The Memphis Grizzlies (2-5) are in Orlando tonight to take on the Magic (2-6) with both teams in similar situations. I caught up with Managing Site Editor Will Ogburn of the Orlando Pinstriped Post for SB Nation for Five Questions before tonight's matchup.
1.) With the Orlando Magic sitting at (2-6) it seems the Grizzlies and the Magic are in similar situations. Rebuilding, and using this season to develop young talent. Who are some young guys that you see being apart of the Magics future around Mo Bamba and Aaron Gordon?
I think our brightest spot for sure is Jonathan Isaac. He was a steal short of the team’s third-ever 5x5 game last night, and he is actually picking up a bit of DPOY love. Imagine if JJJ decided he wanted to be a wing instead of a big and that’s Isaac. Outside of that, I think that Markelle Fultz could be the X-factor for this team going forward if they want to take the next step. We’ve seen some nice things from him so far, but we all know what the expectations were for him when he came out of Washington.
2.) We are going to see two young talents going head-to-head tonight in Markelle Fultz and Ja Morant. Since the trade with Philadelphia, what has you excited the most about Fultz’s progression?
Ah, maybe I got a little ahead of myself on that last one. Well, Fultz has been everything we hoped for and more so far. His situation coming over to Orlando was so strange, so I’d count myself among the majority of fans that are just happy to see him on the court and enjoying basketball again. I think that his athleticism, as well as his natural IQ are particularly enticing. Morant is a great comp, because so far he is pretty much what Philly hoped they were getting in Fultz in the best case. That guy is so fun to watch and y’all must be thrilled.
3.) Nikola Vucevic is averaging a double-double through Orlando’s first 8 games. 16.3 PPG, and 10.3 rebounds per game. His opponent tonight will be Grizzlies big man Jonas Valanciunas. How does Nikola exploit that matchup?
Vucevic has had...an interesting season so far. After a career year last year, he has regressed hard on both offense and defense to start the year. An old-school center like Valanciunas would typically be the kind of matchup he could exploit in previous years, so hopefully that can get him back on track. Honestly, I’m more interested to see how he matches up with Brandon Clarke and JJJ, two guys I’m really high on. Vucevic has also done a great job historically on young guys, but that pairing could really provide an interesting challenge.
4.) I mentioned the Magic’s young big man Mo Bamba earlier. Just looking at the stats it seems he has had a rough start to the season. Bamba is averaging 5.2 ppg, and 5.0 rebounds in 13 minutes of action. What in the world is going on with Bamba?
Oh, man, good question about Bamba. He’s just not seeing the floor well and is a bit of a deer in the headlights right now. When you look at this recent run of Texas centers starting with Myles Turner and ending with Jaxson Hayes, there is room for some optimism there. A lot of these guys come into the league and their bodies just aren’t ready, and that was certainly the case with Bamba last year. Now that he’s gotten a little bit of experience, I think the key is working with Steve Clifford on the mental aspect of the game -- positional defense, how to guard guys without fouling, He’s still a ways away but we knew he was a project coming in.
5.) Finally, the the Grizzlies have a handful of guys that make those small impact plays down the stretch to win ball games. Who are some guys on the Magic that play that X-factor role in Magic victories?
Well, let’s see, we’ve only had two so I’d say we’re trying to figure that out as well. I think that Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac are the keys to winning the game, but conversely, Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier hold the keys to losing the game. If the former two can start feeling confident and making smart plays, we’re in good shape. If the latter two dial it back a bit and let the game come to them, we’re also in good shape.