People are starting to talk about the Eastern Conference again. It’s still LeBron’s to lose, which he hasn’t done in over five years, and now the Cavs are the gatekeepers of the East until otherwise.
Teams like the Raptors, Celtics, and Pacers are to be considered the most legitimate contenders against Cleveland going into the 2016-17 season. The next tier of teams in the East gets dicey, with yet-to-be-seen potential from teams like New York and Chicago versus teams like Washington and Charlotte who are more established but still need to earn that standing.
I’m looking at the Orlando Magic as a possible on the cusp team for Eastern Conference playoff potential. There are three main reasons why they interest me this season.
Frank Vogel knows what it looks like atop the Eastern Conference. He’s coached a star player in Paul George and admittedly plans on using George as a model for his most versatile player in Aaron Gordon. Vogel’s experience and approach is probably most appealing about the Magic right now, but he also has pieces to work with.
Full front court
Trading Victor Oladipo and acquiring Serge Ibaka meant taking a hit in the back court, but I’m legitimately intrigued by the potential of Orlando’s front court. Ibaka’s presence is a major add. He contributes to the offensive identity as a terrific shooter paired with Nikola Vucevic’s inside scoring ability and he contributes to the defensive side of the ball with his mobility and shot-blocking. Signing Jeff Green offers some versatility and added scoring potential as well.
Ibaka and new signee Bismack Biyombo have high aspirations for the Magic defense, and with Aaron Gordon floating as the main swing forward, Vogel has shooting, athleticism, and paint protection throughout his front court.
Oladipo was the Magic’s most talented guard. He took the second most shot attempts per game (13) behind Vucevic which means there is room for others to receive more touches and activate themselves in the offense. Specifically, the opportunity will be there for Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja. Even though Vogel seems to be targeting Gordon as a personal project, I think he also needs to encourage Hezonja to continue feeling his way out and bounce back from a rocky rookie season. His aggression and athleticism can be assets if channeled.
In the weakened backcourt, Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton are challenged to act as more prime playmaking and scoring guards. In the absolute best case scenario for the Magic, Jodie Meeks returns healthy in November as a needed trigger man option off the bench.
Lofty expectations don’t exist for the Magic this season after winning 35 games in 2015-16. In my estimation they at least have a chance to make their presence felt for a possible low-seeded playoff berth. With the bottom half of the Eastern Conference up in the air, with health and opportunity on their side, I’m pretty interested to see how the Magic are slated in the East around the All-Star break.