Writer: Caleb Akpan
Something strange is going on in Orlando, Florida. Their basketball team is 4-1 to start the NBA season, following an offseason where many predicted them to be one of the worst teams in the league. As of October 28th, they sit at first in the Eastern Conference and are tied for the third-best record in the league overall. Players like Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic have had career-best performances, and their rotation is meshing better than some of the most talented rosters in the league. If they keep up this pace, Orlando will finish the year as one of the best team’s in the league, but will the magic actually be able to continue as the season goes on?
One of the biggest statistics indicating the Magic will be able to hold on is their strength of schedule through the first five games, a whopping 76.5%, easily leading the league. This would lead most to believe that Orlando will have no problem handling big competition, but when you look a bit closer, you realize how deceiving that stat may be, as the Magic have played the Brooklyn Nets twice to start the year. The Nets are off to a solid 3-3 start, but still, are considered by most as one of the worst teams in the league, and the Magic have them to thank for their only loss so far this year. In contrast, the Magic have also beaten the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers (who have also lost to Brooklyn) and a previously undefeated San Antonio team by 27. It’s tough to tell whether the Magic are that good or their opponents are that bad, but with names like Cleveland and San Antonio in the mix, you’d like to think Orlando will be able to hold their own later on in the season.
What might not be able to hold are the Magic’s offensive numbers. With a 118 point per game average, Orlando ranks second in the league, and their offensive rating of 113.8 is third best. This puts them in company with the Golden State Warriors for the best offense in the league, but Orlando doesn’t seem to have the talent to keep this scoring up as the season goes on. Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier are solid scorers, and with a career-high 41 points against the Nets, Aaron Gordon seems to be maturing from dunk expert to scoring option, but none can do the same things as Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, or Klay Thompson. The thing that will hurt Orlando the most will be when these guys fall back down to Earth offensively, and that seems to be much more a matter of when than if when you look at the roster.
If Orlando is somehow able to hang on to their current level of offensive efficiency, they could end up holding a spot in the Eastern Conference’s playoff conversation, something no one saw coming anytime soon. Making the playoffs this year would accelerate what seemed like a never-ending rebuild post-Dwight Howard, but even if they are unable to live up to these early season numbers, they finally seem to be headed in the right direction. A competent head coach in Frank Vogel seems to be starting to put the pieces together when it comes to Orlando’s rotations and schemes, the team is bringing in solid free agents like Jonathan Simmons and Shelvin Mack, and drafting high-potential prospects like Jonathan Isaac is exactly what the team needs to keep doing. There seems to be actual Magic going on in Orlando, but even if their current tricks stop working for this season, their future seems to finally be turning from bleak to bright.