(From left to right) Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, J.J. Redick, Dwight Howard
Sure, the season is still young, but the early impressions of the Orlando Magic should not be overlooked.
After an extremely disappointing loss on Christmas Day to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Orlando Magic have rallied back and defeated four of their last five exhibition opponents. Despite the fact that their wins have come against less than stellar competition, a win is a win nonetheless.
So far this season, we have seen the breakout of marksman power forward Ryan Anderson, a decline in the production of veterans, and some fantastic play from Dwight "Superman" Howard. Even though we are only six match-ups into the season, the Orlando Magic look like a more formidable championship contender than last year.
So without further ado, here are my early impressions of the 2011-2012 Orlando Magic.
If there has been one pleasant surprise to the start of the season, it is the fantastic play of Ryan Anderson.
After being buried on the bench for most of his first two seasons in Orlando, Anderson has finally received the opportunity to start at power forward. After former starter Brandon Bass was traded to Boston in exchange for Glen Davis, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy decided to award the position to Anderson.
Due to Anderson's ridiculous play, nobody has doubted Van Gundy's decision.
Not only is the former University of California star leading the team in scoring with 19.2 points per game, but he is nailing bombs from behind the arc at an efficient 48 percent.
Plus, the sharpshooting power forward has also found some confidence in his game due to his coaches, teammates and fans believing in him.
"I feel good. I feel confident and comfortable," Anderson said. "My teammates are looking for me, and all I have to do is keeping making shots and crash the boards."
If Anderson keeps up this play, expect the NBA Most Improved Player rumors to start heating up.
When Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith decided not to bring small forward Hedo Turkoglu back in the 2009 off-season, many fans were up in arms.
Not only was the Turkish native playing at an All-Star caliber level, but he was a fan-favorite for the organization.
Due to the Magic's unwillingness to meet the point-forward's contract demands, Hedo went on to sign with the Toronto Raptors. The union was relatively short-lived, as the Raptors then traded Turkoglu to the Phoenix Suns. Neither of his tenures with these two teams were successful, however.
Orlando, on the other hand, struggled without Hedo's presence. Not only did they lose the only player who could efficiently create his own shot off the dribble, but they lost one of the best closers in the game.
However, last season at the trade deadline, the Magic swung a fantastic trade to reacquire the talented 6-10 wingman.
But Hedo's reunion with O-Town was anything but smooth. Turkoglu struggled in his first season back. He had problems with consistency and became a passive shooter, instead of a playmaker.
This season, though, Turkoglu has rejuvenated his game and career. He is performing the pick-and-roll with precision, slashing to the basket and showing the confidence and consistency that is clearly vital to his game. As of January 2nd, Turkoglu is averaging a respectable 14.3 points per game, many of those coming in the fourth quarter.
When the Magic swung a deal with the Boston Celtics to acquire Glen Davis in a sign-and-trade, many Magic fans were wondering if handing out a massive contract to the underachieving power forward was the right move.
However, Davis has proven his critics wrong. Even though he is not putting up fantastic numbers, he is providing energy, hustle and toughness for a team that lacks in all these areas. But what do you expect from a player who, his whole career, has been the back-up to one of the greatest competitors of all-time?
Once Davis acclimates more to his new surroundings, I expect "Big Baby" to increase his 7.3 points and 3.8 rebound per game averages. Not only does he bring a new element to the Magic, but he is a perfect complement to Dwight "Superman" Howard due to his great mid-range jumper.
Jameer Nelson and Jason Richardson
Earlier this week, I wrote an article questioning whether resigning Jason Richardson was a mistake.
In that article I talked about the decline of the once high-flying scorer out of Michigan State. When he was traded to Orlando at last season's trade deadline, Richardson became a passive, spot-up shooter instead of a slasher to the basket.
This season, however, has been no different. Richardson has taken another step back and is largely being outplayed by his back-up, J.J. Redick.
So why did Magic GM sign Richardson to a massive four-year contract?
But Richardson is not the only Magic veteran who has regressed this season.
Former All-star and starting point guard Jameer Nelson looks like a shell of his former self.
Sure, you can blame his poor play on the back spasms that have affected him since the start of the season, but it has become clearly evident that Nelson has not been the same player since he tore his labrum in 2009.
This season, though, he has regressed to the point where Orlando may want to start looking for a replacement.
In the end, is a combined 15 points per game from your starting backcourt enough production for a championship contender?
I don't think so and neither does Stan Van Gundy.
Wouldn't it make sense to use a deep rotation in this shortened, condensed, rigorous season?
Obviously Stan Van Gundy doesn't believe in this notion, as the only bench players who see consistent minutes are sharpshooter J.J. Redick, bruiser Glen Davis and point guard Chris Duhon.
Not even small forward Quentin Richardson, who was a starter last season until the Magic acquired Hedo Turkoglu, can find a defined role in the rotation.
Prior to the season, the aforementioned Richardson, rookie Justin Harper, and guard Von Wafer were all thought to see an abundance of minutes due to the tiresome schedule. But coach Van Gundy is reluctant to use these reserves, as none of them have seen action in all six games this season.
Orlando's last two games have not been pretty. With a tight win over the lousy Toronto Raptors on January 1st followed by a terrible loss to the rebuilding Detroit Pistons, the Orlando Magic are the definition of inconsistency.
Some days, Orlando runs the pick-and-roll with precision, hits threes left and right, while playing remarkable defense.
Other days, Orlando can't buy a bucket, plays lackadaisical defense, and shows no will to win.
Over the last few games, I have come to realize that the Magic seem to play at the level of their competition. Very rarely do you see Orlando blow someone out or be blown out.
This is a huge problem coach Stan Van Gundy needs to address and fix quickly if they want to compete for a title when the post-season arrives.
Despite his desire to be traded from the Orlando Magic, Dwight "Superman" Howard has yet again proven that he is the most unstoppable big man in the NBA. Even though his scoring is a tad down, as he is only averaging 17.7 points per game, Howard has been a beast on the boards due to his physicality. He is currently averaging a shade over 15 rebounds per game.
Impressive? I think so.
Plus, his defensive prowess is unmatched. Not many players presence on the defensive side of the ball is felt as much as Howard's.
Do I need to remind you of this ferocious swat?
If there is one knock on Howard's game, however, it is absolutely horrendous free throw percentage, which stands at 41 percent. "Superman" has completely taken his legs out of the equation, which has contributed to his poor shooting.
Nonetheless, Howard has been an absolute stud regardless of the rumors around him.