After the events of yesterday’s trade deadline, the Grizzlies couldn’t ask for a better team to extend their winning streak against than the Orlando Magic. The lowly Magic became even lowlier yesterday when they traded one of their best players, J.J. Redick to the Milwaukee Bucks. After a rough start to his NBA career, Redick quietly became one of the better shooting guards in the league, and were he playing on a better team, his 2012-13 performance might have put him in the running for 6th man of the year.
The Magic were one of the worst teams in the league even with Redick. Without him, they will likely struggle even more. It’s not that talent isn’t there, it just hasn’t materialized yet, and while the Magic can be tough for a few quarters, they tend to shrink in the face of greater experience.
Their best player is likely second-year center Nikola Vucevic, who is averaging 12.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. When Vucevic was included in the Dwight Howard trade, he was viewed as a complimentary piece, with Arron Afflalo being the main asset. Instead, Vucevic looks like he will be a big part of the Magic going forward. He’s already a top-15 center, and his ceiling looks pretty high right now. Unfortunately, Vucevic will have to go against Marc Gasol, who is likely the best defensive center in the league. If Gasol can neutralize Vucevic, this will be a very long evening for the Magic. His ability to grab boards, and put in shots at the rim is what allows the magic to be relatively competitive. Without that, this game could be over by halftime.
Afflalo will also have a difficult time tonight, as he will be dueling with Tony Allen, another defensive monster. Allen has looked great on both ends of the floor recently, playing a greater role on offense in the aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade. He’s been taking the ball to the hoop more, and looking utterly fearless. Since the Magic’s top two players are going against memphis’s two best defenders, this is a bad matchup for a team that was already lacking in the talent department.
One Magic player who could pose a threat is rookie power forward Andrew Nicholson. Nicholson’s per 36 minute averages are 17.4 points, and 8.4 rebounds, and if he got more playing time, he’d probably be first or second on the team in scoring. Nicholson doesn’t have the smoothest game, but he’s a great shooter (.527 for the season), and his mid-range game is superb. With Glen Davis out 2-3 months, Nicholson will likely be occupying the starting 4 slot for some time. It would not be surprising to see him emerge as one of the most impressive young forwards in the league during that time frame. he’s a hard worker and a great shooter, and it’s only a matter of time until he gets his due.
With Redick and Gustavo Ayon gone, the Magic’s bench is decidedly lacking. No one on the second unit poses an immediate threat. Injuries and trades have thoroughly decimated this team. With Jameer Nelson out tonight, E’Twaun Moore will get the start at the point, with Ish Smith serving as his backup. DeQuan jones, Josh McRoberts, and Kyle O’Quinn all might see sometime tonight, but none of them have looked to impressive this season.
This is a banged up, demoralized Magic team playing on the road against a playoff team with five straight wins, and an extremely rambunctious crowd. I do not expect it to be pretty.