It's the dead period in the NBA schedule, which means that the Magic blogging contingent is going through severe basketball withdrawal. We decided to round up some of our pals -- Philip Rossman-Reich of Orlando Magic Daily, Adam Papageorgiou of Magic Basketball Online, and Zach Oliver of Presto in the Paint -- to make some predictions for the upcoming season in an over/under format. It provided for some opinionated responses and several disagreements, so I'm sure you'll enjoy each blogger's arguments. Leave your own opinion below in the comments if you'd like!
Over/Under: Elfrid Payton starts 41.5 games.
Jake Smith: Over… but barely. There is a dearth of talented point guards on this roster, so even though Jacque Vaughn doesn’t like to throw his rookies right into the fire to start off a season, I think that Payton will prove to be too talented to keep him out of the first five. We’ll probably see Victor Oladipo man the point to start the season off -- there’s little chance that Luke Ridnour starts, but you never know -- and that will only help his ball-handling and passing skills. Elfrid Payton is definitely the most talented pure point guard on this roster, so it would only make sense for Vaughn to start him as much as possible.
Scott Fisher: Over. The Magic brought Victor Oladipo off the bench a lot last season, but I think that had more to do with the pedigree of Orlando’s starting guards -- Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo -- than a team-wide decree that rookies shouldn’t start right away. Maurice Harkless started 59 games in his inaugural NBA season. Payton will likely begin the season coming off the bench, with Oladipo manning the point guard position. But Evan Fournier or Ben Gordon -- whoever Vaughn chooses to start at shooting guard in that situation -- isn’t Arron Afflalo, and given the team invested in Payton on draft night, they should be looking for him to pay dividends in a big way sooner rather than later.
Philip Rossman-Reich: Under. I think Elfrid Payton will start the season coming off the bench. The Magic have developed their rookies slowly and bring them along slowly. They are still going to hold onto the Victor Oladipo point guard experiment at least for a while. Once Payton shows he is ready, I believe he will start. It will take some time for him to get there.
Adam Papageorgiou: Under. I’d love to be wrong though, but I expect Coach Vaughn to not pressure Elfrid early on. Oladipo will start at PG, you might even see Luke Ridnour start a contest before Payton does. By the All-Star Break, I anticipate Oladipo sliding over to SG and Elfrid getting full-time starting PG duties. Oladipo started 44 games last season, I say Elfrid lands somewhere in the 30-39 range.
Zach Oliver: Under. I’ve got Victor Oladipo penciled in at point guard right now, with Evan Fournier starting at shooting guard to open the season. By seasons end, I think Elfrid will be starting, but I don’t think it will end up tallying more than 41.5 games. They didn’t start Victor right off the bat last season, and I doubt with a more talented roster this year we see Elfrid or Aaron Gordon start at the beginning of the season.
O/U: Victor Oladipo scores 17 points per game.
Jake Smith: Over. I’ll go out and say it: I’m predicting that Victor Oladipo will make the All-Star team this season. After putting up 14-4-4 in a rookie season that saw him losing shot attempts and looks to Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo, the Rookie of the Year runner-up will be handed the reins to the offense with the aforementioned two players in different cities now. He already looked like a much-improved version of his former self in the Orlando Pro Summer League, and one would only expect for him to be playing even better by the time the regular season comes around. It’s going to be a fantastic sophomore campaign for Victor Oladipo.
Scott Fisher: Over. Oladipo is Orlando’s most attractive long-term asset, and he’s going to have a lot of chances to show his value. I expect him to be an improved shooter and finisher at the rim, in addition to having much better command of the offense. Moreover, he is going to play a lot more minutes than he did in his rookie season, and there will be more room to navigate in the paint with Channing Frye in the fold. Magic fans have some high expectations for Oladipo going into his second year, but given his work ethic and demeanor, I don’t see why he won’t live up to them.
Philip Rossman-Reich: Over. Someone has to score for this Magic team. Oladipo is clearly the guy the Magic want to build around at this point. I suspect he will get plenty of opportunities with the ball in his hands. Just the patience and experience that comes from playing a full season should help Oladipo see an uptick in his scoring. He was pretty good at it last year too. I would think Oladipo shows more consistency and more patience this year than he did last and that will mean getting the ball in the basket more. Of course, that might be putting a lot more faith in his jumper than it might deserve at this point. Oladipo will still have to work at becoming efficient.
Adam Papageorgiou: Over. Victor averaged 13.8 ppg in his rookie campaign and he only averaged 4 free throw attempts per contest. That’s going up, as is his 41.9 FG%. Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo being gone means 30 points per contest have been vacated. ‘Dipo is going to get a few of those.
Zach Oliver: Over. Someone has to score, and he’s going to have the ball in his hands most times down the floor. He showed a good ability to get to the rim last season, and just has to work on improving his finishing ability when he does get there, which I think he will. He’s too driven not to, and with Arron Afflalo gone, someone has to step up and fill the scoring void he leaves.
O/U: Aaron Gordon plays 25.0 minutes per game.
Jake Smith: Under. This really isn’t the answer most Magic fans want to hear; top-five draft picks are generally expected to contribute right away and serve as key cogs in a team’s rebuild. That isn’t exactly the case with AG, who is the most raw player on this Magic roster. He’ll have his opportunities to get some run in and improve his game, but Orlando’s logjam at the forward slot isn’t doing the Arizona standout any favors. Patience will be key when it comes to talking about Gordon, as he is nowhere close to being a finished product anytime soon.
Scott Fisher: Over. It’ll be close, but Gordon already has NBA skills that Jacque Vaughn will look to take advantage of. He is the best athlete on the Magic and -- save for maybe Victor Oladipo -- the team’s best defender. His offensive game is unquestionably raw, but I think we’ll start to see some improvement as the season progresses. AG will likely begin the year backing up Maurice Harkless as a small forward, and I think he could overtake him by season’s end, especially if Orlando is out of the playoff race. Even if he doesn’t, I still expect him to play more than 25 minutes per game; he provides too much value not to be on the floor that much.
Philip Rossman-Reich: Under. There are going to be a lot of games, particularly early in the season, where Gordon’s minutes are going to be pretty low. The fact he is so raw just wreaks of few minutes early on with gradual increases and then occasional moments where he inexplicably fouls a lot. This is going to be a year of growing pains for Aaron Gordon. That probably is not what Magic fans want to hear. Being the No. 4 pick in this Draft especially comes with a lot of expectations to live up to. I suspect Orlando will be trying to reign them in and slowly build to a solid finish. His minutes would only decrease if the Magic are actually contending for something and he fails to progress at a comfortable rate.
Adam Papageorgiou: Under. Kyle O’Quinn and Maurice Harkless didn’t even average 25 minutes per game last season, and this ‘14-’15 roster is way deeper now. Initially, it’ll be difficult for Aaron to get onto the parquet floor with the log jam at the forward positions. He’s got the defense and transition game down already. As the season progresses, and the 18-year-old starts to hone his offensive arsenal, his playing time will rise. I expect his minutes to be in the 21-24 range. Magic fans will be seriously frustrated throughout the upcoming year with how their #4 pick’s playing time will vary. Patience is necessary.
Zach Oliver: Under. I noted it before, but there’s too much depth on this team. He’s going to be fighting with Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn, Andrew Nicholson and Channing Frye for time, and there’s only so much to go around. I think he gets something like 18-24 minutes, and possibly towards the end of the season we see him getting 25 a game, but not for the entire season.
O/U: Maurice Harkless shoots 40% from beyond the three-point arc.
Jake Smith: Over. Harkless was able to shoot 40 percent from deep after the All-Star break this past season, and with another summer of work put in, he should be able to maintain that clip in his third year in the league. The biggest problem with Harkless isn’t his ability, it’s his confidence. He’s often the fifth option in Orlando’s offense, but as one of the team’s best long-ball specialists heading into this season, he will need to shoulder more of the scoring burden and make a concerted effort to take more shots from deep.
Scott Fisher: Over. Harkless’ best skill right now is his ability to stretch a defense by knocking down threes at a strong clip, and I’d look for him to continue to improve on that this year. Maurice just can’t get too down on himself after missing some shots, and I hope his encouraging finish to last season indicates that his up-and-down play has come to an end. The only reason that we would see Harkless’ shooting percentage decline -- he was at 40% from downtown after the All-Star break -- would be if he starts to take more contested threes as a bigger part of Orlando’s offense, but he’s still the fourth option in the starting lineup (behind Oladipo, Vucevic, and Frye).
Philip Rossman-Reich: Under. Harkless is still improving as a 3-point shooter. He clearly got better as the season went on last year to finish at 38.3 percent. He needs to become a better 3-point shooter to stick in this league. But shooting is not his strong suit. Seeing him get to that 40 percent mark seems mythical. In fact, it would not surprise me to see Harkless’ 3-point shooting percentage decrease because he takes more attempts and takes them more confidently. He may never reach that mythical 40 percent number, he just has to be a threat from beyond the arc and make them when they count. We will probably see more of that this year.
Adam Papageorgiou: Over. For his sake, it needs to be for Maurice to make a strong case to the coaching staff and front office to want to retain him in the future. Harkless is avoiding Puerto Rican national team duty to improve himself, results are necessary. Harkless shot 38.3 3PT% last season, but 40.0 3PT% in the 28 games following the All-Star Break. So he’s already there, Maurice just can’t regress or he’ll see Aaron taking the bulk of his minutes.
Zach Oliver: Under. I think it’s under, but barely. I think he’ll jump up to around 39.5 percent from deep, which will be big for the Magic team that so desperately needs some floor spacing. He really looked improved their as last season wore on, and I think him skipping playing with Puerto Rico could be good for him in the end from a progression standpoint.
O/U: The Magic will win 29.5 games next season.
Jake Smith: As much as it pains me to say this… Under. I’m honestly just not convinced enough that this team will make a truly significant jump from last season’s win total; the losses of Nelson and Afflalo will hurt, and it’s not as if Orlando’s draft picks are going to be big-time contributors in their first years. The addition of Channing Frye should give the team a couple more W’s, but if you’re taking the over in this scenario then you’re banking on massive improvements from guys like Oladipo, Tobias Harris, and Nik Vucevic. Too many things would have to go right for this team to eclipse the 30-win mark. (Reverse jinx me now, Basketball Gods.)
Scott Fisher: Over. Let’s look at the facts. The Magic won 23 games last year, but they were a better team than their record indicates. Sure, they don’t have Arron Afflalo, who was easily Orlando’s best player, but Nik Vucevic will play more than 57 games, and Tobias Harris is starting the season off healthy. Victor Oladipo will be an improved player, and it’s not unreasonable to expect the same from other members of Orlando’s young nucleus. It’s time to start winning, and while a playoff berth seems unlikely, the Magic should at least be in the conversation. I think they may surprise some people.
Philip Rossman-Reich: Under. Scoring is going to be tough. Losing the Lottery really hurt this team and probably put it a little bit behind where Rob Hennigan saw this team in his grand plan for the rebuild. The team will show some improvement and improve their win total. They may not make that leap to 30 wins or Playoff contention quite yet. The keys are in the hands of the young guys and they are going to have to learn to win by themselves with little guidance from veterans like Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson. With how this rebuild is going, you kind of wish the team could have gotten a few of the wins last year that clearly slipped away. There are going to be growing pains this year. Sometimes frustratingly slow. It is all part of the process (Phil’s Note: HOW AM I THE ONLY PERSON TO USE THE WORD ‘PROCESS’ IN THIS ENTIRE POST?!) of growing up and maturing in this league. Put me down for modest improvement though.
Adam Papageorgiou: Over, and I’m sure everyone reading this could bet all of their important organs on that response. The Magic squandered away quite a large handful of games in what was The Great Tank-off of 2013-2014, but they still managed 23 victories. Jacque Vaughn and Rob Hennigan need show that their rebuild plan is working as we’re entering the year 3 A.D. (After Dwight). If the team doesn’t win 30+ games, the fan base will deservedly start freaking out. I believe this Orlando squad is going to flirt with a playoff spot, and that little tease will be enough to build anticipation for ‘15-’16.
Zach Oliver: Over. I have them pegged as a 30-35 win team, and if I had to put a number on it right now, I’d say 32. They improved this offseason, especially on the defensive end, and I think that can win them a couple of extra games. They’re going to have to figure out who scores the ball, but I think with a solid balanced attack, they’ll be fine. A lot depends on how big of a step Victor Oladipo takes, and how Jacque Vaughn is able to handle arguably his most talented team yet.