Ranking the Top 10 Most Underrated Orlando Magic Players of the Past Decade
Over the past decade, 92 players donned the pinstripes for the Orlando Magic. Some of them were spectacular, others hardly left a mark at all—and some made contributions while going largely unnoticed, like Tyronn Lue or Mickael Pietrus.
Everyone who participated in at least 80 games from 2003-14 for the Magic is eligible for this list. That cuts the number down to 40 athletes.
This article focuses on players' productivity compared to how much they were acknowledged and given credit for their individual merits. Obviously, this can never be a purely scientific approach and will always be a matter of personal interpretation.
There will be candidates who the valued reader believes to have received the just amount of admiration from the fans, considering their contribution to the team, while other players should have been subjected to more praise from the public. Unfortunately there is no single number to define whether someone was actually over- or underrated, thus any ensuing discussion is more than welcome.
The following slides will rank the 10 most underrated players for the Orlando Magic over the past decade as perceived by yours truly.
Honorable Mention: J.J. Redick
Orlando Stats: 2007-13, 396 G, 52 GS, 21.9 MPG, 9.2 PPG, 39.8 3P%
J.J. Redick suffered the fate of many players before him, regardless of franchise or sport. His contributions were not spectacular in numbers nor manner. Efficient play rarely finds its way into the highlights.
Most casual NBA fans didn't really know a lot about the 6'4" guard's game. And who can blame them?
Teammates like Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis took most of the spotlight and the credit, because the media landscape rather focuses on the tip of the iceberg than the underlying mass carrying it.
True Orlando fans knew for quite some time what they had in Redick, but he failed to get the deserved recognition from most of the league's fans.
No. 10: Mickael Pietrus
Orlando Stats: 2008-11, 148 G, 49 GS, 23.2 MPG, 8.7 PPG, 3 REB, 37.3 3P%
The Orlando Magic signed Mickael Pietrus as free agent in 2008.
The abundance of guards soon forced the versatile athlete to play small forward, where he was mainly Matt Barnes' backup. The Frenchman still put up decent numbers in his limited time on the court but eventually was traded in 2011.
The fans had higher hopes for the athletically talented player, but somehow his career never really took off. That doesn't mean he was a failure by any means, but his production was below Orlando's expectations.
However, looking at his stats per 36 minutes, it becomes clear that he was an important factor in the Magic's success during his stay in Florida, as he averaged 13.5 points and 4.6 rebounds.
2012-13 was Pietrus' last season in the NBA. He played 19 games for the Toronto Raptors, averaging 5.3 points in 20.3 minutes.
No. 9: Juwan Howard
Orlando Stats: 2003-04, 81 G, 77 GS, 35.5 MPG, 17 PPG, 7 REB
Can a player who averaged 17 points and seven rebounds per game really not be noticed accordingly by fans around the league?
He can—if his team ends with an appalling 21-61 record.
Juwan Howard was in his prime when he joined the Orlando Magic. Paired with Tracy McGrady, who averaged 28.0 points, 5.5 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game that same '03-'04 season, Howard put up decent numbers but failed miserably trying to lead the franchise to a winning record.
It wasn't his fault, but nonetheless it meant he would not be properly recognized for his personal achievements. Fair or not, it's the way things work in professional sports.
The current team could profit from a leader like Howard, but there was no adequate supporting cast back in 2003-04.
Howard ended his career in 2012-13 with the Miami Heat. In his final season, he dressed up only seven times.
No. 8: Marcin Gortat
Orlando Stats: 2007-10, 175 G, 5 GS, 13.3 MPG, 3.7 PPG, 4.3 REB
How can someone who scored 3.7 points per game be considered underrated?
Marcin Gortat wasn't underrated by fans but appeared to be so by Orlando management and the team's coaching staff. Admittedly, the dominance of Dwight Howard didn't allow for the Polish Hammer to play a lot, let alone become an important part of the team.
The 6'11" center was even assigned to the Anaheim Arsenal in the NBA Development League twice during his first season in Florida. Eventually he was traded to the Phoenix Suns in 2010.
Of course, he immediately averaged a double-double (10.0 rebounds, 15.4 points) in 32 minutes per game in his first full season with Phoenix.
Currently, he is an important asset to the Washington Wizards and impressed fans during last year's playoffs, when he averaged 13 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.
No. 7: Matt Barnes
Orlando Stats: 2009-10, 81 G, 58 GS, 25.9 MPG, 8.8 PPG, 5.5 REB, 48.7 FG%
Matt Barnes was an efficient player for the Orlando Magic. His success rate from two-point territory was the second-highest of the team with 58.6 percent. The only player ranked before him was none other than Dwight Howard.
Despite that, Barnes never received the deserved recognition, because he was overshadowed by Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter and the aforementioned Howard. They all had already created a name for themselves, had better numbers and were in the spotlight for a team ending the regular season with the NBA's second-best record for the 2009-10 season.
What's more, Barnes had to fight for the starting spot with Mickael Pietrus, which resulted in neither ever really receiving full appreciation for their efforts.
Barnes now is a Los Angeles Clipper and had an average of 9.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and two assists in 63 games last season.
No. 6: Tyronn Lue
Orlando Stats: 2003-04, 2008-09, 90 G, 69 GS, 27.3 MPG, 9.3 PPG, 3.7 AST, 38.1 3P%
If you aren't a longtime Orlando fan, you are excused for not remembering Tyronn Lue who had two stints with the Magic. His first season with the team was in 2003-04, as a 26-year-old. He averaged 10.5 points and 4.2 assists in 30.7 minutes per game and shot 38.3 percent from beyond the arc.
His lack of size caused troubles, especially on the defensive end.
On offense, the 6'0" guard was decent but didn't draw too much attention from media and fans. After all, he shared the floor with Tracy McGrady, who often was a one-man show on a team void of other star players.
Lue's shooting and passing skills may not have been outstanding, but they were solid and ensured he would get the job done.
The veteran's second term in Florida came when the 31-year-old was acquired midseason by trade from the Milwaukee Bucks. Lue averaged three points per game in 9.2 minutes during 14 appearances for Orlando.
He retired after the 2008-09 campaign.
No. 5: Kyle O'Quinn
Orlando Stats: 2012-14, 126 G, 24 GS, 14.5 MPG, 5.2 PPG, 4.5 REB, 0.9 BLK
Simply looking at the above stats, there is hardly a chance that Kyle O'Quinn could be underrated. His production for the Orlando Magic in his first two seasons seems minimal at best.
However, consider his stats per 36 minutes: 13 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.
Also, keep in mind he played for a team characterized by tough perimeter defense but a soft core. His importance for this franchise in the upcoming seasons cannot be overstated. Together with Dewayne Dedmon, O'Quinn could improve Orlando's interior defense considerably for many years to come.
The 6'10" big man can play center and power forward and already has to be considered a steal for the Magic, who acquired him with pick No. 49 in the 2012 NBA draft.
No. 4: Trevor Ariza
Orlando Stats: 2005-08, 89 G, 7 GS, 18.9 MPG, 7.2 PPG, 4 REB
Trevor Ariza played 89 games for the Orlando Magic due to frequent injuries as well as the fact that he spent only one full season in Florida. This was also one of the reasons why he couldn't get into a flow with the team.
Then 20 years old, Ariza was still raw but showed potential.
Unfortunately for him, he was the third option behind Hedo Turkoglu and Grant Hill for most of his time as a Magic player. That led to head coach Brian Hill in 2006-07 to frequently use Ariza at shooting guard, a position at which the 6'8" small forward never really seemed to be comfortable.
Ever after his trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, he has predominantly played at the 3 and rewarded his teams with increased production. It also helped that he developed a consistent jump shot from downtown and considerably improved his free-throw shooting.
During his days in Orlando, very few people thought the former No. 43 pick would develop into the solid player he is today.
In 2013-14, Ariza played for the Washington Wizards and averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds, while shooting 40.7 percent from the three-point line—all personal bests. He was signed by the Houston Rockets to a four-year, $32 million deal during the offseason.
No. 3: Jameer Nelson
Orlando Stats: 2004-14, 651 G, 556 GS, 29.2 MPG, 12.6 PPG, 5.4 APG, 3.1 REB
The 6'0" point guard played with as much intensity and relentless effort as any coach or fan could ever hope for. His 3.1 rebounds per game were pulled down mostly by grit and determination.
Nonetheless, he remained in the shadows behind superstars like Dwight Howard or Rashard Lewis. The media landscape didn't care too much for the comparatively unspectacular play of Nelson—neither did most of the NBA fans.
While the veteran was appreciated by Orlando's community for his loyalty, according to John Denton of NBA.com, his actual contribution on the court mostly went unnoticed.
During this offseason, the 10-year veteran, who never played for another team, was waived by general manager Rob Hennigan to free up some salary-cap space.
Team officials around the league were keen on securing the point guard's service, and the Dallas Mavericks swiftly picked him up.
It will be interesting to see how much the Orlando Magic will miss Nelson's leadership and consistency in the backcourt.
No.2: Jason Richardson
Orlando Stats: 2010-12, 109 G, 109 GS, 32.2 MPG, 12.8 PPG, 37.7 3P%
Jason Richardson enjoyed a successful career, averaging 17.3 points per game in 12 years. Unfortunately, his stint with the Orlando Magic came after his peak, and the team didn't give him a prominent role.
Management knew he was an important player, though, which is why he started all 109 games. The 6'6" veteran posted solid numbers and was efficient. The problem was that he was only the eighth offensive option on the team, judging by his usage percentage of 18.6—his lowest at that point in his career.
His numbers declined considerably.
Before being acquired via trade from the Phoenix Suns in 2010-11, the former No. overall 5 pick averaged 19.3 points per game, which fell to 13.9 for the remainder of the season and plunged all the way to 11.6 points the next.
Fans were hoping for more production, but being one of the last options on the court at any given time resulted in a rather disappointing time in Florida.
His skills were still there, but he never got the chance to truly shine.
Richardson ended his career after the 2012-13 season, averaging 10.5 points and playing 33 games for the Philadelphia 76ers. He averaged double digits in points during each of his 12 campaigns.
No. 1: Arron Afflalo
Orlando Stats: 2012-14, 137 G, 137 GS, 35.5 MPG, 17.4 PPG, 3.3 AST, 37.0 3P%
With stats like the above, the only way to be an underrated player is to be on a losing team.
Had Arron Afflalo put up these numbers for a winning franchise, he would have received commensurate recognition. The Orlando Magic, however, managed to win only 43 games over the last two campaigns.
That's 43 of 164.
The lack of appreciation for Afflalo's efforts outside of Orlando culminated with the guard being left off the Eastern Conference All-Star squad. The veteran was not invited to New Orleans despite averaging before the All-Star break 19.4 points 3.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds, while shooting 42.5 percent from downtown.
It can be argued that, for example, Joe Johnson profited from having more exposure with the Brooklyn Nets. They are a big-market team and managed to get into the playoffs after a disastrous start to the 2013-14 season. The spotlight was on this team and its players the entire campaign.
A comparison between the two players shows that Afflalo topped Johnson in three-point percentage, field-goal percentage, points per game and assists per game. Of course, raw stats are not an absolute determining factor for the class of an athlete, but one has to wonder whether the decision would have been a different one if the two players were on different teams.
The 6'5" Afflalo had his best season during 2013-14 and, at 28 years of age, the wingman has several strong years ahead of him.
It may have been some consolation for Afflalo that Orlando fans appreciated everything he did for the team. That doesn't change the fact that—from a league-wide perspective—he was one of the most underrated athletes in the NBA and the most underrated Orlando Magic player of the past decade.
Afflalo was traded to the Denver Nuggets for Evan Fournier and Roy Devyn Marble this offseason.
You can follow @KurtJonke for more on the NBA in general and the Orlando Magic in particular.