Nearly a quarter of the way into the season, the Orlando Magic have put up a bit more fight than most believed they would have coming into the season. Only those with legitimate knowledge and significant ties to the team likely saw this on the horizon.
While Tobias Harris and Glen Davis are still clawing their ways back from their respective leg injuries, the remaining crew has done a solid job holding down the fort. They are putting up a fight for a playoff berth in the weaker Eastern Conference at 6-9 as of Thanksgiving Day.
Orlando is raising some eyebrows due to some spirited play from their younger guys mixed in with some grizzly tenacity from a few veterans. When Harris and Davis are able to fully assimilate themselves, who knows how far this team can go?
For now, here are the report cards for each key Magic player.
Kyle O'Quinn has unsurprisingly seen a small amount of playing time, but he has done a nice job making his presence felt while he is in there.
After a disastrous preseason, O'Quinn has given this bunch a needed defensive presence in the paint. With limited defensive talent around him, O'Quinn has averaged 2.9 blocks per 36 minutes, more than double what anyone else on the roster has posted so far.
With Davis and Harris eventually becoming regulars, O'Quinn could lose even more playing time. For the time being, Jacque Vaughn has few other options to turn to if he needs to lock down the paint.
Glen Davis has fought his way back from lingering foot problems to get back in uniform for Orlando. There were some dark times where he admitted his foot will never be the same, as well as his embarrassing hotel confrontation.
Letting bygones be bygones, Davis has looked quite normal upon his return. He is still going through the feeling-out process, but Davis put up at least 19 points in two of his first four games back.
Foot injuries are obviously a big concern for basketball players, especially for big men. Davis had us all holding our breath and not expecting too much of him when he came back, but he has showed no reserve and has played big minutes right from the get-go.
There is not much you can say to take away from Davis' start to the season. It has gone about as well as could be expected.
Jason Maxiell was brought over to provide a veteran presence for the younger Magic players, which he has done despite his limited production.
Having a guy with the kind of toughness and grit that Maxiell brings clearly can have a domino effect on the rest of the locker room. As for his numbers, Maxiell has left much to be desired.
Without Glen Davis and Tobias Harris, the window has been open for Maxiell to provide some increased production so Orlando could tread water without their two big men. However, Maxiell has averaged just 5.1 points and grabbed under six rebounds in every game this year despite getting some heavy run.
His impact on defense has been solid, but not stellar. Now that Davis is back, Maxiell has seen his minutes shrink dramatically. He is going to need to dial the clock back to his days as a Detroit Piston if he is going to maintain his spot in the rotation.
Unlike his fellow youngsters in Orlando, Maurice Harkless has yet to see his offseason work pay off.
Aside from his three-point shot, we have seen no real improvement from Harkless in year two. He has struggled adapting to multiple positions and an increased role on offense, which has resulted in more turnovers and decreased efficiency across the board.
Harkless looks uncomfortable at times and has evidently not adapted too swimmingly to his multifaceted role. He floats on both ends of the court and has struggled to make any sort of impact. Consistency has been a major issue, as we have seen games where he has been borderline invisible from start to finish.
Victor Oladipo has been coming on strong and eating into many of Harkless' minutes. Andrew Nicholson has also played very well and could soon take away some more of those minutes. When Harris comes back, that could push Harkless pretty far down the depth chart if he doesn't start producing.
Perhaps the biggest surprise out of Orlando so far has been the play of E'Twaun Moore. With Ronnie Price brought in through free agency as well as the omnipresent Jameer Nelson and No. 2 pick Oladipo sure to get huge minutes, there seemed to be almost no room for Moore to do his thing.
Efficiency has been the name of his game, as Moore has averaged less than a turnover per contest in his 22 minutes a night. He is shooting over 45 percent from long distance and has earned much more confidence early on from coach Jacque Vaughn.
Moore has been anything but an afterthought so far and is looking like he will continue to do so.
With Victor Oladipo converting to point guard for the first time in his life, we were prepared to see some turnovers, but jeez!
Oladipo leads the league in turnovers at over four per game. Even worse is that he is doing it while playing just 28 minutes a night. He had over seven turnovers in four of his first 15 career games.
Besides that, there is nothing negative to say about him. His shot has started to come along, and with increased minutes we have seen him truly begin to establish himself on the defensive end on the floor as a legitimate game changer. He is averaging 1.8 steals and has been chipping in his fair share of blocks.
Oladipo is off to a solid start in his rookie year, but he definitely has to get those turnovers under control.
There are few NBA players as predictable as Jameer Nelson. After this many years in the league, you can assume with roughly 100 percent accuracy what you will get from him on a yearly basis.
This season, his shooting percentage has decreased for the sixth year in a row. It had once been over 50 percent, yet now sits at a paltry 37. He is also following suit and playing like his rookie counterpart Oladipo by turning the ball over at a career-high rate instead of providing a calming veteran presence.
To add insult to injury, he has been getting ripped to shreds on defense. Goran Dragic put 23 points and 13 assists on him. Jeff Teague, Ricky Rubio and Avery Bradley have all also thrown down some massive stat lines on him this season. It is starting to get to the point that Oladipo simply must take on more minutes to save the team on the defensive end.
Nelson's career-high 2.9 turnovers per game so far coupled with his increasingly weak scoring outputs are going to continue to leave him firmly on the hot seat. Oladipo and Moore have played very well and if Nelson does not get it together, he may soon find himself donning a different uniform.
If anyone on Orlando deserves more minutes, it is definitely this guy.
Andrew Nicholson worked tirelessly throughout the offseason to develop some sort of jumper, and it has paid off immensely.
The second-year forward out of St. Bonaventure has taken some big steps forward this season. It is readily apparent that he has added a three-point shot and some profound confidence to his game.
Nicholson is second on the Magic in scoring per 36 minutes and third in rebounding at 19 points and 10.4 boards per night while maintaining a field-goal percentage north of 50 percent. The only problem is that he has logged just 19 minutes a game so far.
If Nicholson can keep this up, Jacque Vaughn is going to be forced to carve out some more minutes for his versatile forward.
Ho-hum. Nikola Vucevic has been even more of a beast than he was last season.
Vucevic has improved his offensive game as both an overall scorer as well as a distributor. Additionally, he looks to have taken some steps forward on the defensive end.
His percentages are up dramatically from his breakout campaign last season to 56 percent from the field and 76 percent from the line. Those are elite numbers for a big man scoring over 15 points per game and could warrant him some legitimate All-Star consideration should he keep it up.
It has been an expected dominant start by Vucevic, emphatically highlighted by a 30-point, 21-rebound mauling of the Los Angeles Clippers and their vaunted front line of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
To those who may have forgotten about Arron Afflalo due to the drafting of Victor Oladipo, he is still this team's No. 1 option.
Afflalo has been playing like he took that draft choice personally. He has put last season's struggles far behind him and is currently sitting in the top 10 in the league in scoring at 21.7 per game. After his worst full season as a pro shooting the three last season, he has loudly exorcised that demon by hitting half of his threes through 15 games.
The dynamic shooting guard has also made good on his decrees to get to the line more and get his teammates involved. He is averaging career highs in free-throw attempts at over five per game, as well as 4.5 assists per night. Additionally, he is pacing himself with career highs in rebounding and steals as well at 4.7 and 0.9 per game, respectively.
It is still very early, but Afflalo is playing the best ball of his career right now. It is unknown whether he can continue to average career highs across the board, but he will have Orlando in contention for good if he can keep rolling like this. Afflalo is not just trade fodder because Oladipo is in town. He is still the main piece that keeps this ship afloat.