Coach: Stan Van Gundy
2007-08 Record: 52-30
Pythagorean Record for 07-08: 56-26
Offensive Rating: 111.3 (7th in the league)
Defensive Rating: 105.5 (5th)
Possessions per 48: 93.4 (9th)
Min%: 75.8 (18th)
|Offensive||53.7 (2nd)||.136 (18th)||.234 (25th)||.256 (8th)|
|Defensive||48.4 (6th)||.123 (24th)||.749 (6th)||.217 (12th)|
Roster (Red indicates new acquisition, Blue indicates rookie)
If Dwight Howard continues to improve at this rate, they might as well start making his Hall of Fame plaque now. He’s arguably the most dominant big man in the league right now, and he’s still relatively raw. That should scare the crap out of every other team in the league. Offensively, there are two big weaknesses that are keeping Howard from being an elite scorer. First, he needs to work on recognizing double teams and making the right decision. One of the things that made Shaq so deadly in his prime was that, in addition to his prodigious physical gifts, he almost always found the open man when doubled. Howard doesn’t do that yet, and while he’s reduced his turnovers drastically over the last few years, he doesn’t yet make the quick decision that’ll get his teammates easy looks. The other weakness is, of course, free throw shooting. If Howard can’t improve on his 59% free throw shooting, then the Hack-A-Shaq strategy will live on into another generation.
Just so we’re clear on this, the fact that he played well last season does not make the Rashard Lewis signing a smart one. That said, he fit in well with the Magic, shooting the lights out and playing much better defense than expected. Forced to play primarily the power forward spot last year, Lewis was a much stronger defender than I expected. He wasn’t great, but he also wasn’t bad, and that was a big deal for a team that looked to be entering the year with two soft forwards who couldn’t play defense. Offensively, he’s a deadly spot-up shooter, taking nearly half his shots from deep, and converting them at a 40% clip. With his size and quick release, it’s nearly impossible to contest his shot if you’re not right on him, which means he creates a ton of open space for Dwight Howard.
I like Jameer Nelson, but after four year’s he’s still a borderline starter-caliber player, and maybe most troubling, his turnover rate has gradually risen every year of his career. That’s not exactly the kind of improvement you want to see from a young point guard. There’s still time for him to continue rounding into a solid starter, but he’s not going to live up to the high expectations that came after his phenomenal second season.
The Orlando frontcourt should be deeper and more capable of handling teams with multiple post threats. They get Tony Battie back from injury, and while neither he nor Adonal Foyle are any great shakes at offense, they both have great size and can rebound and defend adequately. I’m also interested in seeing if Marcin Gortat gets any playing time this year. If you’re looking for a deep, deep sleeper, keep an eye on Gortat. He actually played fairly well in limited playoff minutes last postseason, and has looked great this offseason in summer league and preseason play.
Another thing to watch with the Magic is what their shooting guard rotation looks like. They bring back Keith Bogans, brought in Mickael Pietrus to replace Maurice Evans, and drafted rookie Courtney Lee in the first round. Adding to the mystery is the fact that former lottery pick J.J. Redick has really impressed the Orlando coaching staff with his defensive improvement. The Magic are really looking for two things out of their shooting guards, strong defense and three-point shooting, and whoever is best at those two things will play most of the minutes. Pietrus will almost certainly be the starter, since he has the most potential as a lockdown defender, even if he is a bit inconsistent at that end still. Bogans will be the primary backup for both wing positions, and you pretty much know what you’re getting from him. He’s a solid, but not spectacular defender, and he’s going to take and make a lot of open threes (69% of his FGA were threes [4th in the league], and he made 36% of them). The wild card is Redick. Lee most likely won’t play much, since that’s they way it is with rookies, but everything we’re hearing out of the Magic camp says that Redick stands a good chance at getting significant minutes this year. He’s a smart player, and if he can make enough of an impact defensively, they can keep him on the floor to unleash his deadly jumper. While Redick certainly won’t be the offensive force he was in college, he’s still one of the best pure shooters out there, and could shoot absurd percentages if he plays enough minutes to develop a rhythm.
X-Factor: Hedo Turkoglu – Turkoglu’s career year was a huge reason why the Magic were so successful this year. He was called upon to be the team’s primary playmaker, and it was a role he thrived in. Turkoglu has always had a terrific jumpshot, but last year he made a concerted effort to make use of his size and ball-handling ability to get more high percentage looks closer to the rim. In 06-07, only 23% of his shot attempts were close to the rim, and he shot 54.7% on those shots. Last year, 32% of his shots came inside, which he hit at a rate of 58.6%. That emphasis on shot selection led to a large upswing in both usage rate and efficiency. Because he handles the ball so well and has such great size, Turkoglu can get his shot off on almost anyone, which made him (not Howard, Lewis or Nelson) the Magic’s go-to guy in the clutch. Because he plays such a huge role in Orlando’s offense, the team needs Turkoglu to continue producing at the level he did last year, and not revert to what we’ve seen from him most of his career.
It’s Dwight Howard’s world, and we’re all just living in it. There aren’t a lot of people who had better years than Howard did last year. He had a huge breakout year, started the All-Star game for the East, won the dunk contest in spectacular fashion, established himself as the best center in the league, led the league in rebounds, was named 1st team All-NBA, and finished 5th in MVP voting. Oh yeah, his team didn’t do so badly either, winning 52 games and making the second round of the playoffs. Not only that, but they should’ve been even better. They were the 7th best offensive team in the league and 5th best defensive team, with a point differential that projected them as a 56 win team. With Howard in the middle surrounded by a glut of great perimeter shooters, the Magic had the league’s second-highest eFG%. Defensively, they were equally solid, forcing opponents into tough shots and crashing the defensive glass extremely well. It all feeds off of Howard, whose interior presence on both ends makes a radical difference in how opposing coaches have to gameplan this team.
I love the way this team is built. They’ve got a stud in Howard, and the entire team is built to feed off his strengths. With the team they’ve got together, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t win 50 games again, and there’s potential here to be even better than that. Their success this year will hinge on just how dominant Howard is, and how much production they can get out of the guard spots, especially off the bench. Since I think Howard should continue to improve by leaps and bounds, I think this team is going to continue to improve. 55 wins or more is certainly not out of the question The future looks bright for the Magic, this season and beyond.
xphoenix87 is a Contributing Writer for BallerBlogger. He’s currently watching the Bobcats preseason game and wondering if Adam Morrison knows how ridiculous he looks. He’s also writing season previews for all 30 NBA teams. Check back in tomorrow for Washington’s preview.