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Know Your Neighbor: Playoff Q&A With Orlando Pinstriped Post

The Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic kick off their playoff series tomorrow.

Milwaukee Bucks v Orlando Magic Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

The NBA is like one big neighborhood, and since the Milwaukee Bucks now find themselves near the top of the food chain, we haven’t kept as watchful of an eye on the place lately. But much like the Bucks, we need to start taking things more seriously, so it’s time to get to know our first round playoff opponent: the Orlando Magic.

Thankfully, we have our friends at Orlando Pinstriped Post who can give us the insights that only die hard fans can. Managing editor Mike Cali responded with his insights below, including a betrayal that we at Brew Hoop will never, ever forgive. Check out our answers at their Q&A post here, and tell us what you think of their responses in the comments!

How is John Hammond working out? We’re doing okay, but we miss him and his general level of folksiness.

It’s challenging to gauge John Hammond. He has mostly taken a backseat to Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman, who is the face of the front office and handles all media. But as a pairing, their work with the Magic so far has had mixed results. The good: trading for Markelle Fultz, re-signing Aaron Gordon to a team-friendly contract, making some under-the-radar moves like bringing in Michael Carter-Williams and other role players. The bad: they’ve prioritized length in the draft, taking Jonathan Isaac in 2017 (right pick but he has been plagued by injuries), and Mo Bamba in 2018 (complete disaster so far, coupled with the fact they used their second round pick that draft on Melvin Frazier when the two picks after him were Mitchell Robinson and Gary Trent Jr.). In the 2019 draft they selected Chuma Okeke, who was recovering from a torn ACL and essentially was a redshirt rookie. Instead of addressing the Magic’s lack of shooting in free agency last summer, they signed Al-Farouq Aminu, adding to a crowded frontcourt. Aminu looked lost before suffering a season-ending injury. Yes, the Magic have made the postseason each of the last two seasons, ending a seven-year drought, but the core pieces that led to that success mostly are credited to the previous regime, and Magic fans wonder if this one-and-done postseason pattern is the ceiling for this team as currently constructed. All will be forgiven if Hammond can lure this guy he drafted in 2013 named Giannis Antetokounmpo to Orlando in the summer of 2021.

Editor’s note: et tu, Mike?

With Johnathan Isaac out and Aaron Gordon banged up, what does this Magic team look like?

They look like a team that is probably going to have a very hard time containing Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Magic made the postseason last year thanks to their defense. It was expected to be their strength this season, and it was until their weird offensive outburst in the 12 games prior to the NBA hiatus, during which they held the league’s top offensive rating...and one of the league’s worst defensive ratings. The Magic looked great offensively while winning their first two bubble games, but during that second game they lost Isaac to a torn ACL and it seemed to suck the life out of the team. Gordon then suffered a hamstring injury, they lost key rotation players to injury, illness or absence and dropped five straight games to fall out of the seventh seed and seal a date with the top-seeded Bucks. With their injuries and unpredictable nature, it’s not easy to say what they’ll look like. But typically, they run an inside-out style offense that goes through Nikola Vucevic in the post. They are a slow-paced team that lacks shooting, but when they are actually hitting shots it seems like they can beat anyone. In reality, they’ll go only as far as their defense can take them.

Is Terrence Ross as terrifying to other teams as he is to Milwaukee?

Ross probably scares a lot of defenses because when he gets going it seems like any shot he puts up will drop in. But in the interest of full disclosure, he hasn’t put as much fear in teams this season. After having a career-year during the 2018-2019 season, in which he was instant offense off the bench and a legit Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Ross struggled with his shot for a majority of the 2019-2020 season. His 40.3 percentage from the field was the lowest of his career outside of his injury-shortened season in 2017-2018 His three-point percentage dropped from 38.3 percent last season to 35.1 percent this season. He was busting out of it in the 12 games prior to the break, shooting 47.2 percent from three. Then over the first six bubble games he was back down to 30 percent from deep, before leaving the bubble with a stomach illness. He’s expected to play in Game 1, so hopefully he is hitting his shots and terrifying you once again.

So is Markelle Fultz good, or what? Was his story in Philly a Fultz-problem or a Sixers-problem?

First part of your question: Yes, Markelle Fultz is good. Second part of your question: Probably a combination of both. A lot of mystery remains about what went wrong for Fultz in Philly, mainly because his injury wasn’t of a tangible nature. He didn’t have surgery to repair a torn ligament, he wasn’t on the bench in a sling. Fultz was trying to work his way through the injury while carrying the expectations of a No. 1 overall pick, the contending Sixers couldn’t afford to be patient, and it made for a bad mix (You can read more on that divorce here). The Magic took a patient approach with Fultz, keeping him out last season, before giving him the starting job a few games into the season. He’s shown that he can push the pace, get to the rim, thread the needle to the open man, hit the mid-range J, and do just about everything that’s expected of an NBA starting point guard except for one thing. Shoot a high percentage from three. He’s taken 135 threes this season and made just 35 (although, as I like to point out to our friends in Philly, that’s 33 more than Ben Simmons has made in his career). That equates to 26.7 percent. That’s not good, and it’s magnified in a league that prioritizes shooting, and on a team like the Magic that doesn’t surround him with shooters. But Fultz is 22 years old, he essentially just completed his rookie season, and he’s not a finished product. Per 36 this season he averaged 15.7 points, 6.7 assists and 4.3 rebounds. As for his percentages:

So yes, Markelle Fultz is good. And I believe he’s only going to get better.

Whats next for this Orlando franchise? Is there a path to escape the “treadmill” that teams get stuck in (too good to tank, too bad to compete)? We’ve been there too, we get it.

The Magic need to hope that they can follow the Bucks’ business model. They need one of the players they drafted (Gordon, Isaac, Bamba) to develop into a star the way Giannis did and they need a player they acquired in a trade (Fultz) to emerge as an All-Star the way Khris Middleton did. Then you build around them....That’s a big ask. And in no way do I feel that Gordon, Isaac, or Bamba have Greek Freakish potential. We’ve been waiting for Gordon to take this seemingly inevitable leap for years, and the fear is that he has either hit his ceiling or won’t maximize his potential until he is on a different team with a new supporting cast. Isaac was having a breakout season before getting injured in January and then suffering the torn ACL in the bubble, and now we likely won’t see him until the 2021-2022 season. Bamba, at this point, we’re just hoping can be part of the rotation. A team like the Magic is unlikely to attract the marquee free agent. Their hopes of returning to contention are pinned on draft picks. After years in the lottery, the best player they drafted is currently on the Indiana Pacers. They missed out on Joel Embiid by one pick. They missed out on Kristaps Porzingis by one pick. They drafted Domantas Sabonis with the 11th pick and packaged him with Victor Oladipo for a few months of Serge Ibaka. They missed out on Trae Young by one pick. So, the only path to escaping the treadmill is internal improvement, and Fultz and Isaac are probably their best hope.

Prediction time: how does this series end?

My heart says Bucks in five. My brain says Bucks in four.

Thanks again to Mike and Orlando Pinstriped Post for taking the time. Check out their community and hopefully we can get some Magic fans to visit during the series!