When the Orlando Magic lost six of their first nine games to start the season, Coach Frank Vogel would hear the usual questions. What’s wrong with the offense? Is there an ongoing problem with intensity?
Another expected question was the one about team chemistry. With three new players and a new coach, is this team coming together?
Let’s answer the last one first. The new players did need some time to come together and get used to their new surroundings and teammates.
The Magic’s marquee trade involved the acquisition of Serge Ibaka from Oklahoma City for Victor Oladipo. Through the first nine games, Ibaka was OK, but not the kind of scorer and rim protector he is known to be.
Bismack Biyombo was heralded as a tireless worker, who will defend and rebound with intensity as well as score a few points. He has met and exceeded expectations since coming over from Toronto.
D.J. Augustin was known as a smart player with a reputation for a good shooting touch in several NBA stops. He too has met expectations to this point.
When the Magic went to Oklahoma City Nov. 14, they stood at 3-6 and were on a three-game losing streak. But on this night, they upset the Thunder 119-117 with Ibaka breaking the hearts of his former fans with the game-winning shot at the buzzer.
While his production in Orlando had been measured with his consistently strong presence in Oklahoma City, he never played a game quite like the one he did for the Magic that night. He poured in 31 points, had nine rebounds, and four blocked shots.
That seemed to be a turning point, because over the last five games he has been outstanding. He is averaging 17.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and two blocked shots. Ibaka’s scoring average has risen to 14.4 points.
Biyombo has picked up his scoring pace, averaging nine points over the last five games, including 13-point performances in his last two. He has averaged nine rebounds and nearly two blocks per game over the same span. Biyombo’s scoring average has risen to 5.7 points, but he was never expected to be a big scorer, focusing instead on keeping the other team from scoring.
“Bismack Biyombo is a great player and he’s showing it,” said Vogel. “He’s just a defensive force.”
Augustin has been consistent throughout the first 14 games, averaging 9.4 points.
The success of these new Magicians is beginning to show on the scoreboard. After that 3-6 start, Orlando has won three of their last five games. Vogel is not concerned with their 6-8 record.
“We’re actually not looking at the standings right now,” said Vogel. “We are focused on gelling and improving while getting wins.”
Vogel was complimentary of the entire team’s defensive and rebounding effort. As the newer members continue to gel, other starters like Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton are needed to keep up their contributions from the guard position.
At least two additional opportunities for improvement exist. Nikola Vucevic is expected to regain his outside shooting touch, which will make a big difference.
Also, former top draft choice Mario Hezonja is not even in the playing rotation. He is too talented to not even be able to earn his way onto the floor. If he can regain his confidence, he can add another component coming off the bench.
The Magic seek to continue their improvement on Wednesday night when the Phoenix Suns come to Amway Center.