Building the Best Orlando Magic Squad of All Time
The end of October means the NBA season is right around the corner. But instead of looking ahead to the season for the Orlando Magic, which will likely be full of losing and preparing for the future, let's look back at the best players in Orlando history.
The goal is to create the best starting lineup possible, drawing from all of the players who have played in Orlando history, and fill out a short bench rotation to create the ultimate team.
The criteria for selection is limited to what the players did as members of the Magic, and a preference is given to strong statistical performances on a per-game basis rather than simply registering large amounts of points or rebounds without efficiency.
So will Shaq or Dwight Howard start at center? Which point guards will miss out on the squad?
Let's get started with the starting point guard.
(All statistics obtained from Basketball Reference.)
Point Guard: Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway
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Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway is the starting point guard for this team, because he's the perfect blend of scoring and distribution. Penny took over at PG for Scott Skiles in the 1993-1994 season and was one of the best in the NBA even as a rookie.
He also chipped in on the defensive end, finishing in the top 10 in the league in steals three times while in Orlando.
So combine his 19 points and six assists per game with good defense and solid play during the playoffs, and Penny is the obvious choice over the less-efficient Jameer Nelson and Darrell Armstrong.
In fact, factoring Player Efficiency Rating, Penny is one of only four Magic players with more than 20 games played to record a career PER over 20, meaning he was well above league average during his time in Orlando.
Shooting Guard: Nick Anderson
Nick Anderson posted some incredible numbers during his time in Orlando.
Nick Anderson may be remembered more for missing a shot than he was for making plenty of shots during his time in Orlando. That just shouldn't be the case.
As the video above shows, Nick Anderson did a little bit of everything. In that game against the Miami Heat, Anderson posted 42 points, eight rebounds, six assists and five steals.
And yes, Anderson was guilty of missing clutch free throws against the Houston Rockets during the NBA Finals in 1995. That's unfortunately what he's most remembered for.
But what he should be remembered for are his 10 seasons of service to the Magic in which he finished in the top-10 in three pointers made thrice.
He finished his Orlando career with averages of 15 points and five rebounds per game, and that earns him the spot as the starting shooting guard.
Small Forward: Tracy McGrady
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As Bill Simmons of Grantland pointed out in a fantastic article about Tracy McGrady, the former Orlando superstar was always on the "wrong team with the wrong players."
McGrady posted ridiculous statistics during his NBA career but his best days were during the four seasons he spent in Orlando.
McGrady was an All Star during each of his four years with the Magic, including a remarkable season in 2002-2003 in which he led the league in player efficiency rating with a 30.3 rating while scoring 32.1 points per game with 6.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per contest.
Tracy never had the right supporting cast around him and his efforts never ended in a deep playoff run for the Magic. But he was among the best players in the NBA during his time in Orlando and he's an obvious choice for the small forward position on this all-time Magic team.
Power Forward: Ryan Anderson
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When the Orlando Magic were at their best, they had a "stretch-four" at power forward, knocking down threes and creating defensive mismatches.
That system only works when a team has a great center, but since there are two to choose from, that makes this decision easy.
Ryan Anderson was the most efficient stretch-four that the Magic ever had, In fact, he's the fifth-most efficient player in Orlando history among players who appeared in more than 20 games. His 19.8 career PER with the Magic is just shy of the number posted by Penny Hardaway.
Anderson was at his best in the 2011-2012 season when he won the Most Improved Player award for his NBA-leading 166 three-pointers made.
There were power forwards who played for the Magic longer than Anderson. And there were power forwards who posted better all-around numbers than Anderson as well. But only the most elite Orlando players can touch Anderson's efficiency and consistency, which is why he's in the starting five.
Center: Dwight Howard
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He was the second center to leave the Orlando Magic and make his way out west to the Los Angeles Lakers. But what Dwight Howard did as a member of the Magic earns him the starting spot on this all-time Magic squad.
Shaquille O'Neal was more efficient than Howard when PER is considered. But we also have to take into account the "era" in which both players played.
Shaq brought about changes in the way that the game was officiated and the way teams were assembled. Howard then had to flourish in an era when centers didn't have the same freedoms they used to have while in the post. Check out this video of Phil Jackson explaining how Shaq changed the game.
So that leaves Howard in a tougher situation as a center, having to deal with the rule changes and new styles of play brought about by Shaq's dominance. He handled it quite well.
Howard was a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year thanks to his dominant work on the glass and as a shot-blocker and shot-changer in the post. But he also chipped in on offense, including leading the league in field goal percentage in 2010.
Dwight Howard may have left Orlando out to dry with his antics during his final days in town, but he also provided years of fantastic play at center. That earns him a spot in the starting five.
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Shaquille O'Neal, Center
Shaq is forced to the bench for our all-time Magic squad, but he's still worthy of plenty of praise. The big man from LSU has the best PER in Orlando history and dominated in the post during his time with the Magic.
He falls short of Howard because of rule changes and the era in which he played, but Shaq proved over and over that he was fully capable in a more modern NBA landscape once he moved on to other teams.
Horace Grant, Forward
If the all-time Orlando Magic need to add a secondary big man instead of a stretch-four, they can go to the bench and call upon Horace Grant. The former Magic forward tallied just over 11 points and eight rebounds per game during his time in Orlando.
He might not be better than Ryan Anderson for this starting lineup, but he certainly provides more of an inside presence than Anderson. Grant was a scrappy defender who was frequently named to the NBA All-Defensive Team.
Jameer Nelson, Point Guard
Nelson has been faithful to the Orlando Magic in a way very few players ever have. He's played the third-most games out of any player in Orlando history.
But this squad isn't about longevity or team spirit. It's about production. And Nelson's ability to pass and score as a point guard makes him a perfect fill-in for Penny Hardaway. Nelson is in the top 100 in NBA history in assists per game, and also in the top 100 for three-point field goal percentage.
Nelson is an all-around point guard who makes a perfect bench contributor for this squad.
Grant Hill, Forward
He didn't get to play often for the Magic but when he did it was impressive. In between injuries, Hill made 200 appearances for Orlando and posted over 16 points per game during that time.
Hill made a name for himself in Detroit before heading to Orlando via free agency, but he had a very impressive year in 2003-2004 when he averaged just under 20 points per game on his way to an All Star selection.
So while he may not have contributed as often as a player like Dennis Scott did for Orlando, the quality of his performances earn him a spot on the bench.