With an injured Jameer Nelson and a suspended Hedo Turkoglu the lone remaining pieces from the Orlando Magic team that reached the NBA Finals in 2009, the Magic have without a doubt been in rebuilding mode for some time now. That proved to be even more true when the Magic sent away guard J.J. Redick at last week’s trade deadline.
The Orlando Magic now have eight players on the roster that are 24 years old or younger. The Magic will have a number of draft picks over the next few years and Orlando is only going to get younger. With a inevitably high first round pick coming this offseason, roster spots will become scarce which means that the Magic’s younger players better enjoy competition.
With so many young players, free agency and the NBA Draft, the competition to make the Orlando Magic for the 2013-14 season will seem more like an elimination reality television show than a typical NBA preseason. The good news for Orlando however, is that the Magic have a number of young guys that are showing that they can play.
Center Nikola Vucevic has been without a doubt the crown jewel of the Dwight Howard deal. Vucevic is only one of four players in the NBA this season to currently average better than 12 points and 11 rebounds-per-game. The 22-year-old big man has already emerged as one of the better centers in the Eastern Conference as the Magic appear to have the center position sured up for the future.
Rookies Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson also appear to be relatively safe in regards to the making the roster in the near future. Nicholson, Orlando’s first round pick in 2012, has shot nearly 53 percent from the field while averaging 8.2 points-per-game in less than 17 minutes of action per contest. Harkless, who was also acquired in the Howard deal, was one pick away from being a lottery selection in 2012. Harkless at only 19 years old, contributed very little early on, but has come on strong of late.
Through Orlando’s first 43 games, the rookie from St. John’s had scored in double-figures just once. In his last 15 games, he’s done so nine times including in each of his last six. Through 52 games, Harkless averaged under five points, but in his last six contests, Harkless has averaged just under 15 points-per-game in addition to averaging six rebounds and shooting 63 percent from the field. Harkless’ sudden emergence can largely be credited to an increase in minutes.
E’Twaun Moore, who was acquired from the Boston Celtics in the offseason, also appears to have a chance to be an intricate part of Orlando’s future. With the ability to play either guard position, Moore brings the Magic some much-needed versatility and a good looking shooting stroke. Moore has made 14 starts for Orlando with most coming at the point guard position in place of Nelson early in the year.
When Orlando moved Redick at the trade deadline, the Magic received a pair or rookies in Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb. While the move appeared little more than an effort to avoid being saddled with losing Redick for nothing in return, Harris has really been a spark-plug for the Magic. Harris has scored in double-figures in each of his three games with the Magic, something he had not done for the Bucks since late November, averaging 17.7 points and 6.3 rebounds. Harris’ efforts include a career-high 23 points on 9-for-12 shooting in Orlando’s loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.
That leaves just rookies Lamb, DeQuan Jones and Orlando’s second round pick in 2012, center Kyle O’Quinn. Lamb, who won a national championship last season at Kentucky has played just limited minutes in the NBA and has not scored more than eight points in any contest and has shot a woeful percentage from the field.
Jones was not believed by many to make this year’s roster when he came undrafted to Orlando prior to the start of the season. Jones has proven to be a tremendous athlete and without a doubt has the ability to become a solid NBA defender, but with a limited offensive game and guys such as Harkless and now Harris playing in front of him, Jones may not have much of a role in the years to come.
O’Quinn brings some sorely needed toughness to the Magic and could have a role in the future as Vucevic’s backup. O’Quinn has just begun to play his best basketball this month. In February, O’Quinn has averaged 6 points and 4.6 rebounds-per-game which is not bad considering he’s playing less than 14 minutes-per-contest. He’s also shooting 57 percent from the field during the month.
A new era of Orlando Magic basketball is without a doubt in its infancy. New head coach Jacque Vaughn and young general manager Rob Hennigan appear to be the right guys to lead the young Magic. With a roster that now includes six rookies and young players such as Harkless, Nicholson, Moore and Vucevic, the Orlando Magic already have a number of key pieces in place for what could be a very bright future. For others such as Jones, Lamb and O’Quinn, a future in Orlando may be an uphill battle. Nevertheless, internal competition should be fierce this upcoming offseason. For the Magic however, being competitive isn’t something that has been a trend of late.
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