The Orlando Magic ended their 2013-14 campaign with the 28th-best record in the NBA. Just like people, teams show their true character when times are rough. In that sense, there was a lot to learn about Orlando during last season.
Despite another disappointing year in terms of the team's win-loss record, all is not bad and rotten.
This is hardly the time to happily sing about the bright side of life. However, fans shouldn't dwell on the negative aspects now that the offseason has embraced them and their team.
The Magic had their moments.
We fondly remember Tobias Harris' game-winning dunk at the buzzer to stun Kevin Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunder. We reminisce about Victor Oladipo's triple-double and never get bored watching his amazing block on Damian Lillard's fast break. And we were happy to see Kyle O'Quinn play like a top-10 pick rather than a late second-rounder.
But apart from these flashes of joy and happiness, what did we actually learn about the team and the players?
The Team Never Quits
Once a season becomes meaningless, neither is there a reason to compete each night nor does hitting the gym hard on a daily basis sound particularly enchanting.
When it became obvious that the Orlando Magic would watch the playoffs rather than participate, many Orlando fans were concerned that the team would not put forth the optimum effort as the season progressed.
This concern was shattered on the figurative floor any time a player hit the literal one.
Guys were diving for loose balls, taking and dishing out hard fouls and running up and down the floor as if there was no tomorrow. The energy level was higher than that of some playoff teams. Lack of motivation definitely was not an issue.
That's one thing for which we can thank Jacque Vaughn.
The 39-year-old head coach managed to keep spirits high, helped by his own experience as a player. He and Jameer Nelson are, after all, the leaders of this team.
Vaughn Was Inconsistent
Yes, he seems to be an excellent motivator. But question marks have arisen over other facets of his coaching in his two seasons as Orlando's head coach.
Last year was about developing young talents.
Or so it should have been.
Apart from Victor Oladipo, who still had the occasional huge swing in minutes, most other prospects had no idea whether they would play 10 or 30 minutes any given game. Maurice Harkless, E'Twaun Moore and Andrew Nicholson, all talented prospects, averaged fewer minutes than last season.
Sometimes, players would get subbed out while carrying a flailing team.
Just remember Harris' performance facing the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 23. He was the only efficient Magic player in the first quarter. He shot 5-of-6 from the field, scoring 10 of Orlando's 12 points, before being substituted. The rest of the team finished the quarter shooting 2-of-14.
Either Coach Vaughn was quite bad at what he was supposed to be doing, or there was a different reason altogether. Maybe, he wanted to see how his personnel reacted to unexpected situations. Possibly, he experimented with different lineups, no matter the game situation.
Perhaps, he deliberately weakened the team.
Fans can discuss this topic as much as they want, trying to reach a verdict. The result stays the same, no matter the reason: The team lost a lot of games it could have won. More importantly—much more importantly—most of the young players should and could have developed better.
This isn't purely Vaughn's fault, though.
Blaming the head coach for everything would be a bit simplistic. A lot also depends on the players themselves.
The Work Ethic Improved
It is a good sign to see the young core agreeing to do extra work during the offseason, as reported by NBA.com's John Denton. Just because they didn't make the postseason doesn't mean they won't sweat.
At the same time, this explicit statement by the young guns implies that last offseason wasn't as intense for them. It is fair to assume they didn't do as much as they could have done to prepare for 2013-14.
Enter Victor Oladipo.
He possesses a somewhat limited dictionary. For example, words like "quit" or phrases like "mailing it in" simply don't exist.
The exciting news is that Oladipo doesn't only bring great work ethic on and off the court—he spreads it. The rookie isn't known for giving up when things get rough.
And last season was very rough by definition.
Expect Oladipo to drag along most of his peers. How much better can it get for a team than to have a young leader fuel the intensity and tenacity of his teammates?
Lack of Efficiency
Orlando showed a lot of heart throughout the lost season. You can't deny the players their tenacity and hustle.
Sadly, the team sorely lacks in efficiency.
This is most obvious when looking at the Magic's offensive efficiency rating, where they ranked 29th in the NBA. Only the Philadelphia 76ers' atrocious offense saved the Orlando Magic from ending up dead last.
Magic fans can expect their team to improve over the offseason and during the next campaign once Jacque Vaughn decides on his lineups and allows the players to adjust and settle in. With fewer turnovers and better execution on set plays, the Magic will climb several ranks in that particular statistic.
But there is another way to increase a team's efficiency on the offensive end. Orlando needs to strengthen its defense.
More fast breaks equal more easy points equal a better efficiency. Yes, the Magic possess good individual perimeter defenders. Now they need to learn how to work together to play good team defense.
Orlando also needs to get tougher inside.
A potent shot-blocker discourages opponents from attacking the rim for layups and dunks. With that in mind, defenders can gamble and play more aggressively on the perimeter.
Ideally, the Magic will acquire a dominant big man with the potential to become a starter. The emergence of O'Quinn late last season is a sign of hope. The addition of Dewayne Dedmon as a role player may be an important step in the right direction.
But it may be the draft that offers the best chance for improvement. If the franchise can get its hands on a player like Joel Embiid or Noah Vonleh, it would gain a defensive force inside for years to come.
The Fans Are Getting Impatient
While the core of Orlando Magic fans stick with their team no matter what, team management also needs to put out a product to ensure that fans keep pushing through the turnstiles. After all, their money keeps the team going.
Attendance has dropped significantly over these past two losing seasons.
While an average of 18,896 people went to watch Orlando play at home in 2011-12, that number dropped to 16,245 in 2013-14. That is more than a 14 percent loss of revenue through tickets and merchandise sold at home games (provided that ticket and merchandise prices stayed flat).
It also means a weakened marketability of the team in general. Attendance at games is just a mirror of the overall fanbase.
On the positive side, despite their team's 23-59 record, Orlando enthusiasts still outnumbered the followers of the Phoenix Suns or Charlotte Bobcats. Both teams had winning records, the latter even made the playoffs.
Orlando Has Potential
The one thing fans should definitely take away from last season is the fact that their Orlando Magic showed a lot of potential.
Granted, so far it has been on individual levels rather than as a team.
There were Oladipo's triple-double and his seven double-doubles as a rookie. Tobias Harris came back from his foot injury and had a solid, sometimes impressive, season. He managed double-digits in points and rebounds seven times himself, one of them a 28-point, 20-rebound effort versus the Los Angeles Lakers in January.
Of course, the guy synonymous for double-doubles is Nikola Vucevic. After recording 36 of them in just 56 games, observers must have realized that the young 7-footer is for real. He ended up averaging 14.2 points and 11 rebounds per game for the season.
Harkless and Moore were inconsistent, yet showed flashes of their talent.
In short, the young guns showed a lot of promise for the future. With another season under their collective belt, they should be more in sync with each other as well as with Coach Vaughn.
With an average age of 24.6 years, this team is one of the youngest in the league. Two first-round picks in the upcoming draft will mean even more long-term potential.
Expect things to turn around starting next season.
You can follow @KurtJonke for more on the NBA in general and the Orlando Magic in particular.
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