Alex is wrong. Joel Brigham is thinking Adreian Payne. Payne seems to have slipped out of the lottery at this time. Steve Kyler believes it'll be Jusuf Nurkic. It just doesn't make much sense for Orlando to take Nurkic right now when there are other needs. Yannis Koutroupis rounds the mock draft out by saying the Magic will take Dario Saric.

So overall Dante Exum is the overwhelming favorite to be chosen #4 while most of the mock drafts believe the Magic take another foreigner in either Dario Saric or Jusuf Nurkic. It's funny that just last week many media members had Orlando settling on Marcus Smart with the 4th pick based strictly on Orlando liking him last year. New year, new info. Also, Dante's Orlando workout yesterday apparently went very well according to Chad Ford in an ESPN online chat.

Dante Exum is becoming such a popular prospect that media members from teams with picks just below the Magic are starting to take hacks at Exum to lower his draft stock. It's a clever tactic. I'm thrilled to see folks jumping on my Dante Exum bandwagon. Hop aboard, there's plenty of room. Now let's cross our fingers and hope the Bucks and Sixers don't pass up guys like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker in order to take the Aussie.

As far as the 12th pick goes, few thought Dario Saric would drop to #12 but rumors of the Croatian not working out for teams is causing Dario to slip down draft boards. Even so I'd be stunned if the 20-year-old is available come time for the twelfth selection. I view him as a top 5 talent. If Orlando gets Exum at #4, then my top three for the 12th pick in order of preference are Saric, Stauskas, and McDermott.

One of them should drop into the Magic's hands and that right there would make for a very successful draft. If it is Exum and Saric (or Nurkic), quite a bit more international flavor will have been added to the franchise. Based on fan interaction in person and on message boards, that won't make many Magic fans thrilled.

Why the xenophobia? Why the uncertainty about drafting internationals? Otis Smith and his front office associates chose Fran Vazquez in 2005. A lot of things have changed since then. Most importantly, Rob Hennigan has proven already that he's much more thorough in evaluating talent than the previous regime. International prospects shouldn't be shunned away because they're not shown on televisions across America on a weekly basis.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

VIDEO: Victor Oladipo Grades His Rookie Season a D+

Magic guard Victor Oladipo gave a rare offseason interview to Jim Rome's CBS Sports program on Monday and discussed a variety of interesting topics. The 22-year-old really is a tough grader of himself because Victor said his NBA rookie campaign was "a D+" stating that he sees plenty of room for improving his game. 'Dipo continues to have visions of grandeur for his professional career.

Finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Michael Carter-Williams will only be used to fuel Oladipo's motivation for success. Victor told Rome that one thing he's working on this summer so far is "having a consistent jump shot" and being a more vocal leader. The Indiana Hoosier won't label himself as a certain position claiming he's "all of the above". 'Dipo also shows his appreciation for what Jameer Nelson has done for him so far. Victor gave the 'I don't know' answer when Rome asked him about Jameer's future with the team. It's a very good 4-minute video to watch.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Examining Arron Afflalo's 2013-2014 Magic Season

Over the course of the Magic's offseason, leading up to the NBA Draft, I'll be analyzing all of the Orlando players that are still on the roster and how they did in their 2013-2014 campaign. I'll be going in ascending order based on games played. I won't be assigning grades or scores.

Previously in the series:

Kyle O'Quinn
Jameer Nelson
Tobias Harris
Nikola Vucevic
Doron Lamb
Jason Maxiell
Ronnie Price
Dewayne Dedmon

Let's take a look at Arron Afflalo.

What should be immediately noted is that Arron Afflalo played and started 73 games. That's nine more than his first season in O-Town. He vowed after last season to work even harder in the offseason to strengthen his body and he successfully accomplished that with a new training regiment and diet. It was pretty evident early in the regular season that Orlando was getting a better Arron Afflalo:

The UCLA product's 7th season in the NBA saw him tallying a few career-high averages: 18.2 points per contest, 3.4 assists per game, 3.8 free throws made per game, 4.6 FT attempts per contest, and 6.4 field goal makes per game. His 42.7 3PT% was only surpassed by the 43.4% shot in his 3rd season (first in Denver). The 45.9 FG% is a full two percent better than last year. Those increases in efficiency make it obvious as to why Arron's scoring average was raised by 1.7 ppg. 

Arron put up a career-high 36 points behind eight 3-pointers in a nifty come-from-behind victory at home against the Milwaukee Bucks on November 13th. In fact, Afflalo hit five or more 3-pointers in four contests this season. Then 'AA' decided to top that on December 3rd with a new benchmark best of 43 points in the heartbreaking double overtime defeat in Philadelphia. Afflalo tallied 20+ points THIRTY times in '13-'14 which is what you want out of your team's leading scorer. Afflalo had a 6-game stretch in late December where he notched 21+ points in each contest. 

That's a wonderful shot chart, especially when you compare it to his 2012-2013 campaign. Even better was the fact that Arron grew his assist and play-making prowess while simultaneously decreasing his turnovers. A lot of that improvement can be seen just based on him protecting the ball whenever he had to dribble. The man from Compton, California just missed out on being chosen for the All-Star Game. You can argue he was snubbed. 

Memphis Grizzlies Coach David Joerger following the February 12th game"Afflalo, we did a nice job in the first half, got going a little bit in the 2nd half. That guy's an All-Star. He's had a great year. He's a tremendous player. I love him."
Jacque Vaughn from January 31st on Afflalo being snubbed from the All-Star Game: "I think we're all human and the last thing I told him was this 2nd half of the season to continue to let the league know how good you are. He's a guy that takes pride in his craft and whether or not he says he was trying to send a message, I'm not sure, but I just loved the way he played tonight. His focus was extremely diligent tonight."
Afflalo will be 29 years old in October. Still in his prime technically. He's gotten better every season he's been in the league. If he and the Magic improve in the '14-'15 campaign, 'AA' will definitely be an All-Star. He made leaps and bounds this season both on-the-ball and off-the-ball. Arron really meshed well with rookie Victor Oladipo. 

The 6'5" wing player is set to make $7,750,000 both next season and the year after that as well before Arron becomes a free agent in the summer of 2016. For a borderline All-Star, that's great value. Rob Hennigan won't treat Afflalo's contract like the dead weight of Hedo Turkoglu or Al Harrington. Arron can start on a large number of teams and won't be just given away in a trade. 

I am worried about Arron's durability still. Just for some strange reason Arron picks up a lot of minor lower-body injuries that limit his effectiveness. They contributed to his drop-off in production after the All-Star Break. Tanking isn't exactly being factored into that 4 points per game drop either. He's tough as nails and plays through more injuries than your average NBAer, but his feet get wrecked over the course of a season. It was a bigger issue last year than this season. Afflalo played the first 25 games of the season. He also didn't miss a contest after March 5th. Can Arron be close to 100% entering a postseason? Just something to ponder.

Arron is respected by most players, media, and fans. It's tough to hate a guy with his attitude, lead-by-example mentality, and competitive spirit. With that said, if the Magic draft a guard such as Dante Exum or Marcus Smart then it may be time to seek a trade partner for Arron. Afflalo can start on quite a few teams. Think Sacramento or Charlotte. Those two teams have the 8th and 9th overall picks in the June 26th NBA Draft. 

If there's a prospect Orlando likes that can't be obtained at #12, then Hennigan can put together an attractive package that includes Arron to move up and snag the prospect they want while also getting back a veteran and maybe a young pro. With that said, I don't think any of those teams previously mentioned have that would tempt Rob to pull the trigger on a deal to ship out Afflalo. 'AA' is a leader in the Magic locker room and that can't be neglected. Arron's on a solid contract and can always be dealt before the trade deadline in February. 

For now, enjoy everything Afflalo represents on and away from the parquet floor. It'd be fantastic if he was part of this franchise making strides in the playoffs once again.