The Orlando Magic have question marks all over heading into the 2014-15 season, and the small forward position is no exception. The departure of Arron Afflalo is bound to have an impact. Can the additions of Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon make up for it?
Do they actually need to?
Each team adjusts its playing style according to the personnel available. In this case, losing Afflalo and signing Channing Frye implies a paradigm shift. Orlando now has Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and the aforementioned Frye. All are able—and expected—to play a substantial part on offense, which suggests the small forwards will take a step back.
However, that will be a tiny, even minuscule step.
To understand the importance of the Magic's wing position, it's probably a good idea to first take a look back at last year.
Grading Orlando's Small Forwards for 2013-14
Obviously, Afflalo was the most efficient offensive player the Orlando Magic had at the 3, where he spent 50 percent of his minutes. Frankly, he was their best weapon regardless of position, period.
The veteran shot an impressive 42.7 percent from downtown and averaged 18.2 points per game in 35 minutes. Not only that, but his 3.4 assists per outing were good enough to place him third on his team in that category.
He was arguably the most important player for Orlando.
Harkless played 24.4 minutes per game and was a more defensive-minded option at small forward. He might not have been a prolific scorer with 7.4 points per game, but that was a direct result of not being used as a main weapon on attack.
In his second year at the pro level, the former No. 15 pick displayed solid shooting, connecting on 38.3 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Sadly, his free-throw shooting lacked in quality with a meager 59.4 percent success rate.
Harris, while officially playing as power forward for the majority of his time on court, was also a big contributor from the 3. His aggressive style of play led to 4.7 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes, of which he converted a solid 80.7 percent.
Overall, the Orlando Magic definitely had an above-average rotation at small forward in 2013-14.
Changes During the Offseason
The most important change was sending Afflalo to the Denver Nuggets for Fournier and the No. 56 pick, Roy Devyn Marble.
Orlando lost its high-scoring veteran and will now rely on others to step up. Frye's addition means more firepower from the 4, but who can fill in at the 3?
Harkless and Harris are the first who come to mind.
They are used to head coach Jacque Vaughn's system and showed a lot of potential last season. Both are still very young and will continue to improve with consistent minutes.
The Magic's No. 4 pick, Gordon, will likely see some time at small forward, despite having been a power forward during his collegiate career. His 6'9", 225-pound frame and athleticism place him somewhere between those positions—he will be a 3.5 if you like.
The team also acquired Fournier, who is nominally a small forward but can bring the ball when needed. He is a good shooter and can spread the floor, but his size and athleticism are not up to par with the other three candidates.
Orlando's Small Forward Position 2014-15
Harkless and Harris seem set to fight for the starting spot at the 3. Both can be efficient small forwards, but they play very different roles. With Victor Oladipo and Channing Frye being the main weapons on offense, Vaughn will likely want to start Harkless for his defensive skills.
The 21-year-old can drain the open shot, but his main focus will be on the other end of the floor.
Harris can play as a small forward or a power forward, and he brings explosive offense with his reckless drives to the basket. Last season, this translated into a team-leading 33 and-1 opportunities, of which he converted 25. He would be perfect as a sixth man, providing lots of energy.
This brings us to the rookie.
Gordon will have a hard time adjusting to the NBA. He was able to dominate the paint as a power forward in college but seems more likely to succeed as a small forward at the pro level, unless he puts on more weight. The No. 4 pick certainly has a tough job ahead of him, getting used to a new position, a new system and a much more intense style of play.
The Orlando Magic will be happy if the 18-year-old manages to become an efficient player off the bench over the course of his first campaign.
Fournier, on the other hand, could turn into a valuable player very quickly.
His versatility and lack of size, however, mean that he will spend more time at the 1 and 2. If Elfrid Payton can't get into a rhythm early on during his rookie season, the Frenchman may well end up bringing the ball up frequently.
Likewise, if Ben Gordon can't produce, Fournier will be the main backup behind Oladipo. The 6'6" athlete provides consistent shooting from three-point land (37.6 percent last season), and his tender age of 21 implies he still has room to develop. If he can improve his athleticism, he will eventually become an important factor for the team, regardless of position.
Despite losing Afflalo, the Orlando Magic have good options at small forward.
Effectively, three players will be able to contribute right away, even if Fournier seems somewhat undersized. Gordon will still need time to develop, but the Magic can afford to wait for him to mature.
One of the main advantages Coach Vaughn has at the 3 is the different style of play each of these three athletes can offer. If he wants aggressive defense, he can bring in Harkless. For the same aggression on the offensive end, Harris is the perfect choice. If in need of a good ball-handler who can spread the floor with his shooting, on comes Fournier.
The small forward position may have lost some punch with Afflalo's departure, but Orlando's fans don't need to be concerned.
The young guns are ready to take over.
You can follow @KurtJonke for more on the NBA in general and the Orlando Magic in particular.
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