After the recent conclusion to the nightmare that slowly destroyed the credibility and reliability of the Orlando Magic franchise, along with the perennial All-Star who started this whole ordeal, the organization has been dubbed the worst team in the league by numerous people in the NBA community.
That's rather premature. As far as I know, the Charlotte Bobcats, a team that won a grand total of seven out of its 66 games last season, are still in the league.
The Orlando Magic will not be that dismal. In fact, I expect the revamped roster to be quite competitive.
There is no denying the Orlando Magic were clear losers in the summer's blockbuster trade that saw their franchise cornerstone shipped to California. They received no elite prospects, established All-Star caliber veterans or top-tier draft picks in exchange for arguably the greatest center of the past decade.
Nonetheless, Orlando still has a talented roster, composed with a nice blend of young talents and seasoned elder statesman. Even more surprisingly, though, is the fact that the Magic may be one of the deepest teams in the entire Association.
Before any of you blow up the comment section, listen to my argument.
The projected starting lineup for the Orlando Magic is unremarkable, if not solid. While this core group does possess experience on the playoff stage, a platform the Magic will almost certainly not see, they do have numerous glaring holes.
First of all, the team has no go-to scorer, a necessity for NBA success. Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis can both put up quality offensive production, but neither can be relied on every single game. Afflalo, in fact, was thrust into the aforementioned role last year with the Denver Nuggets. This experiment failed, though, considering the guard only scored 15 points on 11 shot attempts per contest.
Davis, on the other hand, shined in Howard's absence in last year's playoffs. In five games against the Indiana Pacers, "Big Baby" averaged 19 points and nine boards. If he put up those statistics in the regular season he would be in All-Star consideration. However, Davis' stats were quite bloated due to Ryan Anderson's horrible play and averaging over 38 minutes per night.
Don't expect him to see him average that amount of playing time this year.
Jameer Nelson, who just inked a head-scratching three-year, $19.7 million contract, has diminishing skills due to his advanced age. The 30-year-old isn't quick enough to blow by defenders anymore, and he's never been the most consistent shooter.
Hedo Türkoğlu and Nikola Vučević round out the starting lineup, but neither are fit to contribute major production due to their respective reasons. Vučević, a true seven-footer from USC, in only 21 years old and still has a considerable amount of growing to do until he is considered a polished center.
Türkoğlu, though, is entering the twilight of his career. Due to his contributions, or lack thereof, and massive contract, Blue and White fans have been calling for the Magic brass to ship the Turkish small forward for the last year. This, of course, has come to no avail.
If you think this core's offense is shaky, however, their defense is downright horrible. With the exception of Afflalo, everybody in the team's starting five is considered a defensive liability.
Nelson and Davis are considered small and slow for their respective positions. Türkoğlu's athleticism has been on a steady decline for the past few years, allowing small forwards to take complete advantage of him. Vučević isn't a shot-blocking threat, nor has he been willing to consistently take charges.
In the end, this starting lineup has a low ceiling, due to no prospects other than Vučević, and will be routinely outscored on a nightly basis. So, why is Orlando going to find some success this year?
Due to their deep bench, the Magic may be able to put up a decent fight even against the elites.
The bench boasts a an athletically-gifted group consisting of rookie forwards Andrew Nicholson (22 years old) and Moe Harkless (19), lightening quick point guard Ish Smith (24), sharpshooter J.J. Redick (28), centers Gustavo Ayon (27) and Kyle O'Quinn (22) and high-octane scoring power forward Al Harrington (32).
My instant impression of this bench unit is their incredible youth and considerable size and speed.
Few teams can say they have a core this talented and spry coming off their pine.
The three first-year players, the triumvirate of O'Quinn, Harkless and Nicholson, should not be expected to shine right off the bat, but they are sure to be staple points in the rotation by the end of the season. Don't count out any of them for pushing to steal a starting spot sometime during this year.
Smith, who was buried on the bench last year in favor of Chris Duhon, will finally have the opportunity to showcase his impressive game. Unlike Nelson, Smith's game relies heavily on his footwork, shooting and athleticism. In turn, these two facilitators will make a fantastic one-two punch.
Ayon and Harrington, both acquired through offseason trades, should be heavily utilized due to their polished post-games and size.
Redick, the team's undisputed sixth man, may be the team's most important bench player. While the former Duke star has never been labeled a starter, his scoring averages have gone up each of the last five seasons, culminating in a 11.6 points per game effort last year.
What I am trying to stress is that this second-unit can help alleviate the issues that will plague the starting lineup. Winning 20 games next year should not be out of the question with this team's depth.
Temper your expectations, however, if you think a postseason appearance is in the cards. Draft position will be Orlando's best friend come next April, as a rebuilding mode is surely where the Magic are headed.