The Magic ended last season with the NBA's worst record and had the second pick overall in the draft. What are the expectations for the team this season?
I don't want to sound like I'm copping out, but it really depends on who you ask: some fans expect as many wins as coach Jacque Vaughn can squeeze out and some fans expect a high lottery pick in a loaded draft. I imagine Magic GM Rob Hennigan expects progress from a player development standpoint.
Rookie combo guard Victor Oladipo should develop into a better ball handler and runner of the offense; Third year center Nikola Vucevic should continue to improve on the low block and in defending the interior; second year power forward Andrew Nicholson should expand, as he has, his offensive game and improve on the boards; second year guard-forward Maurice Harkless should become a better ball handler and jump shooter; second year forward Tobias Harris should prove he's a budding young star, not a volume scorer relegated to reserve duty.
If wins come with that, great. If not, that's fine too.
Arron Afflalo has certainly had a hot start. Is that surprising? Any other players who have been a surprise for the Magic so far, either good or bad?
Afflalo was an easy scapegoat for Magic fans last year. He was the one big name brought in with Dwight Howard's exit and fans expected much more than he was capable of providing. He was put in a role to be the go-to guy and it wasn't fair from an evaluation stand point. This offseason, he talked a lot about becoming more efficient. At first thought, it sounded like another player blowing smoke about "being stronger" or "adding more weapons to his game." But in Afflalo's case, he really did get better. His True Shooting Percentage (61.3) is the second highest of his career, and that's with the highest usage rate he's ever registered.
No player has been surprisingly bad, unless you consider Jameer Nelson's slow decline "surprising." Andrew Nicholson and Maurice Harkless have shown sharp improvements. Nicholson has added three-point range and is rebounding at a solid rate after playing like a scarecrow on the glass last year. Harkless' jumper looks great and he's making plays he wasn't capable of last year. Both of those developments probably aren't surprises, as one can expect young players to get better, but they are nice to see.
How are the fans and media liking second year head coach Jacque Vaughn? Has he brought anything new or unexpected to the table?
There was a small OPP contingency who called for Vaughn's head in preseason. It was probably just tripe from people who expected greatness (I guess?) in preseason. But that's mostly calmed down and I think most fans have enjoyed Vaughn's style this season.
In the first game against the Pacers, Nicholson scored 18 points in the first half but Vaughn didn't play him in the third quarter. He cooled off and didn't score the rest of the game. That was a weird thing to see and had Magic fans down on Vaughn early but he's bounced back with some good in-game management and it looks like he's pulling the most out of the guys.
Other than Dirk, which Mavericks player would you most like to have on the Magic?
For pure entertainment reasons -- and I'm totally ready to take the flack back at OPP here -- I'd love to watch Monta Ellis. There's a couple of "Have It All" jokes here but I'm going to leave those alone. Ellis is thoroughly entertaining and, for good or bad, he's a must watch because he's so electric and daunting and enigmatic and anything else you want to call him. He's having a real nice start to the season, so that's good to see.
For basketball reasons: Ricky Ledo. I really, really, really wanted Ledo to fall to Orlando. My reasoning? Why not? He's one of the most talented players from the 2013 draft, he's young and grabbing him late in the second round makes him a low-risk, high-reward type guy. I don't know that he'll ever become an actual NBA player, but I would have loved to see it unfold in Orlando.
What's the key for the Magic to beat the Mavericks?
Control the pace: Dallas likes to play up and down the floor and Orlando, not nearly finished stockpiling players, doesn't have the requisite talent to keep up with the Mavericks.
Rebound, rebound rebound: Dallas is an average team on the glass but that's the area Orlando excels. The Magic's real advantage here is Nikola Vucevic. I'm not sure anyone on Dallas can stop an engaged Vucci Mane on the boards.
Hope Monta implodes: I love Ellis, like I said, but if he shoots 30 shots and scores 20 points, then Orlando will have a chance. Ellis has been balling this year so this is an unlikely scenario but, hey, you never know with Ellis. That's the most fun part about him. Speaking of Ellis: sneaky-good matchup here with Oladipo likely guarding Ellis when the two are on the floor. Explosive, quick, creative offense versus nagging, pesky, athletic defense? Sign me up.
Thank you Tyler! For more on the Magic and tonight's game, head on over to Orlando Pinstriped Post.