Part of rooting for a team that's found its way to the bottom of the lottery table for the last few years is finding little victories, rationalizing losses through a myriad of excuses. Last night's season open was a tough loss. I could be trying to quell any disappointment I feel, but there was more encouraging signs than normal.
  1. I love Hezonja
    The second Mario stepped on the court the tenure of the game changed. He hit big three pointers and largely looked in command of his game. The second half was more uneven, but that's expected from a 20 year old rookie, who was coming off the bench in Spain. What's noticeable is his confidence, his willingness to play. Hezonja plays like a robot engineered to play basketball. Malfunctions happen, but they're not internalized. He's always ready for the next shot.
  2. Vuc as a rim protector
    Sure his lack of defense allowed Wall's game winner. That was, though, his most visible lapse, occurring at the most in opportune time. Throughout the night he showed a willingness to bang, improved positioning, and made interior shots an afterthought all night. There was a stretch in the third when the Wizards looked afraid to drive. Vuc was a large part of that.
  3. Actually the defense looked all around great.
    One of the most visually apparent improvements was the defense. Players zipped and dashed, swarming the Wizards all over the court, never allowing a hint of comfort. The Wizards had to work for each shot, and even then they were difficult. Three straight possessions ended in a shot clock violation or a late in the clock turnover. The machinery, the foundation, of a top defense is in place. Now it just needs tuning.
  4. Payton from deep
    Payton finished the game with another near, triple double, a statline that, at this point, is almost banal. Payton, though, displayed a new wrinkle in his game--an improved outside shot. Payton hit numerous midrange shots and one "No. No. Yes!" three pointer. The only thing holding back his development has been his lack of outside shooting. If he's able to hit shots at a respectable rate, the entire game, the rest of the offense, should open up and become extremely hard to stop.
  5. The Birth of Air Gordon
    After a largely anonymous rookie season (due to injuries, not really his fault), Aaron Gordon was one of the stand out players from Wednesday's game. He threw down two impassioned put back dunks, humiliating Gortat and Beal, but also used his hoops defensively, swatting shots out of bounds. He's still a very raw prospect; like many of the magic players his shot needs work. But his overall game looks more seasoned, an impact player who can alter games with his defense and energetic performance.
  6. Who's our Jeff Green?
    Brimming with young prospects, somebody's destined to be the Jeff Green, the guy who finds himself on the outside? We've already seen Kyle O'Quinn bail for more promised playing time. With Aaron Gordon's Blake Griffin impression, Herzonja's potential dominance on the wing, the easiest answer is Tobias Harris. If Boston offered something similar to the proposed Justice Winslow deal, the magic would surely jump on it. But what if Herzonja emerges as a two? Does that make Oladipo expendable?