Grading the Orlando Magic's Current 2-Deep Depth Chart
With a number of preseason games completed and the new season edging ever closer, it's time to evaluate the Orlando Magic's depth at each position on the floor.
With a number of players still dealing with injuries, the Magic's rotation will be genuinely tested in the early part of the season. While Orlando's existing holdovers appear to be certain to start the new campaign healthy, a number of the new acquisitions remain in doubt for the season opener.
Given the immense change that has taken place in Orlando over the offseason, the team's depth is now vastly different to what it once was.
Consequently, the Magic will be forced to rely upon some very inexperienced players to contribute significantly in the early going. For Orlando fans that became accustomed to the team's elite depth between 2008 and 2010, it will be a humbling experience watching one of the league's least experienced teams do battle night in, night out.
The established incumbents will need to raise their play, while the raw youth Orlando now possesses will need to quickly learn on the fly if they have a chance to chalk up some early-season wins.
With that in mind, here's a look at how the Magic fare at each position.
Starter: Jameer Nelson
Primary Backup: E'Twaun Moore
*Injured: Ishmael Smith—currently recovering from a shoulder injury and it's unclear if he'll be available for the season opener, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. Upon return, he'll battle with Moore to backup Nelson
Grade: C (Considering Smith's injury. Grade will rise to a C+ when Smith returns.)
Although Smith is hardly an elite point guard, his speed and pass-first mentality compliment the scoring point guards in Nelson and Moore. Until his return, the Magic's rotation at point guard certainly isn't elite by any stretch.
Nelson, in his ninth year in Orlando, has struggled to recapture his form of 2009 that saw him claim his only All-Star selection that season. His field-goal percentage has dropped every year since 2008-09, while he recorded his lowest points per game average last season since 2007-08 . Additionally, Nelson's assist numbers have failed to rise despite a drop in scoring.
Poor defensively and lacking genuine speed, Nelson's flaws at the other end of the floor were often covered up by Dwight Howard.
Moore, who will back up Nelson, is substantially bigger at 6'4" but suffers from some of the same problems.
Without any real athleticism and an inability to defend quick guards, Moore offers little defensive cover from the bench. His rather average ball-handling and affection for shooting also means he's a below-par distributor on the offensive end.
Starter: J.J. Redick
Primary Backup: DeQuan Jones
*Injured: Arron Afflalo—currently sidelined with a hamstring injury and the Magic are being very cautious with his return. Once fit, Afflalo will definitely start, while Redick will come off the bench.
Grade: D+ (Considering Afflalo's injury. Grade will rise to a B+ when he returns.)
When Afflalo returns from injury, shooting guard will be the Magic's strongest position in terms of experience and ability. Afflalo is a rising star at the position, while Redick is one of the NBA's sharpest shooters coming off the bench.
However, the team will be significantly weakened as this position until the former Nuggets' guard returns.
Redick will be forced to start in Afflalo's absence, and while the former Duke star has made some huge strides forward in recent seasons, he simply can't compete with the NBA's best shooting guards. His shooting and improved decision-making have made him a valuable offensive asset, but his below-average defense will see him taken advantage of as a starter.
DeQuan Jones meanwhile will backup Redick until Afflalo returns to fitness. An incredible athlete, Jones has already shown how explosive he can be with this dunk in the Magic's latest preseason game at Detroit. Yet, despite his 22 points against the Pistons, Jones still lacks the awareness of how to harness his abilities. A poor decision-maker and wayward shooter, Jones can be a liability on the offensive end.
Starter: Hedo Turkoglu
Primary Backup: Quentin Richardson
*Injured: Maurice Harkless—Harkless is currently sidelined with a sports hernia and is not expected to play until mid-November, according to Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel. Once fit, Harkless will back up Turkoglu, but could push for a starting berth by season's end.
Grade: D (Considering Harkless' injury. Grade will rise to C+ upon his return.)
Harkless is the most promising prospect Orlando has and expect Jacque Vaughn to give him serious minutes upon his return. While he'll start on the bench, Harkless' presence may cause Turkoglu to hold fears over his starting position in the lineup.
With that glorious run to the 2009 NBA Finals well behind him, it is quite apparent that Turkoglu is in serious decline. Never tremendously athletic, the Turk's skills are rapidly escaping him. With his scoring and shooting percentage heading the wrong way, he no longer has Dwight Howard to turn to in the staple of the Magic's offense, the pick-and-roll.
His terrible defense of the elite small forwards in the league is not going to help his case this year either.
Richardson, who will back up Turkoglu to start the season, is just as washed-up. Richardson has been completely ineffective since signing for Orlando in 2010 and will not be in Vaughn's future plans.
Until Harkless' return, the Magic are very weak at small forward.
Starter: Glen Davis
Primary Backup: Andrew Nicholson
*Injured: Al Harrington—currently recovering from offseason knee surgery and is in doubt for the season opener, according to NBC Sports. When recovered, Harrington will compete with Nicholson as the primary backup behind Davis.
Grade: B (Considering Harrington's injury. Grade will rise to B+ when Harrington returns.)
Power forward is one position the Magic may have some success at this season.
Glen Davis was a revelation in last season's playoffs when he was the focal point of the team's offense in Dwight Howard's absence. The hustling and gritty former Celtic showed he can effectively score at the rim and from mid-range, while also being a very effective low-post defender and rebounder.
His presence will undoubtedly help the promising Nicholson, who appears to have the skills to make an impact in the NBA in his first year. Although he doesn't possess the athleticism to match it with the best power forwards in the league just yet, he does have a large array of offensive skills that should see him deliver some quality production from the bench.
When Harrington returns, he and Nicholson will battle it out to back up Davis. The former Denver swingman will provide floor spacing and a veteran presence to a young team in need of leadership.
Starter: Nikola Vucevic
Primary Backup: Gustavo Ayon
Center is the only position on the floor where the Magic don't have injury concerns, and coach Vaughn has two promising prospects to turn to at this spot.
Although I'd predicted some time ago that Glen Davis may start as an undersized center, it appears that Vucevic has the front-running for the starting position, according to Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel.
Vucevic has the ability to form a nice partnership with Glen Davis, given his comfort in working from the mid-range area. While his athleticism and defense needs some serious work, the Montenegrin has the ability to post some reasonable numbers on the scoreboard right away.
Backing him up will be Ayon, the team's energy guy coming off the bench. Given that Ayon will score the majority of his points from rebounds and rolls to the basket, he'd appear to be a better fit with Nicholson or Harrington in the frontcourt, both of whom will come off the bench as well.
While these two promising centers remain incapable of replacing Dwight Howard, it's the first time that Orlando has had two genuine centers on the roster since Marcin Gortat's departure to Phoenix in 2010.