Six days ago during the 2016 NBA draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to Domantas Sabonis. It was obvious why the Thunder moved Ibaka. With the cap jumping upwards once more next year, there was no way to pay the big man what he wanted. Also, after feeling neglected due to the reduction of his involvement with the Thunder’s system, he planned on leaving anyway. With a couple younger pieces that could improve OKC, they needed to make that trade, however, many people (myself included) thought the Magic handed themselves a loss in the deal. What appeared to be a very bad move on Orlando’s part, may turn out to be the one move that they needed to sustain the future of the franchise.
Coming into the the 2016-2017 NBA season, Orlando’s top six players are Aaron Gordon (20), Mario Hezonja (20), Elfrid Payton (21), Evan Fournier (23), Nikola Vucevic (25), and Serge Ibaka (26). Orlando’s core is still intact, and they made some slight changes. With an average of age 22.5 between the six, the only thing left to do is for Orlando to develop this team’s chemistry and talent.
Yes, I know that you’ve heard that “chemistry and talent” line with rebuilding teams before, but Orlando has what could be a concrete buttress to stack upon. With the former Magic fan favorite Oladipo in Oklahoma City, the spacing of the floor is no longer clogged. Also, with Fournier (40.0%), Hezonja (34.9%), Ibaka (32.6%), the Magic have three floor spacers on the team, and for those of you who are looking uneasily at Serge’s 32.6% shooting from deep this year, keep in mind that he shot 37.6% the season before and that this season he had gotten less touches and was placed where he couldn’t be consistently effective in Oklahoma City. Speaking of Serge, this is a great one-year rental that Orlando hopes to re-sign next summer. A stretch four on offense that can defend the rim is the perfect partner for Nikola Vucevic (an all offense, no defense center).
As for my thoughts on the guards, Orlando must retain Evan Fournier this off-season. Looking at this trade it was obvious that Victor was dealt because of Evan’s value to Orlando. He was their best volume long-range shooter, cashing in on 40% of his five three-point attempts, while also being a solid defender. A reddit AMA on the 23 year old goes into detail about the Frenchman’s value but to summarize: only CJ McCollum, JR Smith, JJ Redick, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson shot better than Fournier on 5+ 3PA a game. He’s a solid defender at SG, very valuable on drives (48%, led Orlando last season), and great in transition (1.34 points per possession, led all Orlando guards). The Magic weren’t going to be able to pay Vic and Evan $20+ million apiece, so they determined who was better for them now, and made the trade to obtain Ibaka.
Elfrid Payton is a solid defender and has dished the ball adequately. He led the team with 6.4 assists per game. His only problem is lacking a jumper which leads to clogged passing lanes. Since we can expect a Hezonja-Ibaka-Vucevic-Fournier-Payton lineup, this won’t be as big of a problem. The other focus is for him to reduce his turnovers (2.4 a game last year).
Mario Hezonja might be given the keys to Orlando. He played just 17.9 minutes per game last season, and I expect that number to hit at least 30 in his sophomore season. The athletic swingman has crazy range and defense chops as well. It’s likely that Orlando will try to see if Super Mario can be the franchise player for the Magic.
Last but not least, Aaron Gordon. He’s a hybrid forward with a decent handle that can defend nearly every position well and act as a magical spark plug as the sixth man of the team. We know of his dunking ability thanks to his performance at this year’s all-star weekend, and now we need him to improve his jumper. He shot 31.6% on two-point jump shots, 15-22 feet away from the mid, and shot just under 30% from behind the arc. He’ll need to improve coming into year three.
At a first glance, it looked like the Thunder Magic trade had been a disaster. A huge mistake. Taking another look at it, this could be the jump-start that this franchise needed. Whether or not they secure a solid free agent is up in the air. Regardless of them succeeding or not in free agency, this team could be onto something if they keep Fournier. As a fan of Victor Oladipo, I wish him the best and hope he meshes well in OKC. As for Orlando, well let’s just hope we see some pure magic next season.