With the play-in games over and the playoffs underway, the number of NBA fans dreaming of ultimate success continues to steadily decline. The most recent additions to those looking out are Indiana, Charlotte, San Antonio and, shockingly, Golden State; When asked if Steph Curry or LeBron James posed greater gambling danger, respondents from SB Nation Reacts overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Warriors backcourt maestro. However, the finalist MVP and his teammates now find themselves in the same place as the Magic – engaged in reflection and revision.
In Orlando, any introspective assessment is naturally anchored to the young people on the list. With a number of scheming players still on their first professional contract (or on the verge of entering their second next season), the squad are faced with the complex proposition of determining who projects themselves as true game-changing talent. . An important part of this same equation is ensuring that the system and structures in place are such that development opportunities are maximized. Players need natural talent, but the team also has a responsibility to facilitate professional success.
The Magic ended the season with three freshmen who had managed to carve out regular rotation minutes: Cole Anthony, Chuma Okeke and RJ Hampton. Not entirely without surprise, however, none of these figured in the calculations of SB Nation Reacts respondents for end-of-season silverware. Instead, point guard LaMelo Ball was chosen by 52% of NBA fans as the player who is expected to take home the Rookie of the Year award. Ball beat Minnesota Timberwolves first choice Anthony Edwards (36% of the vote) and Sacramento Kings rookie Tyrese Haliburton (who won 12%).
Did Orlando’s young gun trio deserve greater consideration? Honestly, not really. Anthony has the strongest case, with Markelle Fultz’s injury pushing him into an early starting role and forcing him to learn on the fly. He did an admirable job improving his shooting numbers, gaining confidence, and punctuating the resume with some memorable winners. However, his overall impact and effectiveness paled compared to Ball. Fewer points, rebounds, assists and steals at the same time, lower number of shots and a negligible contribution to victory in basketball, with lower results for the measures of victory shares, over / under box, of VORP, PER and team notes. It is a difficult argument to win.
Okeke and Hampton have even less of a foot in this discussion. While both exhibited intriguing skills and scopes that belied their rookie roots, the consistent and reliable contributors required by this award weren’t the same either. Okeke frequently played with the poise of a proven veteran, but was rarely, if ever, the straw that stirred Orlando’s drink. Hampton received some deserved recognition for his end-of-season play with the May Rookie of the Month, but it was a blast performed in the waning light of an end-of-season tank.
Even though Magic’s rookie contingent isn’t on the rewards list, that doesn’t mean their collective campaigns shouldn’t be considered successful. Anthony, Okeke and Hampton represent the 15th, 16th and 24th picks, respectively, draft slots from which star-studded rounds are by no means expected. The fact that all three contributed in clearly identifiable ways in the first year is in itself a major victory for a franchise that finds itself again in the initial stages of what will likely be a long rebuild.
Elsewhere, each conference’s seed underscores the continued value of elite defense, even in a league in the midst of a rapid offensive revolution. In the West, there’s the league-leading Utah Jazz, anchored by the suffocating presence of center Rudy Gobert, the presumptive favorite among SB Nation Reacts respondents for the Defensive Player of the Year award (49 % voices). Its two closest competitors? The Philadelphia star duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, both of whom garnered 13% of the remaining votes. Defense – and length – obviously always matters.
Defensive Player of the Year is an award for which the Magic 2020/21 obviously has no one, even at a distance, in contention, a fact clearly evident in the 26th ranked defense of the team which gave up 114.5 points for 100 possessions. It was a significant decline for an Orlando team led by Clifford, with their previous results of 8th and 10th nothing but a distant memory once the wreckage of the rebuild was laid bare. The Magic were, to put it simply, a poor collective defensive outfit made up almost exclusively of poor individual defenders.
So what interest does an award like this have for the current Central Florida fan base?
Defensive impact is hard to really measure at the best of times, but some of the numbers we have make for interesting reading when you consider Jonathan Isaac’s potential as Defensive Player of the Year in the seasons to come. . Slightly forgotten due to the cruelty of the injury, the skinny forward has posted some truly mind-blowing individual tally stats in 34 games in 2019/20, including 2.6 steals and 3.6 blocks per 100 possessions. These combined actions of 6.2 easily explain what Gobert (5.1), Embiid (3.6) and Simmons (3.3) have posted in their respective campaigns this season. Simply put, Isaac was more likely to strike a blow (7.2% of all two-point attempts), record a net (2.6% of all opponent’s possessions), or disrupt with a deviation (3.3 per game, a little behind Simmons but more than double the other two) than any of the big names in contention for the award this year.
Other measures of defensive impact are a bit more mixed. The defensive plus / minus box favors Isaac, but the defensive victory shares put him last in that field of four. All-or-nothing numbers suggest Orlando was 4.0 points per 100 possessions stronger defensively in the minutes Isaac played in 2019/20, a figure better than either of Philly’s pair. , but who is overshadowed by the gargantuan 12.7 point difference that Gobert’s presence has contributed to that. season. There’s also this to consider: the 76ers and Jazz were two of the top three defensive outfits this season; Isaac, comparatively, has never played for a team that has passed eighth by this measure.
Again, there’s probably no more difficult aspect of basketball to judge than the defensive impact. Isaac is very clearly a special talent in this area, but he can only do much in a five-man rotation. Yet even in the limited sample size, there is a lot of interesting data that suggests that his career is on a trajectory towards this type of recognition.
If the Magic can build a playoff contender, and his body plays the game – and, honestly, that could be the biggest ‘if’ of all – chances are Isaac will be in the spotlight soon. in these end-of-season discussions.
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