The Orlando Magic won just their 19th game of the 2012-13 NBA season, and are likely to conclude this season with the second or third worst record in franchise history. As a first year club in 1989-90, the team won just 18 games, but this wasn’t a team coming into the league and building around what other teams didn’t want (expansion draftings); it was a team comprised of prospects that were more carefully mined than most gave Magic GM Rob Hennigan credit for.
What did the Magic Get for Dwight Howard?
Of the pieces that the Magic brought back in the four-team Dwight Howard trade, all have significantly more value than it was anticipated they would. Nikola Vucevic, in particular, is on pace to be a top-5 center in the league, and he’s averaging a double-double in just his second NBA season. Vuc set the team record for rebounds in a single game (29), and he’s had 17 games with 15 rebounds or more.
Vucevic was drafted No. 16 overall in 2011, and surely the Philadelphia 76ers would much prefer to have him over a broken Andrew Bynum—at a fraction the salary. Vucevic was ranked the No. 11 best bargain in the NBA by Grantland’s Bill Simmons, and those familiar with the development of NBA bigs see a lot of reason to be encouraged by Vucevic.
Nik has great hands, soft touch, good coordination and speed—and most importantly of all—a knack for playing the game of basketball. He posted 12 points and 10 rebounds per-36 last season as a rookie, so Hennigan merely noticed the potential that had been shown in limited court time, and manifested it by giving Vucevic a favorable situation in which he could start. The guy he was battling for time with initially, Gustavo Ayon, isn’t even on the team anymore.