The Magic are back from their break and preparing to take on the Bobcats as the beginning of their push to the end of the season. The Playoffs are getting further out of reach and the team has been limping for a few months now. It is frustrating to watch for sure.
There is still work the Magic can do and still work the Magic must do in the final months of the season. Remember, Orlando is building for the future and trying to create a championship atmosphere, along with the foundation for a championship team. That is still a ways out, but Orlando is in constant asset evaluation mode and has to figure out which players figure to be part of that future.
With that in mind, the first thing to expect in the final 30-or-so games of the season is to see plenty of the young players. Injuries have already forced that plan into action. But Orlando is going to be constantly evaluating players like Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, Nikola Vucevic and Kyle O'Quinn. All four should be part of the Magic for the next year at least.
Their playing time -- except Vucevic who has started every game this season -- has been inconsistent. Right now, Jacque Vaughn is playing and leaning on these players a bit more. Or perhaps trusting them a bit more. That was to be expected as the season progressed and Vaughn has stated many times he would try to put them in situations they could succeed.
With the Playoffs getting further and further away, the future has to become the focus. That means the team should expand Nikola Vucevic's role and consider allowing him to run some post ups. According to Synergy, Vucevic operates in isolations on 2.1 percent of possessions for 0.57 points per possession.
Vucevic, more importantly, only receives post ups on 19.3 percent of his possessions and scores 0.73 points per possession. Vucevic has found most of his success as a cutter or as the roll man on the pick and roll this year or off offensive rebounds. Many do want to see Vucevic develop more of a back-to-the-basket post game however. And there seems to be no better time to do that than now with the games having questionable importance for the long term.
The same could be said for Andrew Nicholson, another player who figures to be part of the Magic's future. Nicholson gets most of his plays in post ups where he scores 0.89 points per possession. Nicholson already has strong footwork and a smart post game, it would be great to see him increase his efficiency there.
Focusing on the young players will be absolutely critical to the Magic's future.
So will Thursday's trade deadline. One of the things to watch will be coming up pretty quickly then.
It is still very uncertain what Orlando will end up doing with J.J. Redick. Just about every team in the league has probably inquired about him and many likely feel that he is the most available asset on the trade market.
However, Redick has said he would like to stay in Orlando and the team appears to be asking a pretty high price for him. Several reports cite the Magic asking for first round picks or young players on their rookie contracts in return for Redick. With the tax bearing down on every action in the league though, several teams appear hesitant to make that investment in Redick especially if they are unsure they will keep Redick beyond the end of this season.
So Redick will remain in limbo and could very well finish the season in Orlando.
The final thing to watch in these final months of the season is the team's effort. The Magic have asked their players to "be professional" and keep playing hard to set the tone for the young players on the team and keep a winning atmosphere. But it is already pretty clear that there are some cracks beginning to show.
The losing is taking its toll for sure.
Frustration has ebbed and flowed throughout the year and guys have had games with incredible effort and then games with frustrating efforts. Orlando has to finish the season strong by putting in a great effort even if they are down.
What are you looking for in the final stretch of the season?