Last night the Magic made their season debut against the Indiana Pacers, and it went as to be expected. After putting up a strong fight in the first two quarters, the weaker team caved in to their superiors and eventually lost the game.
The box score isn’t everything though, especially to a team as young as the Magic. In their 25th season as an NBA franchise, Orlando fields a roster that features eight players that were born after that inaugural year. As much as we like to make it a game of wins and losses, experience is at a premium with a team such as this. The season won’t be pretty, but the things that happen inside of it still can be.
In his pursuit to build a light-bulb, Thomas Edison famously stated “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Which is perfectly applicable to the Magic’s year. Losing isn’t failing for this team. They are the necessary growing pains that the NBA requires for a team to go from bottom-feeder to contender. There is a rite of passage, of sorts, for teams to organically grow through the draft, and the Magic have taken that path as a franchise. Just like how the Sonics’ final season looked with just Durant and Jeff Green, the wins don’t mean as much as the progression of the young studs.
Just look at what Victor Oladipo was able to do. The young man came back to the state he played college ball in as a professional and looked like one in his first NBA game. He wasn’t the most efficient, but the game looked smooth and the pressure defense he was able to apply created the kind of havoc that warranted some of the Tony Allen comparisons he garnered as a prospect. It isn’t every day that the people have the chance to watch the first game of a player who has a ceiling as tall as Oladipo, and he looked the part.
Oladipo wasn’t the only young Magic who really seemed to shine. Andrew Nicholson built off his strong summer. His 18 first half points came on a ridiculous 8-10 shooting, with him hitting both the three-point shots he attempted. The rebuild will be exponentially faster if Nicholson and Mo Harkless can show they were picks that Orlando hit on, and last night looked like the 2nd year player took huge steps for a non-lottery pick two years ago.
As for the aforementioned Harkless, the talent was always known to be there. It was more about game refinement, and Mo certainly did a lot in that department. He knocked down both three point attempts, and looked great moving with out the ball. An offense will likely never be centered around Harkless, but he can continue to do the small things he does to leap into that level of large, athletic, off-ball wings that includes the likes of Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler.
Nikola Vucevic looked good off the offensive glass, but struggled mightily against the defensive pillar of Roy Hibbert. Those kinds of things will happen however when a team is looking to base the offense around a young player like him and the opponent is a defensive stalwart like the Pacers. Tobias Harris being out will hurt nobody more than Vucevic, but look for him to become a better player because of it. Paul George was looking just as uncomfortable a year ago in a similar role increase, but was handling that role much more swimmingly to start this season. Who is to say Nikola can’t grow similarly? He likely won’t be a franchise cornerstone like George, but he has the kind of skills to grow into an effective offensive player.
There will be a bunch of broken light-bulbs in the Magic’s warehouse of games this season. But as long as the crew gels together and watches some of the electricians become better at that craft, it should be enough. In some situations, it is all about process over results. Orlando is one of those situations. The team is likely to lose more than 50 games this season, which usually stands for doom. But with the Magic, it is all about the hope that the young guns can inspire.