Orlando’s season is nine games old, so while there is still a lot of basketball to be played, we have reached a point where we can effectively evaluate how the Magic are playing. We went 3-on-3 with Philip Rossman-Reich of Orlando Magic Daily to discuss our impressions of Jacque Vaughn’s squad.
Which Magic player has surprised you the most this year?
Jake Smith: Andrew Nicholson. While Arron Afflalo has had a breakout year on the offensive end for the Magic, I somewhat expected this increase in production due to the fact that the offensive burden isn’t as heavy this year for the UCLA product. We all knew that Andrew Nicholson was an excellent player on the offensive end of the floor, yet his defense and rebounding were lackluster in his rookie campaign. Nicholson’s activity on the glass has been noticeable through the team’s first nine games, and he has also held his own in the paint when matched up against above-average players in the post. Afflalo has been Jacque Vaughn’s best player, but the improvement of Nicholson has me the most surprised.
Scott Fisher: Andrew Nicholson. Arron Afflalo has been fantastic, but I predicted a big season from him as well. He has still been much better than I expected, particularly as a facilitator, but Nicholson’s defensive and rebounding improvements came out of nowhere. Whereas he was a sieve against opposing big men last year, Drew now does a great job holding his ground around the rim. Per the Sport VU cameras, opponents only shoot 33% when Nicholson is defending the rim. By comparison, Nikola Vucevic, who was considered a much better defender heading into the season, is allowing opponents to shoot 52.6% at the rim. Nicholson has also improved on the boards, averaging 10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes, up from 7.4 in his rookie year. It will be very interesting to see if the St. Bonaventure product can keep this up.
Philip Rossman-Reich: Arron Afflalo has been my most surprising player. Coming into this year, we kind of expected him to follow the same road he took last year. Being force to play a lot of hero ball meaning a lot of inefficient shots and inefficient playmaking. But Afflalo's vow to come back ready to play and be an efficient leader on the floor has come true (so far). He is taking better shots -- and making them -- and is dishing the ball at a really high rate. Afflalo has developed into a strong leader in the locker room and is really leading on the floor. I have been really impressed with how he has rounded out his game this year so far.
Fact or Fiction: The Magic will end up trading Arron Afflalo this season.
Jake Smith: Fact. While I hold the belief that Orlando’s front office values Arron Afflalo more than the fans and media think they do, it will be difficult to pass up on the opportunity of dealing Afflalo if he keeps up this solid start and inflates his trade value. The only thing that worries me in this hypothetical will be Orlando’s ability to find a willing partner who has the assets that Rob Hennigan will be looking for. I wouldn’t say that the Magic are actively shopping Afflalo, but the prospect of having one of the best two-guards in the league in trade conversations could definitely stimulate some interest in the sixth-year guard.
Scott Fisher: Fiction. Afflalo is playing out of his mind right now, and a contending team could really use his great all-around game. But there are no indications that the Magic are interested in trading him. He is one of the leaders of the locker room, and his winning attitude is infectious. Orlando would undoubtedly look to acquire multiple picks for the UCLA product in a trade, and the market for first-rounders, especially in this draft, will prove to be dry. Teams that would need Arron to push them over the metaphoric hump into championship contention also wouldn’t have the lottery picks that are so valuable to a rebuilding team like the Magic. Orlando will field calls for Afflalo, but teams won’t offer enough for the premier shooting guard to entice Rob Hennigan to pull the trigger.
Philip Rossman-Reich: Tough question to answer (I guess otherwise the answers wouldn't be interesting). I think the Magic will end up holding onto Afflalo this year so FICTION. The Magic really value his leadership skills and his ability to score. He is a great presence in the locker room and you can sense his hunger to win games and keep this team prepared and focused. If Jameer Nelson is the more moveable contract this year, then Afflalo has to stay. I do not think Orlando can afford to trade both of those vets. Afflalo is the tougher to move right now despite his solid play.
Which early season trend will prove to be a fluke?
Jake Smith: Arron Afflalo has been one fire from beyond the arc this year-- he’s gone 26-50 from three-point land, good for a scorching 52 percent. After seeing Nikola Vucevic’s hot start in Orlando’s first few games, we began to see opposing defenses zone in on him in their scouting reports, making concerted efforts to slow him down on the offensive end. Now that we’ve seen Afflalo heat up from downtown in the last few games (especially against the Bucks), expect to see opponents really key in on him on the left wing and in the left corner, where he has been money.
Scott Fisher: As good as Andrew Nicholson has been on the defensive end this season, his new weapon on offense -- the corner three -- has been lacking. Nicholson, who spent a lot of time on the shot over the offseason, is shooting a paltry 22.2% from behind the arc. His form hasn’t been off, and the looks have been there, so it seems it’s just a matter of time until Drew starts knocking them down from downtown. Jacque Vaughn proclaimed that he has extreme confidence that Nicholson can hit the three, and he has told him to keep shooting it. Andrew will start making them shortly, and when he does, it will open up his above-average post game.
Philip Rossman-Reich: I think we are already seeing that the strong defense from the beginning of the year was a bit of a mirage. As teams have adjusted to the Magic's defensive schemes, the defense has suffered and teams have found an ability to score. Orlando's defense has been a bit out of sync and the rotations have not been as crisp. This is a young team and so this is really all part of the learning process. It will be interesting to see if they bounce back and how they adjust.