Championship Aspirations: An Orlando Magic Season Preview
There’s not long to go until Orlando’s season kicks off against the Philadelphia 76ers at Amway Arena. Coming off a heartbreaking Finals series in which Orlando was thoroughly beaten by the Los Angeles Lakers, 4-1, the Magic are looking to come back with a vengeance.
The Magic have brought in a major household name and a frequent invitee to the All-Star game, Vince Carter as well as adding a plethora of new players who fit surprisingly well within the team. So without further ado, the season preview...
Rafer Alston, Fresno (To New Jersey)
Tony Battie, Texas Tech (To New Jersey)
Courtney Lee, Western Kentucky (To New Jersey)
Tyronn Lue, Nebraska (To Free Agency)
Hidayet Turkoglu, Turkey (To Toronto)
Ryan Anderson, California (From New Jersey)
Matt Barnes, UCLA (From Phoenix)
Brandon Bass, LSU (From Dallas)
Vince Carter, North Carolina (From New Jersey)
Jason Williams, Florida (From Retirement)
G: Jameer Nelson | Anthony Johnson | Jason Williams
G: Vince Carter | Mickael Pietrus | JJ Reddick
F: Rashard Lewis | Matt Barnes
F: Brandon Bass | Ryan Anderson
C: Dwight Howard | Marcin Gortat | Adonal Foyle
Average Age: 28.0
Average Height: 6’6”
Average Weight: 223
Comments on outgoing players
The biggest loss that the Magic will experience this season will be the playmaking and leadership qualities that Hedo Turkoglu brought to the Magic. His was always sure to bring his game during crunch-time and had some amazing performances last season. His play making skill when Nelson was injured was superb, especially considering his height and position.
His flare and flash as well as the advantage having Turkoglu and Lewis at the forward positions will definitely be missed, however, definitely replaceable.
The other major losses that the Magic experienced through this offseason were that off their starting guard when Jameer Nelson went down to injury, Rafer Alston and Courtney Lee. Rafer came via a three-way trade with the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies which sent Brian Cook to the Rockets and Adonal Foyle to the Grizzlies (Foyle was later waived by the Grizzlies and re-signed to the Magic).
Alson, 32, did a remarkable job of filling Nelson’s void. His stability from the point guard position along with his (somewhat unusual) willingness to pass the ball often and frequently were major factors in getting the Magic to the Finals last season. Lee, on the other hand, was in his rookie season with the Magic.
Although, like most rookies, he began the season at a slow pace, easing into a definitive role within the team, Lee picked up steam and by the Finals series, was a starter for the Magic at the wing position. Lee showed much potential as a defensive pest on the perimeter as well as a solid midrange and three-point shooter.
The other players lost during this offseason were Tony Battie and Tyronn Lue. Neither player had a major impact on the team’s success for the season.
Comments on incoming players
The Magic scored big during the free agency period and were able to attract a lot of excellent role players to the team for the upcoming season. We begin, first and foremost, with North Carolina great, Vine Carter. Carter, 32, recently played for the New Jersey Nets and averaging 20.8 points per contest last season.
Although he is no longer Vince Carter of 27 years of age; he brings many attributes to the Magic, them being; a wealth of regular season experience, a strong frame, a solid work ethic and a will to win. HowVince Carter performs on an individual level will have a direct correlation to the sucess of the team overall.
In the trade that sent Carter to Orlando, another player was shipped out with him; that player being Ryan Anderson. Ryan Anderson is a skilled 6’10” shooting big man. He fits in almost perfectly with the offensively perimeter oriented Orlando Magic team. His shooting ability brings an ability to stretch the floor offensively to the three point line, where he shot .365% from last season.
Anderson, 21, is still young and has some areas of his game to refine before he becomes a major contributor. However, the potential to be a great player is definitely there.
Brandon Bass and Matt Barnes are the other two players who will be joining the Magic organization this season. Both Bass and Barnes played important roles on their respective teams last season; Bass as a backup big for the Mavericks who provided energy, hustle and scoring off the bench and Barnes as a defender/three-point shooter.
Both players will again have meaningful and impactful roles for the Magic, as both are projected to be within the main rotation. The acquisition of Bass was, in my opinion, important as it gave the Magic something they have been dearly needing; another player who is willing to get his hands dirty.
This means that the pressure is no longer just on Howard to fight for all the rebounds or get all the blocks. It also gives them another scoring option inside, taking some pressure off the shooters.
Barnes was brought in as a defender and three point shooter. He will play a role similar to Pietrus and will probably compete for minutes with Pietrus. Barnes also brings leadership and an intensive will to win.
He is, in my opinion, an ideal player off the bench considering the strengths he brings to the team.
Jason Williams was also added to the Magic roster. He will not play a significant role.
Jameer Nelson will be the point guard starter. What Nelson brings to this Magic team is incredible efficiency scoring the basketball, as he showed last season, shooting over 50% on field goals and over 45 percent on three pointers. He also packs a very tough player into a relatively small frame and isn’t of any kind of contact.
He’s also slowly learning to pass the ball at a rate that would suit most coaches, and his intelligence is also becoming increasingly better. His defense is above average; however his short stature for an NBA player leads to him being overpowered by the 6’3"+ point guards but it has not become a major problem for the Magic.
Anthony Johnson will be the main back-up point guard. Johnson brings his veteran know-how and intelligence to the court every night. Although he is not an amazingly gifted player in any major area, his leadership had shown to be a huge factor off the bench for them last season.
He will, once again, have an opportunity to show that he can assert himself effectively into games without it reflecting on the stat-sheets.
Jason Williams is the third point guard, but will not receive major playing time.
The wing position (shooting guard/small forward for all you ‘technical position’ guys) for the Magic is incredibly deep and might be a collection of some of the more talented scorers/shooters that the league has to offer.
Vince Carter will be the offensive centerpiece for the Magic this off season. His ability to shoot from range, score, handle and create for himself is, as was said before, detrimental to the Magic if they want to have a chance at winning.
Carter brings a career 23.5 point per game scoring average to Orlando, but also brings an all-around game which has earned him numerous All-Star game selections as well as All-NBA team selections. Based on interviews, Carter is motivated and focused and ready to play for this formidable team.
On the other wing, the Magic have the great pleasure of having yet another greater shooter and scorer, Rashard Lewis. His long and wiry frame last season provided the Magic with a major mismatch from the power forward position on most nights. This season, he will go into a more traditional role for most of his playing time, though.
However, he has shown that even with a man in his face, he is able to score the basketball from range and with efficiency. He’s also shown to be quite an adequate defender against the bigger players and his long frame and quickness also allows him to play a perimeter defensive position as well.
On the bench, the Magic have two almost identical players: Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus. Both are more than capable defenders and three point shooters. Both will assume good minutes off the bench and both have shown that they are able to produce with some efficiency. Their defense off the bench is their most admirable quality and it will be a deciding factor on how they split they minutes and at what wing position.
Unfortunately, J.J Reddick is the odd-man out here and will most likely see career lows in just about every category unless he is traded to another team, which seems like a more likely solution given his talents for scoring the basketball, and recently, an improved effort on the defensive end.
If he does, however, stay with the Magic, he will not see an incredible amount of playing time this season unless injury strikes.
The Magic once again come into the season with a frightfully thin (in depth) front court. Apart from Dwight Howard, there are no major impact players in the front court who look to gain any sort of strong coverage from other teams.
As it seems, thus far Brandon Bass is the favourite to start at Power Forward. Although he is a more traditional power forward which eliminates the mismatch advantage that the Magic had last season, Bass brings another big body that will be able to control the boards and play inside which, aside from Dwight Howard providing this, is something that Orlando majorly lacked last season.
His backup will a combination of Ryan Anderson and whoever else they can manipulate into playing the power forward position for them (Lewis or Gortat?). As Anderson does not have the skills just yet to be a major contributor, he probably won’t play major minutes this season in Orlando.
On the low-post block, the Magic have arguably the best center in the league at the moment: Dwight Howard. Howard averaged 20.7 points per game, 14.0 rebounds per game, 2.9 blocks per game and shot 57 percent from the field.
He also won the Defensive Player of the Year trophy. This kind of production is almost definitely expected from Howard once again for this upcoming season. Howard is also arguably the most dominant low post player in the game today and will face major coverage through double or even triple teams to slow him down.
He will have to keep bringing a dominant effort like he has been in years past in order for the Magic to be a successful team.
Comments on the Offense
Orlando brings back largely the same offensive team that led them to such great success last season. They were 10th in scoring last season at 101 points per game and were 11th in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions). The Magic relied strongly on the three ball last season, averaging roughly 26 three pointers per game but shooting with amazing efficiency (.381%).
This season doesn’t look to be any different, with the Magic stocking up on more perimeter oriented and jump shot happy players like Vince Carter, Matt Barnes and Ryan Anderson. Having said that, however, by bringing in Brandon Bass, it gives the Magic more options as to where they want to go offensively as Bass is a perfect supplementary player to Dwight Howard within twelve feet of the basket.
Comments on the Defense
Stan Van Gundy, head coach of the Magic has really improved the Magic defense since joining the organization. In fact, he’s improved it so much, that the Magic ranked first on defensive ranking last season, allowing only 101.9 points per 100 possessions. It all begins with Dwight Howard in the post.
Howard has become a rock in there, grabbing every rebound, blocking a lot of shots and just imposing his authority on the opposition. Then, it continues onto the perimeter defense which was very pesky and very disruptive last season.
The Magic boosted this defense up another notch by adding in better than average defenders, Vince Carter and Matt Barnes. One should expect nothing less than what we saw last year on the defensive end from the Orlando Magic.
Discussion on the Upcoming Orlando Magic Season: Expectations
I personally think that the Magic have what it takes this season to once again reach the Finals. What they do when they get there is another story, but they have the talent in the Eastern Conference to once again be the champions of it. Anything less than at least an Eastern Conference Finals berth will be in my honest opinion, a season wasted.
The Magic reloaded with a huge name, Vince Carter in place of their third leading scorer, Hedo Turkoglu last season. They also added everything they lacked from last season; that being another energetic big man presence (Brandon Bass), another defender (Matt Barnes) and a young piece who seems to be developing at a great pace (Ryan Anderson).
On the individuals of the team, Dwight Howard will once again be expected to shoulder the load and average his, what seems to be coming the usual 19+ points, 13.5+ rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
Along with this, unless somebody jumps into contention, most people will most likely expect him to once more win the Defensive Player of the Year trophy.
Under him will be the new addition, Vince Carter, who will be expected to do what he does best: provide scoring and an all-around game which has earned him All-Star honours for so many years. Though most understand that he is 32 this season, he has not showed any signs that he is majorly declining with athletic ability or even overall play.
Therefore, expecting at least 18 points and four of each rebounds and assists per game next season from Carter is not unreasonable.
The shooter of the team, Rashard Lewis will probably have the most adjusting to do with having to go back to his old position. The Magic signed him to a major contract expecting him to contribute great numbers and it’s tough to argue that he hasn’t. But he hasn’t quite lived up to the expectation when you give a player upwards of $120 million.
Nevertheless, Lewis’ role is strictly shooting, shooting and more shooting. Recently, he’s also proven to be quite a clutch player, having a few big shots down the stretch of important games in the Playoffs last season. Nothing less is expected from him this upcoming season.
It will be interesting to see how Jameer Nelson can come back from a major injury. He was playing great basketball just before his injury in February last season. However, he clearly wasn’t ready to come back during the Finals versus the Lakers.
It would be good to see Nelson go back to being the 16 point, six assist per game player that he was last season, but with the addition of a ball-dominant Vince Carter, plus the unusually high shooting percentages for a usually average shooting percentage type of player that Jameer is, it doesn’t seem likely that he will emulate his performances from last season.
The final individual player that I feel will play an important role is Marcin Gortat which might be quite a surprise. He was not happy when the Magic re-signed him as he did not want to sit behind Howard on the bench. This season, Gortat must prove that he has the skill to be a regular rotation player.
If he can add a more refined and softer game around the hoop, Gortat would have no problem taking minutes at the power forward positions and producing well from there.
If he does not produce, however, for whatever reason, I’ll be the first to say that it won’t be surprising to see him sitting on the bench for at least 40 minutes of each game. His production is definitely an important factor for the Magic.
Record Prediction: 60-22 (Last season: 59-23)
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