If the Orlando Magic fans are to see their own big three take their team to the promised land, it will most assuredly have to be formed in-house. Believe it or not, Central Florida may already have that trio to look forward to, no disrespect to Mickey, Minnie and Goofy.
Despite being a tourist attraction, Orlando has never been considered an ideal basketball haven for free agents. With super-teams being formed left and right all across the NBA, if Orlando is going to follow suit, then it will have to come from in-house.
It may be difficult to fathom, but those days may be happening sooner rather than later.
Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic all have come into the league recently as high-upside first-round draft picks. Of the three, rookie No. 2 pick Oladipo is the only one to be drafted by Orlando, so general manager Rob Hennigan deserves a world of credit. With Vucevic being 23 years of age and the other two just 21, they have yet to scratch the surface of their potential.
How good can these three be both individually and collectively? It is clear that Orlando is starting to build their team around them, but we cannot jump to conclusions because they have yet to all see the court at the same time. If all goes according to plan and each player pans out, the results could be surprising.
Those who thought that last season was Vucevic maximizing his potential may have been sorely mistaken.
Vucevic has already made it clear that he is just getting started. The season is still young, but he has made a few loud statements, none more emphatic than his 30-point, 21-rebound dismantling of the Clippers.
In that game against L.A., Orlando came out of the half and fell flat on their faces, squandering the entirety of their 15-point halftime lead heading into the fourth. It was shaping up to be just another loss after a spirited effort, but Vooch did not allow it.
Vucevic picked up his entire squad on a night where he had very little help. No one else on the roster could muster more than 12 points, yet Vucevic willed them to win in a way we haven't seen from him.
Vucevic was calling for the ball constantly throughout the fourth quarter, going right at DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin with no hesitation. He eventually sealed the game with six free throws in the game's last 23 seconds of play.
"I know my team needs me to be aggressive," said Vucevic after the game, according to ESPN.com. "The coaching staff keeps telling me to be aggressive on both ends of the court. I'm just trying to deliver for my team so we can get some wins."
The Montenegrin big man has improved his offensive repertoire by refining his post moves and making more of an effort to get to the charity stripe. That much is evident. Where he still could stand to improve is on defense. His 7'5" wingspan is enough to compensate for his lack of a vertical leap.
Going forward, the kind of impact Vucevic has on defense will go a long way towards establishing himself as an elite center. No one questions his rebounding, and his scoring is already exceeding what most expected of him. He is an above-average center right now at age 23 with more room to improve than it seemed like he had last season.
There is no question Vucevic can be a foundational player at the center spot. The only question is whether or not he can anchor a defense or if they will need to counteract his talents with a defensive-minded power forward.
Harris is still nursing a sprained ankle, so he has yet to make his 2013-14 debut.
What we do know is that Harris bulked up to 240 pounds this offseason in an attempt to play more down low and be a better defender.
Harris exploded from the minute he was acquired last year in the J.J. Redick deal. He put up 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds a game with very nice peripherals to boot after coming over from Milwaukee.
However, Harris is still probably the biggest question mark of this proposed big three. He put up those numbers while playing huge minutes on an injury-ravaged team last season, and it was a small sample size to boot. Can he do that over the course of an entire year with a full roster of healthy teammates?
He will not have the freedom and the opportunities readily available to him upon his return. Yes, he is likely the most talented guy on this roster, but Jacque Vaughn is not ready to hand him the keys to the car just yet. He will have to work for them just like everyone else.
Harris still has lots of growing to do, as he is still unsettled as far as what position he will play. He did say he had his sights set on the All-Star game as soon as this season, so it is good to know he is hungry and has lofty expectations of his own.
Small forward is a superstar position in the NBA, and it is still up in the air if Harris can hack it at power forward. He has the skill set and has proved he can truly fill up a stat sheet, even though we have such a small sample size. But the question remains why he was unable to earn more minutes in Milwaukee if he is this good.
A killer instinct and a consistent approach are what we need to see from Harris.
How many rookies would ever rip the ball from Deron Williams and subsequently unleash a 360 dunk on the other end in just their fourth career game? The answer is likely just one.
Victor Oladipo has shown a flair for the dramatic early on in his career. He is a joy to watch and is exactly the kind of tenacious hustle player Orlando needed to build around. He is already having a profound effect on this entire roster, never more obvious than watching Arron Afflalo playing like his hair is on fire with Oladipo breathing right down his neck.
According to ESPN's Marc Stein, it took Rob Hennigan all of one game to officially put Jameer Nelson on the trading block. That tells you all you need to know about the confidence this franchise has in Oladipo.
The former Hoosier was pegged as a safe bet and a can't-miss prospect in this past draft. He has done nothing so far to dissuade that way of thinking for Magic fans.
It likely will not matter whether Oladipo settles into the shooting guard or point guard roles. He is undoubtedly a franchise-type player that Hennigan should have no reserve in building around. The Dwyane Wade comparisons might not have been as far-fetched as once thought.
Oladipo definitely has superstar potential on defense, and so far is looking like he can definitely turn into a two-way threat. His breakout campaign in Indiana last year is looking less and less like a fluke with each passing day.
The question with Oladipo is where his ceiling lies. Can he in fact turn into a Dwyane Wade-type of player on offense, or is he going to be more of a Tyreke Evans? His early plethora of turnovers is to be expected, but his poise at such a young age is off the charts.
One thing we'll never have to worry about with Oladipo is his will to be great. However good he turns out to be, he will have maximized his potential because that is just the type of work ethic he has. Just how high his ceiling is will be the thing to watch for years down the line.
The Big 3
The million-dollar question is if these guys can form their own big three. They have yet to see the court together in the regular season, so it is a toss-up at the moment.
Individually, there is no reason to believe each of them cannot turn into an extraordinary talent. The odds are in there favors that that is exactly what is going to happen. Their skill sets on paper project to work very well together as none are unselfish and each has a multitude of strong points.
The concern I have is that both Oladipo and Harris are unsettled at their positions. They are both extremely young, but it will be difficult to decide exactly what kinds of supporting players Hennigan needs to acquire to further ensure that he gets the most out of his big three. Also, will Oladipo and Harris be able to handle being co-alpha dogs? It is rare that two superstars develop from the same team simultaneously.
The reason why a big three of say Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka worked out in Oklahoma City is because it was established from day one that Durant was "the man." It is very uncertain which of these three turns into the go-to guy, which could hurt them in the long run. This is a superstar-driven league, so trying to develop three potential superstars at once will have its speed bumps. The ideal scenario for the Magic would be finding out who their go-to guy is by the end of next season.
I have faith in these three and believe they can definitely anchor the next era of successful Orlando Magic teams. Establishing a go-to guy will elevate them from potentially very good to being great. Individually, I have little doubt about each of their futures, but it will naturally take some time and a painful feeling-out process for these three to make it work together.
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