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Old 10-14-2009, 09:13 AM   #1
Skyscraper
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2008-09 Recap

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
Team 3A/FGA
Orlando .335
New York .322
New Jersey .265
Cleveland .259
Houston .254
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.

Offseason Moves

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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