The Critical Improvement Each Young Orlando Magic Player Must Make

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2012

The Critical Improvement Each Young Orlando Magic Player Must Make

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    If the Orlando Magic are to make this transitional year a successful one, the team's younger players will need to make some significant strides forward over the next 12 months.

    Given that the organization has clearly shown it is focused on rebuilding through youth, the Magic and coach Jacque Vaughn will be desperate to see some improvement from the team's group of talented but rather raw youngsters.

    Although the team has some veteran pieces on its roster, many are unlikely to feature in Orlando's future for a significant period of time. As a result, the responsibility of taking this team back into the NBA's elite lies with the plethora of young talent the Magic acquired this offseason.

    Some are rookies straight from the draft, while others have been in the league for a short period of time. If the Magic are to begin a successful rebuild, then all need to improve dramatically over the course of the 2012-13 NBA season.

Andrew Nicholson

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    While Nicholson's skill is undeniable, it's his athletic ability that needs to improve if he's going to become a star forward for the Magic in the NBA.

    At 6'9", Nicholson doesn't possess the speed, quickness, strength or leaping ability to combat the very best power forwards in the league.

    However, what he does possess is some significant offensive skills. The former St. Bonaventure forward has solid footwork in the post, great shooting range and soft hands to finish at the basket. Adding some size and speed to the package would make Nicholson a potential star in the NBA.

    As a result, the bulk of Nicholson's improvement this year will stem from his work in the gym. While he's likely to be given substantial court time by Vaughn, it will be his work with the Magic's strength and conditioning coach Joe Rogowski that will define Nicholson's season.

Ish Smith

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    Now into his third season in the league, Smith needs to make some genuine strides forward this season if he is to make it as a point guard in the NBA.

    With his speed, Smith is able to slash to the basket and adequately guard on the perimeter at the other end, but his overall efficiency needs to improve if he wants to be the first backup behind Jameer Nelson.

    A pass-first point-guard, Smith's outside shooting needs work if he is to pose a threat on the offensive end. A career field goal percentage of under 38 percent simply won't cut it in the NBA. Sixty-one percent from the free-throw line won't either.

    Additionally, Smith's work in half-court sets will need to improve as well. While he's very effective orchestrating a play in transition, he's proved less effective when the pace slows down. With a large crop of young forwards and centers requiring the ball in their hands, Smith will need to find a way to make it work in the half-court game.

Justin Harper

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    Justin Harper was one the players acquired by the Magic to fit around Dwight Howard.

    At 6'9" with great shooting range, the combo forward can stretch the floor and open up the paint. Sound familiar in Orlando?

    With Howard gone, the Magic will no longer rely on that sort of one-two punch with perimeter shooting surrounding Dwight Howard. As a result, Harper's game will need to evolve if he intends on being in Orlando moving forward.

    Currently, Harper lacks the speed to guard the quick small forwards in the league, while he lacks the strength and size to battle with the better power forwards. Quite simply, he either needs to get substantially quicker or stronger to give himself a true position.

    Skills-wise, Harper also needs to develop a back-to-the-basket game, as he tends to rely on his shooting and ability to drive to the basket to score.

    If he's able to make some genuine advances in those areas, he could be a promising prospect for the Magic.

Maurice Harkless

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    Harkless is one of the brightest prospects Orlando has, with many Magic fans eager to see the impact he can make straight away. However, at just 19 years of age, the former St. John's forward has plenty of improvement to make before he's a star in the NBA.

    Like Harper, Harkless' skill set is that of a combo forward. While he should develop into a small forward in the NBA, the majority of his scores come around the basket due to his athleticism and length. His explosive first step gives him an advantage over similar-sized opponents, while his leaping ability provides scoring chances at the rim.

    Yet, to become a star in the league, Harkless needs to improve his shooting ability, both in spot-up situations and off the dribble. Currently, he is very raw in this area and will struggle to make an impact as a small forward immediately without developing that part of his game. The promising part of the equation is that he has the mechanics to do so.

    If he's able to add shooting range and consistency to his fantastic athleticism at both ends of the floor, then Orlando may well have a potential star on their hands in Harkless.

E'Twaun Moore

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    Moore is likely to start the season as Nelson's primary backup at point guard given his performance in the preseason so far.

    However, Moore currently has the skill set of a combo guard and needs to find a true position for himself in the coming 12 months.

    At 6'4", Moore is clearly bigger than the diminutive Nelson and will provide the Magic with contrasting styles at the point guard position. Yet, as a point guard, Moore lacks the speed to break down teams off the dribble, while his ball-handling is hardly elite. Additionally, his lack of athleticism will see him caught out when defending the league's best and most explosive ball-handlers.

    His real strength lies in his shooting, particularly in spot-up situations, making it easy to see why he's arguably a shooting guard rather than a point guard.

    Given that he needs to be able to create for himself and others if he's to play behind Nelson, Moore will need to drastically improve his athleticism, ball-handling and passing if he is to make it as a point guard in the NBA.

Nikola Vucevic

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    Like many big men, Vucevic will take time to complete his development in the NBA.

    The promising news for Orlando fans is that the skills are there for the Montenegrin big man to become a very good center in this league.

    Possessing soft touch around the rim and a great mid-range game, Vucevic can be a fantastic offensive center for the Magic quite quickly.

    However, if he's to become one of the better big men in the league, he needs to significantly improve his athleticism and work at the defensive end.

    The former 76er doesn't own any explosiveness when it comes to running the floor or crashing the boards. As a result, he'll be a non-factor in transition and will get worked over by the more athletic centers in the NBA when in the paint.

    Consequently, don't expect great numbers in terms of rebounds and blocks this season.

    If Vucevic is to be a future star in Orlando, then these areas must be quickly addressed.

Kyle O'Quinn

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    O'Quinn is another one of the Magic's promising young forwards that will need to develop quickly if the Magic are to make their rebuild successful.

    In contrast to Nicholson, O'Quinn already possesses the build and size to compete at power forward in the NBA. At 6'10" and 240 lbs, he is well-equipped to battle with the league's best big men.

    However, unlike Nicholson, O'Quinn doesn't own the array of skills to make an immediate impact. While he'll be an effective defensive enforcer (foul trouble withstanding), O'Quinn's lack of polish at the offensive end will see him likely placed behind Nicholson in the Magic's rotation.

    In conjunction with a below-average basketball IQ, O'Quinn lacks the footwork and post play to score consistently in the paint, while his shooting range doesn't extend past 16 feet. He can also be turnover prone.

    If he intends on breaking into the Magic's rotation in the near future, his very raw game at the offensive end will need to improve quite drastically.

DeQuan Jones

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    After featuring in the starting lineup for the Magic's most recent preseason game against Cleveland, it appears that Jones may have a future in Orlando.

    At 6'6" with incredible athleticism, Jones is known for throwing down some simply thunderous dunks. He's also capable of being a very good perimeter defender given his quickness and length.

    However, Jones' biggest weakness is that he still has very little awareness of how to put it all together. A below-average basketball IQ mixed with subpar ball-handling, poor shooting and little focus means Jones is as raw as they get.

    If he has any chance to be a regular in Vaughn's rotation, then he simply must improve his decision-making and ball-handling in particular to ensure he isn't turnover prone the instant he takes the court.

    If he's able to improve in those areas initially, then gains in his offensive repertoire will be easier to find down the track.