Minnesota at Orlando
Time: 6 PM CT (NBA League Pass)
Spread: MIN -8.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Orlando Magic started the 2017-18 season with an 8-4 mark. Hopes were high. Since that point, however, the Magic have posted a 4-27 record and plummeted to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. The Magic will host the red hot Minnesota Timberwolves as 8.5-point underdogs at 6 PM (CT) on NBA League Pass.
Orlando has dropped seven-straight games, and is now in a sheer free fall, with its likely landing point a top-three pick in the loaded 2018 NBA Draft. Forgive Magic fans for not being overly elated: Most of Orlando’s recent high picks have not bore fruitage while in Orlando, highly evidenced by the success of former No. 2 overall pick Victor Oladipo. Beyond that, recent picks are making little difference thus far: Mario Hezonja is pretty solidified as a bust, and rookie Jonathan Isaac has battled injuries in his rookie season. Indeed, Orlando’s future is murky, and no less clear is what Orlando could even do with a high pick in 2018. The organization lacks direction, and the Magic have taken on an aura not dissimilar from that of the Sacramento Kings. Talent can be amassed on paper, but it seldom leads to any actual success. This looks to be Orlando’s sixth straight season missing the playoffs.
Bright spots? Sure, there have been some. Paramount of those bright spots has been the play of forward Aaron Gordon, who is emerging as something of a superstar on a poor team. While Gordon still struggles at times with consistency, he has made tremendous strides this season, not the least of which was becoming a dead-eye three point shooter. Gordon is averaging 18.8 points, eight rebounds and two assists while posting a PER Of 18.3 Only Nikola Vucevic’s 21.4 PER is higher, but Vucevic comes with his own defensive issues and is likely trade bait as February approaches. That statement even applies to 2-guard Evan Fournier, whose hot shooting should be able to net Orlando a decent package and possibly more draft picks.
Jonathon Simmons has looked like a consummate sixth man on a team it hardly matters on. The former San Antonio Spur has averaged 14 points per game in 28 minutes a night, while starting 23 of his 42 appearances. While Gregg Popovich clashed with Simmons, it is clear he has the drive to continually improve, perhaps even become a star.
Not so for Elfrid Payton. Payton appears to have run his course as a point guard on this roster, and his poor shooting leads the list of reasons why the Magic continue to lose. His hair can only be an impediment to an already-horrible jump shot. Payton’s shooting marks have improved to 51.6 percent and 38.6 percent from three, but it is unclear how much of that may be a fluke. He is attempting just 1.7 threes per game, and teams do still dare him to shoot, especially from behind the arc. Orlando connects on 10.4 threes per game, but shoots just 35.4 percent as a team. The Magic mostly have been hindered by its poor defense, which initially was thought to be a strength of this team.
Minnesota, meanwhile, is building towards a meaningful future with two of the league’s brightest stars in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, alongside established veteran All-Star Jimmy Butler. The Wolves occupy the No. 4 spot in the West and would have home court advantage if the playoffs began today.
Tom Thibodeau finally has the veteran leaders to lead his strong young core. Towns is averaging 20.5 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks pregame with a team-high PER of 23.0.
Butler has reduced his scoring load from a season ago with the pitiful Chicago Bulls, but is playing strong two-way basketball and still tallying 20 points per night.
Andrew Wiggins has made meaningful strides as a playmaker and defender, with the cost that he is averaging less points than last season, but the Wolves are a better more well-rounded team this season.
Credit some of that to unheralded additions Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson. Gibson has relegated the once-promising Gorgui Dieng to the bench, while Teague has seamlessly replaced Ricky Rubio at the point guard position. Jamal Crawford is not seeing a lot of minutes (17 per game), but is still a viable scorer off the bench and he can get hot at any time.
The Wolves have sufficient depth and leadership to finally cash in on its potential, and developing consistency on both ends of the court is next on Thibodeau’s checklist for his rising Wolves. The team is off to a great start for a young ball club and could be one of the most feared by the time the postseason finally arrives in 2018. The Wolves are hot and on the rise.