The series finale match-up of the Memphis Grizzlies and the Orlando Magic is set to take place this evening at FedExForum. The game will feature the two teams currently positioned 8th in the playoff seeds for their respective conferences. Two teams in the trenches here in final stretch of the season who have very little room for error & quite a bit to lose.
We chatted with Philip Rossman-Reich, who is the site expert & editor at Orlando Magic Daily & host of Locked On Magic, to get 5 questions answered pertaining to both teams. We discuss the inevitable transition into analytics based play, long term fits & Penny Hardaway. Here’s to hoping that both teams making the post season with the Grizzlies of course pulling off another win with this game.
EdMemphis: Okay Philip let’s get straight to our meat & potatoes. From the outside looking in, it seems the Magic have vastly over invested in big men the past few years. This sentiment dates back to even when the Magic signed Bismack Biyombo to a huge deal when they already had Nikola Vucevic. How can this team maximize the value of their current investments in bigs & ultimately who gets shipped out for what to finally make this thing work?
@philiprr_OMD: The Magic are definitely in a bit of a weird spot. The team is transitioning away from it’s rebuild phase under Rob Hemnigan to it’s new management in Jeff Weltman, who took over three years ago. There are a lot of players in the old regime that many do not see a part of the team’s future. The Biyombo signing, for instance, came with the old group. And drafting Mo Bamba came with the new group as a clear sign the team was transitioning away from the older players. But something funny happened - the Magic made the playoffs & Nikola Vucevic became an All-Star. The team organizationally values letting young players grow in a winning environment, so the Magic are seemingly trying to straddle two paths - develop young players like Bamba while also finding long, versatile wings to solidify the defense and still compete and win with veteran players leading the way.
The Magic at least are confirming that last year was not much of a fluke as they are a playoff team. But to be more, it is clear they have to clear up this log jam & transition more to their youth-Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Issac, Markelle Fultz & Mo Bamba. With another low playoff seed on the way, change is likely to come with Evan Fournier & Nikola Vucevic - the last two remnants of the old guard - the likely players that no longer fit this team’s ultimate vision of itself.
EdMemphis: How has this team transitioned into analytics based play & who all on the current roster could be seen as core pieces to fit that style?
@philiprr_OMD: The Magic definitely have a fairly robust analytics team that I know Coach Steve Clifford meets with regularly. I would not say the Magic use analytics in the way that, say, the Houston Rockets use it or might be portrayed in the media. Clifford is definitely mindful of what the numbers are telling him about what works or not. I think the team definitely uses analytics & their data team productively to confirm what they are seeing on the floor or to try to point out things they might be missing. The core players on this team are probably Jonathan Issac, (currently out with an injury ), Markelle Fultz, and Mo Bamba with Aaron Gordon potentially in that group. That is for the future at least. Nikola Vucevic still figures to be really important for this group as constructed. They are just really young without him. Ultimately, the Magic want to be a versatile & athletic team that runs & puts the onus on guys like Gordon, Issac, & Fultz to lead the way down the line.
EdMemphis: Who is your favorite artist from Memphis and which Grizzlies or Magic player (past or present) would you compare that artist to?
@philiprr_OMD: I will admit I am not a big music buff (I know sacrilege to someone from Memphis). Watching Fultz play is really fun. One of the Magic’s biggest problems is their lack of improvisation. They run through their sets effectively but struggle to make plays & break down set defenses. Fultz has s one of the few guys who can beat his man off the dribble. He does a really good job changing speeds & bursting through the lane when defenses least expect him. There is definitely a nice rhythm to the team when he is leading the charge.
EdMemphis: What is the biggest need for the current roster to take the next step into becoming perennial playoff contenders?
@philiprr_OMD: The big thing the Magic need is a true star player. They need someone they can give the ball to & force defenses to react. They need someone who can break defenses down more effectively. The Magic have a lot of nice players, but no one defenses are loading up to stop. It forces the Magic to get creative to force the defense to move. Without a one-on-one threat, the Magic offense can really bog down. This is the big element the team is missing. They can play solid enough defense & score well enough, but they lack that big push to beat quality teams & win in the playoffs when the time comes. They need playmakers as well.
EdMemphis: Last question, how strong is Penny Hardaway’s legacy/Impact on the current Magic culture today?
@philiprr_OMD: Penny is very much on the Mount Rushmore of Orlando Magic basketball. Everyone in Orlando loves & appreciates Penny. He gets cheered when Memphis visits UCF. Hardaway is still a really important part of the Magic’s culture & a huge fan favorite. I actually have several fans say they would like Penny to be considered for the team’s next coach whenever they are searching again (that is still a little ways off for Orlando). Hardaway was a centerpiece of one of the Magic’s best teams. And everyone still looks back at the 1995 squad with nothing but adoration & love. Hardaway does not bring about nearly the hard feelings that Shaquille O’Neal still does for some Magic fans. So Hardaway is still the face of this franchise to a lot of people.
Alright folks that does it for this edition of GBB’s five questions, be sure to follow Philip & check out all of his content on social media platforms including his podcast & site blogs.