Early Predictions for Orlando Magic's Starting Lineup Next Season
The Orlando Magic made their fair share of unexpected offseason moves, including the signings of Ben Gordon and Channing Frye. How do they plan to use the veterans, and what does their addition mean for the young prospects? Will Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon find themselves in the starting lineup next season?
It all boils down to one question: Will Orlando focus on developing its many talented youngsters or rely on the veterans to establish a winning mentality once more?
Prior to the 2014 NBA draft, most people had a good idea what would happen. The Magic would pick Dante Exum and the best big man available at No. 12, and the Australian would soon become the starting point guard.
Then came draft night.
General manager Rob Hennigan surprised many by passing on Exum and going with Gordon instead. Then he went on to trade for the No. 10 pick, Payton. At least this move was predictable, as the Magic desperately needed a promising point guard.
Later in the offseason, Hennigan decided to confuse fans and sports writers alike by signing the veterans Gordon and Frye, offering more money than most people would have expected. That probably includes the two players themselves.
But a small-market team needs to shell out the money to get free agents. And the Magic were so far below the salary cap that they would have had to pay a surcharge.
How will the newly acquired veterans fit into Orlando's roster?
That depends on whether the team plans to focus on developing its youngsters or fighting for a playoff spot in the weak Eastern Conference. Frye's acquisition in particular points to the latter.
What will happen at the all-important point guard position?
Orlando fans know too well that head coach Jacque Vaughn seems to think Victor Oladipo is a good option at the point, despite last season's experience telling a different story. Will Payton's presence finally allow Oladipo to play his more natural position, shooting guard?
The upcoming slides will present the likely starting lineup on opening night.
6th Man: Tobias Harris
Before getting to the starting five, let's take a look at one of the most important positions on any team.
The sixth man should be a guy with a lot of energy. He has to be versatile, able to score when the first unit struggles and must be able to be hot the minute he enters the game.
Enter Tobias Harris.
While he is definitely starter material, he excels at being the first guy off the bench. He can play the 3 and 4, gets into the flow of the game in an instant, and manages to score efficiently on his aggressive drives to the basket.
He was the player who finished through contact most often on his team.
If Harris can improve his outside shot (.254 from deep last year), he is going to be one of the most important players for Orlando and a serious candidate for best sixth man in the NBA.
Coach Vaughn can use him depending on the situation. The 22-year-old shows a lot of maturity for his age and never seems to be rattled. In fact you can't tell whether his team is ahead by 10 or losing by 20 points; he plays his usual game, regardless.
The 6'8" forward could easily start at the 3, strictly judging by his talent. The Orlando Magic, however, will benefit from having him enter the game when a couple of their starters fail to get into a rhythm or simply get tired.
Harris definitely can bring a spark off the bench and influence the game the minute he enters.
Center: Nikola Vucevic
Nikola Vucevic has left little to no doubt that he is the man in the middle for Orlando.
His defense is still subpar for his size, but he has a sophisticated offensive game and is a great rebounder (11.0 per game last year). The Montenegrin averaged double-doubles over the past two seasons. If he gets better at guarding the paint, he will become one of the best, most complete centers in today's game.
Vuc already managed to do something a lot of big guys before him couldn't: He improved his free-throw percentage over the past two seasons—and impressively so. Unlike some of his predecessors in Orlando, Vucevic will punish opponents for fouling him. His free-throw percentage of 76.6 during 2013-14 was above the team average.
His ability to focus on areas of weakness is a good sign for things to come. Expect better defense from the 7-footer this upcoming season.
Over the past two seasons, Vucevic was the most efficient player for the Orlando Magic. His PER increased consistently during his three years in the league and is likely to continue to do so.
But the starting spot belongs to Vucevic.
Power Forward: Channing Frye
Let's face it: A team doesn't hand a player $32 million for four years in order to sit him on the bench.
The 31-year-old Frye gives the team something it desperately needs. He is a terrific shooter with a .432 career field-goal percentage and will open up the paint for his squad. That will lead to open lanes for Oladipo, Harris and the rest of the young gang. It also means more room to operate for Vucevic.
After missing the entire 2012-13 season due to an enlarged heart, Frye bounced back in an impressive manner. He started all 82 games in 2013-14 and was a big reason for the Phoenix Suns' winning record. No Orlando member played, let alone started, all of the team's games. Arguably, that makes Frye the most healthy player on the Magic squad.
No small feat for the "old guy."
Not only will he bring his shooting skills with him, he also has a lot of experience to share. At the same time he still has quite a few good years left in him. Andrew Nicholson can certainly learn a lot from Frye, and if the Magic are lucky, the young forward will eventually become a comparable player.
Who else could Coach Vaughn start at the 4?
Aaron Gordon, with his 18 years, is still too inexperienced. O'Quinn and Harris have both made their cases for a chance to be starters, but the former still lacks offensive skills while the latter is the perfect sixth man who comes and fills in wherever needed.
The 31-year-old is definitely the best candidate to start as Orlando's power forward.
Small Forward: Maurice Harkless
This is probably the position with the most options for the Orlando Magic.
Maurice Harkless, Harris and eventually the rookie Gordon will fight over starting at the 3. So why will Harkless be the starter?
To be frank, he becomes the starter by exclusion. He has a lot of talent but also still much to prove.
Gordon seems to be better suited playing small forward than power forward, but he is still way too raw for this duty at the moment. His inexperience and the dire need to improve his skills mean he won't start in his rookie year, unless injuries hit the team.
Harris, as mentioned before, is the perfect guy off the bench and can fill in where needed. He looks more confident than Harkless and can be thrown into any kind of situation.
Also, keep in mind Orlando's starting five will not be hard-pressed for points. That means they don't rely on Harkless to aggressively provide them with offense. His 38.3 shooting percentage from downtown last season will stretch the floor considerably, so he helps the offense just by being there and knocking down wide-open shots.
Harkless is also a prime defender.
His 97 steals and 50 blocks last season ranked him second on his team in both categories. For a young team like the Magic, defense is vital. It helps them get easy points on the other end of the floor. Not only is Harkless a great defender, he also excels at finishing resulting fast breaks at the rim. He led his team with 60 dunks last season, clearly ahead of Oladipo's 38.
Orlando fans can expect the 21-year-old to improve considerably with consistent minutes and increased self-confidence.
Shooting Guard: Evan Fournier
The Magic acquired Evan Fournier for Arron Afflalo, and the young Frenchman will certainly see more minutes coming his way with this team. While clearly behind Oladipo on the depth chart, he is likely to start at the 2 early in the season nonetheless.
There is no doubt that Oladipo is the better player and Orlando's future at the shooting guard position. But judging by Coach Vaughn's decisions last year, the second-year player will primarily fill in at the 1 to start the upcoming campaign.
Ben Gordon, who was signed to a two-year $9 million contract, had a horrible season in 2013-14. He only played a total of 279 minutes in 19 games, scoring 99 points overall.
He will compete with Fournier for a starting spot in the season opener. If the veteran can find his way back to his usual form after the devastating season, he might even have the edge over the 21-year-old.
But looking at the bigger picture, the 6'3" guard from London is likely to come off the bench to provide leadership once Frye leaves the game. Having at least one experienced athlete on the floor at any given time should help the Magic's young squad.
The recent signing of Roy Devyn Marble will not have any influence on the discussion regarding the starters, despite his promising play during the NBA Summer League.
Comparing Fournier's 2013-14 campaign to Gordon's last meaningful season, 2012-13, shows a lot of similarities. Both shoot the ball well from downtown and turn the ball over nearly as many times as handing out an assist.
Neither excels at defense.
If this holds up during training camp, Fournier will be on the floor at the first jump ball of the season.
Oh, another thing both of them have in common: Neither will be starter by the end of the season. See why on the final slide.
Point Guard: Victor Oladipo
Here we are again.
Orlando's head coach will appoint Oladipo once more to be the playmaker. Unlike last season, this time it is justified due to there not being a better option. The youngster has one campaign under his belt—a season which saw him handle the ball frequently and learn a lot in the process.
Do not be fooled: He is still not a natural point guard, and this can only be a temporary solution. With any luck, the second-year player will be able to switch to his more natural position at the 2 sooner rather than later.
Payton is destined to take over point guard duties before the All-Star break.
He has shown a lot of promise during the Orlando Summer League. After a bad first game, he managed to turn things around and deliver in the following outings. Despite this development, he is not ready for the NBA level of play yet, barring outstanding training camp progress.
He is still prone to trying too much and turning the ball over in the process, but—also with the guidance of Luke Ridnour—the rookie will improve considerably within the first couple of months.
Once Coach Vaughn decides to throw Payton into the fray as the starting point guard, the 20-year-old can improve the team not only through his own game, but by allowing Oladipo to switch to his preferred position.
Payton has tremendous talent and will make fans very happy. He and Oladipo will become one of the most devastating backcourt duos, both on offense and defense.
But the rookie will begin his first NBA game on the bench.
You can follow @KurtJonke for more on the NBA in general and the Orlando Magic in particular.
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