In remarkable fashion, the Orlando Magic are actually in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, which is quite the shock, considering all of their head-scratching transactions last summer. Despite losing Ryan Anderson and Dwight Howard, the Magic have managed to win 11 of their 24 games to start the season.
Not bad for a team that is just starting their rebuilding process.
On the respective backs of guards Arron Afflalo, J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson, the Orlando Magic look competitive every single night, avoiding being labeled one of the worst teams in the NBA. After all, this squad has already taken down the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets this season.
The NBA community had better watch out for this underdog team, as there is no denying the Magic are in solid position to acquire a playoff berth.
*All statistics and records are accurate as of December 19, 2012.
Before the start of the season, many predicted the Orlando Magic were going to struggle with issues regarding depth. After all, Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis, J.J. Redick, Arron Afflalo, Hedo Türkoğlu and Al Harrington were the only proven NBA players on the roster.
Making matters worse was the injury sustained by Hedo Türkoğlu (broke his hand in the season opener) and Al Harrington's ongoing battle to recover from two knee surgeries in the offseason. Neither have returned to the court.
This forced the Magic to utilize their young talent, whether they were ready or not.
Simply put, they were ready.
Big man Nikola Vučević, a 22-year-old from USC, has been spectacular in his role as starting center. After a forgettable rookie year with the Philadelphia 76ers, this young seven-footer is averaging nearly 10 points and 10 boards per game.
E'Twaun Moore, a 23-year-old guard, has been arguably the most important bench player, aside from J.J. Redick. The former Boston Celtics shooting guard has learned to play a facilitating role, but he has also has maintained his ability to be a spark plug on offense, averaging nine points per night.
Rookies Andrew Nicholson, DeQuan Jones, Kyle O'Quinn and Moe Harkless don't possess eye-popping statistics, but they have managed to solidify themselves as rotation players. Their hustle, athleticism and energy are much appreciated, as the Magic have needed help in those departments in past seasons.
With no definitive superstar, the Orlando Magic rely on ball movement to score most of their points. While not possessing a true go-to scorer may hurt the team down the line, there is no denying that the Magic have managed just fine without one.
Averaging about 23 assists per game, the Orlando Magic rank an astounding fifth in the entire league in that department. Considering the team doesn't have an elite distributor, like Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo, this statistic is remarkable and a total team effort.
With a plethora of talented, unselfish shooters, the defense is left guessing what Magic players will do with the ball, causing open opportunities for the roster.
Afflalo guarding Carmelo Anthony
One would imagine that if a team loses a three-time Defensive Player of the Year recipient who is still in the prime of his career that the roster would become much worse on that side of the court.
That simply has not been the case.
Despite losing Dwight Howard, the Magic have managed to only allow 94.7 points per contest. There are two possible explanations for this bizarre outcome:
First, the Magic have developed a scrappy attitude and fight for every possession. Due to the way Howard treated the franchise and the addition of the rugged Arron Afflalo, the franchise now has a reason to fight and a player to lead the cause.
On the other hand, Orlando may not feel the security the team had with Dwight Howard, allowing their players to blow by them on the perimeter knowing Howard could clean the mistakes up.
I believe it is a little bit of both. Nevertheless, the Orlando Magic are real contenders for a playoff spot.