ESPN Insider Magic Stuff
It wasn't the 3-pointers.
The topic of Orlando's dependence on the 3-pointer took over virtually every discussion of the Magic during their surprisingly successful campaign. No mention of them seemed complete without a dire warning that their reliance on the long ball might prove their undoing at some point.
It's true the Magic shot 3-pointers with incredible frequency last season, becoming the first team in league history to take more than a third of their shots beyond the arc and setting a record by hitting 23 in one game against the hapless Kings. This interesting but not terribly important point became the conventional wisdom -- as the story went, the Magic were a bunch of blind 3-point gunners.
But that was a sideshow. Orlando won because of it had the league's best defense, led by defensive player of the year Dwight Howard. While the Magic received comparatively less attention for it, they rode the D to a 59-win season and an unexpected trip to the Eastern Conference finals -- a feat they managed to pull off despite losing All-Star guard Jameer Nelson halfway through the season.
Orlando topped Boston for the league lead in defensive efficiency, and did it with a low-risk approach. The Magic forced turnovers on only 13.7 percent of opponent possessions, a figure that ranked 25th in the league.
Defensive efficiency leaders, 2008-09
Team Opp. 2-pt FG% Def. Reb Percentage Opp. 3A/FGA Def. Eff.
Orlando 45.4 75.9 .191 98.9
Boston 45.4 75.6 .226 99.4
Cleveland 45.9 74.6 .225 99.4
Houston 46.4 75.3 .193 101.4
L.A. Lakers 46.5 73.0 .249 101.9
NBA avg. 48.5 73.3 .224 104.8
But the Magic were so good in the other areas they still finished first overall. With Howard making the basket area a no-fly zone for opponents, Orlando placed first in 2-point field goal defense, permitting only 45.4 percent shooting from inside the arc.
Shooting from distance wasn't a great proposition either. Because Howard and the vastly improved Rashard Lewis defended the post so well, the Magic rarely had to double-team and concede open 3s. Opponents took only 19.1 percent of their attempts from 3, which was the second-lowest figure in the league.
HOLLINGER'S '08-09 STATS
W-L: 59-23 (Pythagorean W-L: 62-20)
Offensive Efficiency: 107.2 (8th)
Defensive Efficiency: 98.9 (1st)
Pace Factor: 94.6 (T-12)
Highest PER: Dwight Howard (25.44)
Thus, the Magic essentially removed the two highest-percentage shots in basketball, layups and 3s, from the equation and forced opponents to make do with the rest. That enabled Orlando to grab first place in opponent True Shooting Percentage at 50.9 percent. And when a shot missed, the Magic nearly always grabbed the carom. With Howard dominating the defensive glass, Orlando's 75.9 percent defensive rebound rate ranked second only to San Antonio's.
Of course, this accomplishment required much more than just Howard. Lewis, as I mentioned earlier, has improved by leaps and bounds since coming from Seattle, where he rarely made a sustained effort. Rookie Courtney Lee turned into a defensive stopper on the wings, while off-the-bench newcomer Mickael Pietrus provided a second ace. Veteran Rafer Alston stepped up to the challenge after Nelson went out, while big men Tony Battie and Marcin Gortat also ably defended the post.
Yet a big chunk of credit also must go to Stan Van Gundy, who inspired his team to overachieve at the defensive end all season and should have won coach of the year honors. Instead, much of the public discussion about him focused on Shaquille O'Neal's "master of panic" wisecracks and Van Gundy's frantic nature on the sidelines -- again, matters that were interesting but not very important.
3-point attempts per FGA, 2008-09 leaders
New York .322
New Jersey .265
NBA avg. .224
Offensively the Magic performed well too, especially before Nelson's injury. And yes, the 3-pointers played a big part in that. Orlando shot .335 3-pointers per field goal attempt, blowing away the league average of .224, and it shot them fairly well, too -- its .381 mark came in at seventh.
Again, Howard's monstrous presence inside was a deciding factor. The Magic spaced the floor with four shooters around him, leaving opponents to choose their poison: double Howard and surrender the 3, or guard the 3 and watch Howard dunk. Additionally, Orlando racked up the league's third-highest free-throw rate because of the league-leading 849 free throws Howard earned, though that was a double-edged sword -- he shot only 59.4 percent from the stripe, dragging Orlando to last place in free-throw percentage.
Oddly enough, the Magic were a terrible offensive rebounding team. With four shooters spacing the perimeter and Howard normally lined up on the strong side, Orlando rarely had players in position to gather second shots. The Magic's 24 percent offensive rebound rate ranked 28th -- only Toronto and San Antonio fared worse.
Looking at their playoff run, it's hard to know whether the Magic had good luck or bad. On one hand, with a healthy Nelson they might very well have won the championship. He befuddled the Lakers in the two regular-season matchups, both of which Orlando won, but unfortunately his early return for the Finals didn't net the same results.
On the other hand, the Magic also benefited from Boston's loss of Kevin Garnett in the second round, and still needed seven games to dispatch the Celtics. The truth was that Orlando didn't play nearly as well in the second half of the season after losing Nelson, with the lone exception being the conference finals series against Cleveland when a perfect matchup landed in their laps. With Cleveland's chronic inability to defend Howard, Nelson's absence became immaterial.
The Magic got a taste of the Finals, and it appeared to make their front office quite thirsty. Despite playing in a small market and in one of the league's most dated arenas (the replacement won't be ready for another year), the Magic decided to damn the torpedoes and load up on talent this summer. If you're a Magic fan, you have tip your hat to the DeVos family ownership for their willingness to spend (read: lose) money in the quest for a title. The Magic will pay about $10 million in luxury tax, or potentially more if they use Hedo Turkoglu's trade exception.
Traded Courtney Lee, Tony Battie and Rafer Alston to New Jersey for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson. New Jersey's pain became Orlando's gain, as the Magic traded three spare parts to the Nets to obtain Carter, an Orlando native. His long-range shooting skill fits with Orlando's general offensive strategy, and he can run pick-and-rolls well enough to take over Turkoglu's spot as an offensive orchestrator. Anderson is no slouch either and could find a role off the bench as a floor-spacing four for the Magic.
Signed and traded Hedo Turkoglu to Toronto for cash and a trade exception. Turkoglu had already agreed to a deal with Toronto, so it was surprising at the time to see the Magic help out the Raptors by making it a sign-and-trade. It was a complicated four-team deal and Orlando received cash from both Toronto and Dallas for taking part, but that seemed unimportant until Orlando's offseason spending strategy came to light. The primary benefit for the Magic is a trade exception worth $9 million that they can use any time until July 2010. It will end up costing them $18 million to exercise once they factor in luxury tax costs, but they very well may use the exception if it can usher in another star.
Signed Brandon Bass to a four-year, $18 million deal. This was a heck of a deal for Orlando, because they now have a high-scoring young frontcourt player to fill Battie's spot in the rotation. Bass will likely play much more than his predecessor did, and his arrival allows Rashard Lewis to shift to the 3 on occasion, which mutes some of the effect of losing Turkoglu.
Matched Dallas' 5-year, $34 million offer sheet for Marcin Gortat. This was a spectacular poker play by Magic GM Otis Smith, who convinced the Mavs to let him sign away Bass under the presumption that the tax-paying Magic couldn't possibly add him and still match the Mavs' offer sheet for Gortat. Instead Smith duped them and snagged both players while preserving the asset for a future trade. Granted, barring an injury to Howard, Gortat is likely to play little for the Magic this year.
The stipulations on matching a restricted free agent's offer sheet are tricky. The Magic can't trade him to Dallas for a full year, can't trade him anywhere until Dec. 15, and can't trade him without his consent. Nonetheless, many suspect a trade will come sooner or later. Gortat would be more than happy to relocate to a situation where he'd start, and the Magic can convert him into more urgently needed assets. In the meantime, they have one of the league's best backup centers locked up for half a decade.
Signed Jason Williams to a one-year deal for the minimum. Alston's departure left veteran retread Anthony Johnson as the only other point guard on the roster, and while the Magic may occasionally line up without a point guard (much as they did in the playoffs a year ago), the Magic still need more insurance. Enter Williams, who sat out last season but was productive, if not very healthy, in his two previous seasons in Miami.
Signed Matt Barnes to a two-year deal for $3.2 million. Orlando used the leftover midlevel exception money from the Bass deal to ink Barnes, who provides yet another floor-spacer who can play both the 3 and the 4. Barnes isn't good enough to start for a playoff team, but he is tough, plays with energy and handles the ball well for his size. As a 10-minute energizer off the bench, he should provide good value at this price.
Signed Adonal Foyle to a one-year deal for the minimum. This was strictly an insurance move for the frontcourt, bringing back a player familiar with the system and well-liked in the locker room. Foyle is unlikely to play, or even dress, unless injuries ravage the frontcourt.
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Biggest Strength: Defense
I can't emphasize this enough -- everybody focuses on the 3-pointers, but that's a distraction. Orlando wins because it defends, and this year it should again rank among the league's top defensive units.
However, Orlando may struggle to keep its perch at No. 1 in defensive efficiency. Howard remains the linchpin, but the trade of Lee, Alston and Battie to New Jersey removed three of the team's best defensive players. The replacements at those spots -- Barnes, Bass and Williams -- are much more offensive-minded and will be hard-pressed to match their predecessors' contributions.
The hope is that Orlando can offset the losses in other ways. Carter, though he takes many barbs, is certainly a better defensive player than Turkoglu, while the increased playing time for Pietrus could provide another boost at the defensive end. Additionally, J.J. Redick has vastly improved as a defender -- as he showed when shadowing Ray Allen in the second round of the playoffs -- and could prove more useful on that end this year.
That said, the biggest variable may be this one: How will they respond to another year under the hard-charging Van Gundy? He squeezed the maximum out of this unit's potential a year ago, but the unanswered question is how long they'll respond to his prodding before the message grows stale.
Biggest Weakness: One-On-One Scoring
Look, we have to choose something. The Magic start four All-Stars, play airtight defense and go 12 deep, so we're talking about fairly small ****** in the armor here. But against opponents with the size to play Howard straight up, this weakness becomes more apparent, as it did during last year's Finals.
Orlando didn't have a great one-on-one scorer a year ago, forcing them into pick-and-rolls with Hedo Turkoglu that often didn't yield much in the way of open looks. This year the prospects are better with Nelson back from injury and Carter replacing Turkoglu, but each comes with an asterisk. Nelson is coming off a shoulder injury and had put up numbers that vastly exceeded his career norms. Carter, meanwhile, turns 33 in January, and although he played very well a year ago, he has a history of knee trouble and there's no guarantee how long he can keep playing at this level.
Surprisingly, the Magic have managed to stay under the national radar despite making the Finals a year ago and loading up the truck with talent over the summer. It's partly a perception issue -- Turkoglu became a "name" player with the Magic's run to the Finals last year, while Carter has been largely forgotten about in New Jersey and has been criticized much of his career for underachieving.
But there's no comparison between the two players: Carter creates more shots with the same shooting accuracy, defends better, and -- despite the renown for Turkoglu's passing skill -- also achieved a higher Pure Point Rating. He's just a much better player.
The Magic also are much deeper in the frontcourt with Bass, Barnes and Anderson, and should be better in the backcourt with a full year of Nelson and the addition of Williams. Additionally, they have assets left in reserve in the form of a $9 million trade exception and the potentially tradable Gortat contract. Using either of those to bring in a marquee player at the trade deadline could swing the balance toward a championship.
All of the above make the Magic a formidable player in the East. But it doesn't necessarily mean they repeat as conference champions. A lot of things had to happen for them to win a year ago, and it helped that Cleveland was more focused on matching up against Boston than against Howard -- otherwise Shaquille O'Neal probably would have been a Cavalier in last year's conference finals.
Shaq will be in a Cleveland uniform this time around, however, and that could change the dynamic of a Magic-Cavs matchup considerably. All told, the Magic are one of three teams I'd put at the top of the list as far as championship favorites, but it's very possible they end up with a better regular season and a worse playoff outcome than a year ago.
Prediction: 62-20, 1st in Southeast Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference
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Five observations from Magic camp:
1. The other guy
A surprise among the names Stan Van Gundy offered as possible starters was Ryan Anderson, the "other" guy the Magic got from the Nets in the Vince Carter trade. The 21-year-old forward started 29 games for New Jersey as a rookie last season while posting a solid 13.63 player efficiency rating and figures to improve on that in his second pro season. Additionally, his long-range shooting (36.3 percent on 3s last season, 41 percent in college) makes him a good fit for the Magic's system.
"Lights-out shooter, offensive rebounder" was Carter's scouting report. "Especially the first 10 games [without] Rashard [Lewis], he's going to stretch the floor. I think he'll take some of the pressure off Dwight [Howard] down there with his rebounding."
"He was an overlooked part of that trade," Van Gundy said. "Yes, he can start those first 10 games. He's a guy who can really stretch the floor out, which fits in with the way we play. He's got good instinct of moving the ball and playing the game. He can pass the ball. He's in the mix as much as any of those guys."
2. Drawing a line
Van Gundy set the bar Everest-high when talking about Howard's free-throw shooting. Howard led the league in attempts last season but converted only 59.4 percent and is at 60.1 percent for his career.
That won't cut the mustard for Van Gundy this season. Not even close.
After reaching the Finals last season, the new-look Magic want to win it all this time around. John Hollinger
• Hollinger: Magic 2009-10 Forecast Insider
"I think a realistic free throw percentage for him is probably 75," Van Gundy said. While the assembled media exchanged stunned glances, he quickly revised his estimate to something a bit more, um, realistic.
"I think he can shoot free throws. But if he can shoot over 70, I think he's in very, very good shape. I would be quite frankly disappointed with anything below 70. I think he's very capable of doing that. It's a matter of work, and then it's a matter of confidence, and staying with his same routine and his same shot all the time. When he misses a couple, staying with it instead of being all over the place."
Because of how often Howard gets to the line, a jump in free throw percentage to something in the low 70s would be huge for the Magic. Take his 10 free throws a game and increase the accuracy by .12 or so, which Van Gundy is implying, and that's an extra 1.2 points per game for the Magic. Spread that over 82 games, and it creates about three additional wins --- marginal wins that become enormous, given the likely closeness of the race for the East's top seed between Orlando, Cleveland and Boston.
That says nothing of the follow-up effect Howard's making free throws would have -- removing the incentive to foul Howard in the first place, and making him more of a threat in late-game situations.
"If he makes free throws ... you can't just grab him and handle him all the time. He becomes pretty difficult to guard," Van Gundy said. "He's pretty difficult to guard as it is."
3. A little respect
Perhaps no team played the "no respect" card more than the Magic last season. They had a point -- few people took them seriously as contenders until they had their party hats on at the end of the Eastern Conference finals.
This season, they haven't taken the bait -- probably because they know there's a target on their backs already. Nobody I talked to would anoint their team the favorite in the East.
"We're just going to take it day by day," Jameer Nelson said, doing his best to be as inoffensive as possible.
"In the end, " Van Gundy said, "all those things are fun for fans, but they're irrelevant. Those things in the long run don't matter. By halfway though the season, nobody cares about preseason predictions. I know this: We have enough talent to contend."
4. Texting points
One thing Carter let us in on was his new coach's habit of sending frequent text messages to players.
"It doesn't bother me," Carter said. "It's like day and night, I get a text message --'Who's that? Oh, it's Coach.' Coach [Lawrence] Frank was every other day, so anything more or less than that doesn't bother me; I'm used to it."
"He has moments, though," he said with a laugh.
As for what Van Gundy might be texting Carter, we got a few ideas of possible topics Tuesday. Although Van Gundy said he won't have to plant his foot in Carter's rear the way he did with the departed Hedo Turkoglu when he arrived two years ago, he still sees areas in which Carter slacks off.
"The only thing I talk to Vince about is -- it happens at times with the better players as they go on in their career -- they start to take the routine plays for granted. Maybe throw a one-handed pass a little off target when you don't need to instead of putting two hands on the ball, [or] getting straight up and down on your jump shot when you have time to get your balance and really following through and drilling it. Things like that, just making those routine plays. He's a great, great player, and he can do lots of different things. I think he has to be a little more solid on making routine plays."
5. Fish out of water?
Last season in Dallas, Brandon Bass played as much or more as a center than he did at power forward. That seems unlikely to happen this season. With Howard locked in as a starter and Marcin Gortat arguably the league's best backup center, Bass will see little time in the middle.
Van Gundy didn't seem wild about the possibility of Bass even as a third center. "With Tony [Battie] we had a guy who could play the 4 and was also a third center, and we don't really have that now," he said. Instead, the third center appears to be Adonal Foyle, although it's hardly encouraging to see that he missed the first day of practice to get treatment on his knees.
Instead, Van Gundy wondered whether the 6-foot-8 Bass could be used as a small forward playing with Anderson on the second unit -- with Bass defending 3s while Anderson operates more as a 3 offensively.
"One question I wonder about, too, is if I can play he and Ryan together as our forwards with Ryan's ability on the perimeter. I'm not sure how much time we'll spend [on it]. Brandon moves his feet pretty well; if you could have him guard 3s, could they play together? I don't have an answer for that," Van Gundy said.
Re: ESPN Insider Magic Stuff
Thanks for the post, Skyscraper!
Re: ESPN Insider Magic Stuff
rep would be appreciated. I'll rep you first.
Re: ESPN Insider Magic Stuff
Re: ESPN Insider Magic Stuff
Re: ESPN Insider Magic Stuff
Hedo looked lazy on defense and flatfooted at times didnt he?
Carter is a willing defender... though just not the most capable at laterla quickness.
still, Hedo was jsut tall at his positoin and had long arms. can't replace that
Re: ESPN Insider Magic Stuff
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