COMMENTARY: Since the Dwight Howard trade about a year ago, the Orlando Magic have gone about stockpiling as much young talent as a 15-man roster would allow. Nobody expected much out of a pieced together unit of NBA babes and old holdovers last season, and nobody was disappointed. But now they find themselves entering a new phase in their building process.
Acquiring young talent is a fine thing, but at some point you have to actually make a cohesive team out of it, and it is at this vital “step two” where Orlando begins their 2013-2014 campaign. To move forward, the Magic must have players they can build around and lean on, and now is the time to make those tough decisions.
There will be a lot of youth in the team’s rotation this season, the make-up of the roster makes that a necessity, but by focusing the team’s development, minutes, and game plans around three of these youngsters, the Magic can not only begin to build a real identity for themselves, but also a real roadmap for the organization’s future. There’s always risk involved, but the risk is far greater if Orlando simply throws players in and out of an ever-changing lineup that will never congeal.
This may be a no-brainer after he averaged a double/double in his first stint as a starter last season, but Vucevic is more talented than a guy who simply sits under the basket to collect rebounds and put backs. He has a real offensive repertoire of skills that many young big men can only wish for, and while he will never be the most athletic of centers, nor the most intimidating defender, he should be at least something akin to a poor man’s Pau Gasol, at worst, and that’s pretty darn good…
Vucevic can not only be depended on for consistent production, his high-post game and passing abilities mean the team can run the offense through him at points. Skilled big men are the toughest single commodity to find in the NBA, and the Magic have one that should be productive for a long time.
The second overall pick in this year’s draft, it only makes sense that Oladipo should figure greatly in the Magic’s plans going forward. He isn’t anything close to a finished product offensively, but his athletic ability could be a difference maker.
The Magic seem keen on making him into at least a part-time point guard, and while I’m not sure if that’s a wise move, it makes little difference pertaining to what Oladipo brings to the court for the team. He’s the type of player whose very presence makes teams better because of his hustle, energy, and NBA ready defense. Oladipo won’t put up big numbers this year, in fact, he may never put up big numbers, but much like Tony Allen does for Memphis or Thabo Sefolosha does for the Thunder, Oladipo’s value lies in the intangibles he brings to his team.
Stats don’t lie… say what you want about them, we’re all looking for a reason, and Harris’ numbers since joining the team via the J.J. Redick trade are impressive. He can score from both inside and out and has the look of long-time pint producer in the league.
Harris came into the league young, only 19 when he was drafted, so one would expect a steep learning curve. Considering he is only now 21, he hasn’t even begun to enter his prime, let alone peak in concern to basketball IQ.
To some, Harris falls into the somewhat dreaded “tweener” category at the forward positions. Too short to play full time at the four and not skilled or fast enough to hold down the three, but if you look around the league, a lot of high-caliber forwards, such as Josh Smith and Paul Millsap, have fallen into that categorization before and turned out just fine. While that sort of talk is a bit overblown at any rate, this is where coaching comes in, all players have some deficiencies in their games and it’s up to the staff to not only develop a young player’s skills, but also enter games with a plan to use their strengths and mask their weaknesses as much as possible.
Make no mistake, this isn’t a perfect situation for Orlando, nor is either of these three players a one man, let alone a three man, answer for the team’s woes. What they are is a starting point, and if the Magic are going to climb back into relevance in the Eastern Conference, they have to lay down a foundation based upon key players playing key roles. Only after they begin to get their house in order will they begin to move forward as a franchise.