Keeping Vucevic healthy and winning the battle on the glass
To put it nicely, Orlando will struggle to score points this season. They have intriguing parts for a long-term plan–Aaron Gordon, Victor Oladipo, and Elfrid Payton chief among them–but their strengths are more suited for the defensive end at this point. You’ll see plenty of bricks thrown up by the home team at Amway Center.
That’s okay, as this is a team with both eyes staring down the road. But Channing Frye’s floor-spacing from the pivot can only do so much to alleviate the problems caused by below-average shooters. To overcome this, the Magic will need to win the other battles, primarily on defense and the glass. The latter goal will be more easily achieved with the help of their young big man.
In 30 games sans Nikola Vucevic over the last two seasons, the Magic have been thoroughly outclassed on the glass, losing the rebounding battle 23 times. That has coincided with a 5-25 record, establishing that Vucevic and the fight for boards is especially pivotal to this Orlando team. As they continue to build through youth, that maxim remains true.
Prediction: The Magic will win 30 games–a seven-game jump from last season–if they focus on the areas they can control. While the shooting is lacking for the time being, they have the size and athleticism to pound teams on the glass. They must use it to their advantage.
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Points scored by Kobe
Individual goals and milestones are usually nice window dressing for the bigger picture. Although it’s encouraging to see your name creep up the record books, team success is what the general public will judge you by.
Kobe is draped from head-to-toe in individual and team success, but the former is what he should be focused on this season. The Lakers are on the road to nowhere this season, with Bryant’s viability a mystery after several major injuries late in his career. It may sound strange, but the best possible result for the Lakers might be for the Black Mamba to have a stellar campaign even if it means the team suffers a few extra losses.
Prediction: This is a proving year for Bryant, who can silence his critics one last time and possibly usurp a few greats at the top of the all-time scoring list. If he manages to look close to his former self, don’t be surprised if the Lakers somehow lure another big fish to Los Angeles to accompany Bryant next summer. They’re only on the books for around $46 million after this season, and the draw of Hollywood’s lights will never fade.
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Sports are a binary activity, typically decided by who ends up with more points on the scoreboard. That formula is appealing to the masses because it is accessible, explainable even to novices of the game. Details can be filled in later as long as you can read the score–and count! A simplistic view on the NBA is often cited: that the game has always been, and will always be about getting buckets.
That’s all well and good, but there’s something to be said for nuances and minute details that create those leads, shaping the course of seasons. Studying individual games and deciding “the better team won” works on some nights in the NBA, but it’s an oversimplification of how professional sports work. Each game is a microcosm of larger trends, which apply to individual teams and the league as a whole.
It’s the stats that you see pop up from time to time on your local broadcast. They go beyond the simple things–winning more when you score 100-plus points isn’t exactly rocket science–but they’re ideas that mesh with common sense. If a defensive juggernaut scores efficiently, they’re more likely to win than not. When teams keep their best lineups and players healthy, they’ll be more successful than when stars get hurt.
Still, none of these things are guarantees, and that’s why we’ll refer to them as the unknowns. Depending on which way these trends break, the NBA landscape could alter significantly in 2014-15. We’ll sort through a few of these and predict how they might impact the standings. Here are The 5 Unknowns: Important NBA Stats You Must Remember.
Follow Kyle on Twitter at @kyleneubeck