The Raptors travel to Orlando in their quest to remain undefeated.
The Orlando Magic are a team littered with promising players. That’s what you get when you trade Dwight Howard and tank for a few seasons.
But the Magic are also stuck in a predicament that befalls many rebuilds. It’s well and good to snag talented players through the draft, but without a superstar to show for it, the endeavor becomes somewhat of a loss.
Take the Utah Jazz, for example. After dealing away Deron Williams in 2011, the Jazz have toiled in the league’s basement, looking for a come up. They were rewarded with players like Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Dante Exum. All five of those players are useful pieces with upside, but there isn’t a surefire all-star in the bunch. However, after a few seasons, the Jazz’s youngsters became eligible for extensions, and so as to not squander years of losing, the Jazz are now paying Gordon, Kanter and Burks a combined 40 million per year.
At least the Magic got things started on the right foot by inking Nikola Vucevic to a reasonable, 4-year, $48 million extension. Vucci Mane is already one of the best scoring centers in the NBA, and he has the mobility and passing vision to eventually develop into a two-way force. Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo should also be nice pieces going forward. The foundation of talent is there.
But like the Jazz, the Magic are missing the key piece: a star player.
Point Guard – Raptors
Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez vs. Elfrid Payton, Luke Ridnour
Not even close. I like Payton, and Ridnour is a respectable backup, but Lowry and Vasquez should easily win this match-up. We’re talking about a veteran cashing his last few cheques and a rookie with no jumpshot. Aside from Payton’s quickness, there isn’t a single factor Orlando’s favor.
Shooting Guard – Raptors
DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams vs. Evan Fournier, Ben Gordon
Again, this one is lopsided. Orlando is short a man with Victor Oladipo being out, so they’re stuck with Fournier and Gordon. I’m actually a big fan of Fournier’s game. He reminds me in many ways to a less cocky Rudy Fernandez in his ability to shoot and handle the basketball. But come on, they’re up against a productive sixth-man in Williams and an All-Star in DeRozan.
Also, Ben Gordon’s agent is very good at his job.
Small Forward – Magic
Terrence Ross, James Johnson vs. Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon
Admittedly, this one will likely favor the Magic. Harris is a good mobile scorer and Aaron Gordon has flashed signs of developing into a future Gerald Wallace or Shawn Marion type of player. However, Ross has a mobility advantage on Harris and I like his chances of losing Harris around screens for open pin-downs.
Once again, Johnson will be afforded the opportunity to showcase his skills in defending a big forward like Harris. If Johnson runs Harris off the three-point line and trusts his defense to collapse inside, the Harris will likely be goaded into taking midrange shots. One thing about Tobias: he’s not shy about shooting.
Power Forward – Raptors
Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson vs. Channing Frye, Kyle O’Quinn
The Magic like to play smallball, so we’ll likely see Gordon or Harris log time at the four. With their lack of true bigs on the roster, we’ll likely see some funky match-ups, so this one isn’t limited to the players listed above.
Everyone knows the deal with Frye. He wants to play pick-and-pop. If he sets a screen, bet the house on him drifting back behind the arc. Both Patterson and Johnson will have to be diligent, and not overplay the drive. Given Frye’s one-dimensionality, switching on screens might be a good idea. It’s not like the Magic have devastating guards who can destroy bigs one-on-one.
O’Quinn sat out the Magic’s last game due to an ankle injury. I’m not sure if he’d even be able to suit up. He’s a carbon copy of Jason Maxiell.
Center – Magic
Jonas Valanciunas vs. Nikola Vucevic
At this point in their respective careers, Vucevic is the better player, which has much to do with his mobility and ability to shoot from the midrange. Vucevic is a load to handle in the post and at the age of 24, the Magic have themselves one of the best center prospects in the NBA. The Raptors have a blue chipper themselves with Valanciunas, but his jumpshot isn’t as refined as Vucevic’s, although Valanciunas is likely the better defender.
I do wonder, however, how each player would fare had their respective careers been switched up until this point. What if Vucevic was put through a slow development like Valanciunas has in Toronto, as opposed to being thrown to the wolves. How much did Vucevic benefit from being force-fed, and conversely, how much is that hindering Valanciunas?
Prediction: Raptors 98, Magic 89
Vegas says: 194.5 O/U, Raptors by 5.5
A Great Big World says: Say something
Will says: Raptors toy around with the Magic for three quarters before putting the Magic away in the fourth quarter. DeRozan drops 25 points in 30 minutes against a pretty weak set of perimeter defenders.