The Cleveland Cavaliers will try to notch their second road win of the season when they travel to Orlando to take on the Magic. They are 1-10 on the road so far this year. Now would be a good time to start improving that mark.
Who? Cleveland Cavaliers (8-13) at Orlando Magic (7-15)
When? 7:00 PM Eastern
Where? Amway Center -- Orlando, FL
Where on my eyeballs? Fox Sports Ohio / NBA League Pass
For this game, we hooked up with Evan Dunlap from SB Nation's Orlando Magic blog, Orlando Pinstriped Post. I asked him some questions about Orlando and here's that conversation. Be sure to check out the questions that I answered for them over at Orlando Pinstriped Post.
Fear The Sword: Tell me about Arron Affalo. It seems like last year he was a guy with a contract that the rebuilding Magic wanted to get rid of. Now he's playing like an all star. What are your thoughts on what the Magic want to do with him going forward? Do you think he'll regress? Do you want to trade him or would you like him to be part of the Magic's future?
Orlando Pinstriped Post: Afflalo's indeed having a terrific season, and as I noted Tuesday, his combination of scoring, rebounding, and assists place him in rare statistical company. What's most impressive is his improvement with the ball in his hands: now he can create for himself and for teammates, even when defenses key on him. The Magic asked him to do the same things in his first year with them, but he wasn't quite able to deliver. Now that he's made that adjustment, he's having the year of his life. And because he's just 28, he could continue producing at this level for at least a few more seasons.
As far as his future is concerned, it's a tough call: Magic fans wanted the team to deal him over the summer, given his disappointing first year in Orlando and long-term contract, but his strong play in 2013/14 has some of them changing their tune. Having said that, Afflalo's trade value is at an all-time high, so there's still a vocal group of fans who think Orlando needs to sell before his percentages and scoring numbers regress.
I'm not convinced that Orlando absolutely must trade him. If the right offer comes along--say, for instance, one that includes a future first-round Draft pick--then the Magic should probably pull the proverbial trigger, but it's not like Afflalo is old and overpaid. Again, he's only 28, and he only has one guaranteed season at $7.5 million remaining on his deal, with a player option for the same value and another season. That contract is very nearly a bargain.
Another thing to bear in mind about Afflalo is that the Magic sought him from Denver in the Dwight Howard deal. Assistant general manager Scott Perry knows Afflalo from their days together with the Detroit Pistons and, from what I've read, lobbied Rob Hennigan to get Afflalo in the trade, not only for his skills but also for his personality and leadership. From that standpoint, he's integral to Orlando's locker room, in addition to all the value he provides on the court.
Having said all that, I do think Afflalo can anchor the next great Magic team. There are numerous benefits to keeping him around. But would he add as much value to the 2015/16 Magic as, say, a 2015 first-rounder would? That's the key question that Hennigan, Perry, and the other Orlando decision-makers must assess in the months leading up to the trade deadline.
FTS: Has anybody seen Moe Harkless? After the all star break last season he was playing nearly 36 minutes per game. He's playing just 23 per game this year. What's the deal?
OPP: Harkless' diminished performance has led to a smaller role for him; he hasn't made the strides that a lot of fans and analysts expected him to, particularly in light of his strong March play: that month, he averaged 13.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game on 46.4 percent shooting from the field and 39.6 percent shooting from three-point range.
In addition to his underwhelming play, the Magic have more options now to take his minutes. Afflalo and E`Twaun Moore aren't new to the team, but they've logged some time at small forward when Orlando goes to three-wing sets with Jameer Nelson and Victor Oladipo in the backcourt. Afflalo and Moore can make plays with the ball, a skill Harkless lacks, which gives Oladipo some support and enables the Magic to break presses if opponents use them.
I still think Harkless will carve out a long, productive NBA career as a role-playing wing, but it's been slow-going for him so far. When he's able to string together some impactful, high-energy performances on a consistent basis, he'll find his way back into the rotation. If he were 23, I'd be significantly more concerned that he hadn't made more progress. However, he's only 20. I think he'll get to where he needs to be.
FTS: How excited are Magic fans about Victor Oladipo? Magic fans might hate me for saying this, but his rookie numbers are pretty similar to Dion Waiters' rookie numbers. Do people see him as a future superstar going forward or are expectations a little more reasonable?
OPP: Magic fans are stoked about Oladipo, even with the distressing field-goal shooting and turnover numbers. There are some vocal dissenters who aren't sold that he'll be an impact player, and a few others who think the Magic have grievously miscast him at point guard, and naturally there is some overlap between those groups. But by and large, Orlando fans love him.
The Magic haven't had a wing player with his athleticism in ages, and given the emergence of athletic, slashing small guards in this league in recent years, it's easy to understand why the fans are so juiced. For more context, consider that at OPP the most common comparisons for him are Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook, two guys who are definitely and almost certainly, respectively, headed for the Hall-of-Fame. Another comparison, and probably a more realistic one, is to Eric Bledsoe.
I'm significantly less bullish on Oladipo: comparing him to such great players so early in his career does no one any favors. My view is that we, as fans of the sport, should resist player-to-player comparisons and just let players be who they are. Victor Oladipo doesn't need to be the next Wade to be a great NBA player; he should just be the first Victor Oladipo.
I'll follow my own advice and resist making any comparisons regarding Oladipo. I'll just say that he projects, long-term, as a two guard, and that this experiment with him at point guard is an investment in his development. Because of this experience, he'll be better equipped down the line to make plays for teammates off the dribble against high defensive pressure. Ultimately, what made him successful offensively in college was his facility in playing off the ball, and I think that's where he's going to have the most success at this level.
I will say that Oladipo has shown that he can defend opposing point guards, which is a positive development. I bet a lot of coaches would love to have a guy with Oladipo's size, wingspan, speed, and desire to defend available to sic on opposing point guards. It's a good tool for Vaughn to have in his belt.
FTS: Does Andrew Nicholson really have legit NBA three-point range? That'd be awesome if he did.
OPP: So far, the answer appears to be "maybe." Long-term, I think it'll be "yes." He's shooting a modest 36.4 percent from deep so far, but remember that he's coming off a rookie season in which he didn't even attempt a three-pointer.
That he didn't uncork any treys as a rookie came as a bit of a surprise, given that he shot 43.4 percent from deep in his senior season at St. Bonaventure, and given that the Magic really struggled to space the floor in Vaughn's first season as head coach. It's thus a positive sign that the Magic have worked with Nicholson to step out to the NBA three-point line, as it indicates awareness of the team's own shortcomings as well as a potentially unexplored use of an incumbent player's talent.
Once Nicholson develops a more consistent three-point shot, the next step is for him to cultivate an off-the-dribble, in-between game for him to use when defenses try to run him off the line. He's already let a few floaters off the chain in such situations this year, and I expect he'll need to continue perfecting that shot.
One concern I have with regard to Nicholson's range is that parking him in the corners takes him away from the post, where he has a refined and unpredictable arsenal of shots, over either shoulder and with either hand. I understand the league is moving away from traditional, back-to-basket post players, but Nicholson's skill inside has the potential to draw second and third defenders to the ball, and to thus create openings for the Magic to exploit. I'd like to see a bit more balance between Nicholson's three-point shooting and his interior touches to make him an even more potent offensive player.
My advice to the rest of the league is not to sleep on Nicholson. At 24, he's older than most second-year players and thus may not have as much room to grow as other members of the 2012 Draft class, but he's got a lot of skill, enough to make him a high-efficiency, 16-and-8 type of player in the right situation.
FTS: Do you have a favorite prospect in this 2014 NBA Draft class that you want on the Magic? I've heard a lot about how Marcus Smart would fit with Orlando's group. Is there anybody that stands out to you?
OPP: I'll cop to not following the NCAA as closely as a lot of other writers who cover lottery teams, but I will say that what I've read about Jabari Parker--his strength, speed, shooting, ability to handle--makes me think he's the surest thing in this Draft. Andrew Wiggins is, of course, intriguing as well, even if he hasn't lived up to the unfair and ultimately useless comparisons to LeBron James.
Smart's name is connected to Orlando quite often, as the Magic were reportedly high on him in the 2013 Draft before decided to return to Stillwater. And a lot of Magic fans really like the idea of pairing him with Oladipo, giving Orlando some big, dynamic, two-way players in the backcourt. My issue with Smart, which diminishes my enthusiasm for that potential guard pairing, is that he's not a reliable outside shooter. It's possible, but quite difficult, to succeed in today's NBA without having at least three three-point shooters on the floor at all time. For all his brilliance at getting into the paint, I worry that Smart's lack of an outside shot is going to shrink the floor for whichever team he's on. Stick him on the floor with Oladipo, who's also struggled from the outside, and I don't know how your offense cracks the top 20.
I'm also not convinced that Smart can run an offense. A point guard's primary responsibility is to create high-efficiency shots for his team. That can mean setting up his teammates or calling his own number. I don't think Smart has the floor vision necessary to create those high-efficiency shots. That's not to say that he can't improve, but I'm skeptical that he'll ever be an NBA point guard. He'll probably wind up as a ball-dominant two-guard. That's fine, but there are a lot of ball-dominant two-guards in the NBA, many of them at or just below replacement-level. What I'm getting at is I don't think Smart is worth a really high lottery selection, not when there are Parkers and Wigginses and Julius Randles and Dante Exums, and maybe even Joel Embiids there for the taking.
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