When the Orlando Magic traded Victor Oladipo and the 11th pick (which wound up being Domantas Sabonis) to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka this summer, it was a declaration to win now. Skip to today, and they're a disappointing 10-15 coming off three straight losses. With the league's second worst offense, and only the 13th ranked defense despite a glut of "defense-first" players and a defensive-minded coach, it's an inauspicious start. The entire roster makeup is perplexing, like a puzzle whose every piece is from a different set and you have to alter portions to make it all fit. Individually, though, those pieces remain attractive, and few teams have a greater preponderance of talent that feels miscast and ripe for extraction.
Aaron Gordon doesn't have the ball-handling chops or passing ability to fill a creator role as a miscast shooting forward. He's shot an impossibly low 32 percent eFG on pull-ups, and he's settling for them too often. They make up 32 percent of his shots, up from 16 percent last year. That increase saps him of efficient shots near the rim, as he's shooting only 37 percent of his shots there versus 55 percent last year. Even when he's presented off-ball situations, he isn't taking advantage of them enough. Bismack Biyombo mucks up spacing, but Gordon is prone to wander aimlessly around the perimeter (you can find him doing just that at the bottom of the frame in the video below), rendering his prolific 1.71 points per possession on cuts useless. His defensive numbers remain stalwart, though, with opponents shooting 5.5 percent worse when Gordon guards them.
Elfrid Payton's minuscule 46 percent eFG continues to be his bugaboo, but he's displayed a propensity for shooting efficiently in close with a 54 percent eFG on shots less than 10 feet. Still, his decisiveness needs to improve. Here, he draws the defense, but it takes him just a few seconds too long to spot Nikola Vucevic. The eyes in the back of his head are still underdeveloped or blocked by his overflowing hairdo.
Meanwhile, Evan Fournier remains probably one of the best value contracts in the league. He's a deadeye shooter on spot-ups, ranked in the 90th percentile in the league with a 68 percent eFG. Orlando needs him as a creator though, and he serves as a get out of jail free card at times for Orlando's inept offense.
Their roster is replete with examples like these three. Mario Hezonja remains exiled in Disney World. Vucevic has the defensive instincts of a chair, but his shooting separates him from other archaic post brutes. Ibaka's defense has slipped, but his shooting remains stellar.
One could point to every NBA roster and point out miscast characters, but few rival the potential talent soaking in the saline tub of sub-parness that is Orlando. Except Jeff Green; never trade for Jeff Green. GM Rob Hennigan has done an admirable job of re-stocking his claw machine with attractive toys since Dwight Howard left, but it's starting to look like a patchwork job. No one's strengths cover for another's deficiencies and the result is a seat on the outside looking at at playoff contention.
Rival execs are assuredly circling, hoping to swoop down and snag Orlando's talent. It's too early to cave, but Orlando either needs their young players to develop new skills, or consider selling them for more suitable complements to whomever they deem their core of malleable oddities. Especially if they want to make good on CEO Alex Martins's bold prediction of "at least one championship" by 2030.