Move over Miami, here come the Orlando Magic.
Okay, maybe not.
But the Magic have found success over the last two nights winning both games of a back-to-back against teams that are widely considered to be better than them. After beating Los Angeles in the franchise’s first game against Dwight Howard on Sunday, the Magic traveled to Golden State and delivered the Warriors their only defeat of a four game home stand.
The ball movement and ability to rebound has been the key, but the biggest factor that is making this Orlando team interesting as we approach the twenty game mark is the ability of coach Jacque Vaughn to take players that have been somewhat ordinary under other coaches or systems and turn them into key players for the Magic.
Arron Affalo, Glen Davis, J.J. Redick and Nikola Vucevic are all playing at a level we’ve never seen from them before. It could be argued that the reason for this is because rarely did any of that bunch start in the past, but anyone who has watched Orlando play this season would be hard pressed to say that those players’ game is not developing quicker under Vaughn than it would in some sort of baptism by fire.
No Magic player has come further than Afflalo. Once a defensive specialist for George Karl in Denver, Afflalo’s offensive game is reaching new heights. Under Vaughn, Afflalo has been handed the ball more than he was with the Nuggets and as a result, he’s averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists and free throw percentage.
The main highlight in these last two games, Afflalo finished with 30 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists against L.A., only to follow it up with 24 points against the Warriors last night. He’s currently averaging 16.7 points per game and is no longer filling in minutes at small forward for the injured Hedo Turkoglu thanks to Vaughn’s commitment to developing rookie Maurice Harkless.
How much success Afflalo will have in a Magic uniform is uncertain due to the fact that the team still lacks a star, but at 27-years old, it appears his maturity and all around athleticism are blossoming under Vaughn.
Once a major role player for a championship caliber Boston Celtics team, Glen Davis began slipping into obscurity last season on Stan Van Gundy’s bench after the Magic traded for him. His scoring dipped significantly, turnovers reached an all time high and he attempted way too many difficult shots.
In one season as a starter under Vaughn, Davis has developed into a focal point of the Magic offense. Averaging career highs in points (15.8) and rebounds (8.2) per game, Davis has taken on the roll of filling the Amway Center paint vacated by Dwight Howard. He is also averaging career bests in free throw percentage, steals and blocks per game.
Davis is a power forward, a grinder around the basket and a guy who can play in the low post and create the sort of inside out game that has helped Orlando’s ball movement rank eighth in the NBA. After scoring 23 points and 12 rebounds against L.A., Davis racked up 24 and 6 against Golden State, proof his career as a starter is bearing fruit under Vaughn.
He still isn’t a starter, but perhaps no player has been more instrumental in helping the Magic create the sort of ball movement we’re seeing than Redick. Under Van Gundy, he was their target man off the bench, capable of hitting a three pointer from anywhere on the court, but Vaughn has seen the potential for more in him.
This season, Redick is getting to the hoop more frequently and with effectiveness. His career best shooting percentage (.445) has led to a career high 13.9 points per game, but the most impressive stat from Redick has been his 5.1 assists per game. That number shatters his previous career high of 2.5 per game and shows that he can serve as more than just a sharp shooter.
Over the last two nights, Redick has continued to impress. Against L.A., the former Duke standout scored 14 points and seven assists, followed by an impressive 22 and 7 night in San Francisco. If he keeps this up, it’ll be hard to ignore Redick once Sixth Man of the Year voting comes around.
Showing glimpses of potential in Philadelphia last year, Vucevic never really got a chance to prove himself in his rookie season before the team opted to upgrade to an all-star center in Andrew Bynum. That decision may be coming back to haunt them as Bynum is yet to suit up, while Vucevic is inching toward averaging a double-double.
Taking on a starting role under Vaughn, Vucevic has grabbed the bull by the horns and is averaging 10.2 points and 8.6 rebounds for the Magic. His 1.6 blocks per game has made it more difficult for opponents to score in the paint than the stats would indicate and he has formed a partnership with Davis that is coming together before our eyes.
Against the Lakers, Vucevic had an impressive 17 points and 12 rebounds, numbers he would match with 14 points and a career high 15 rebounds the next night. The absence of Howard is supposed to have killed the Magic, but Vucevic is breathing life into the center position with unexpected success. If he can maintain his current numbers, 2012-13 isn’t going to be so bad in Orlando.
Don’t be mistaken, this is not an indication that the Magic will be a playoff team. This is not to say that they’ll be a .500 team. They still lack that all important superstar in a league where superstars run the show. However, Orlando is in far better shape than we thought they’d be without Howard and almost as good of shape as the team they traded him to. They owe where they are and where they’re going to Vaughn as he develops the players and the team. Now the organization has to deliver him a star, so that he can develop a champion.