The first year under coach Stan Van Gundy was successful in that the Orlando Magic won the Southeast Division and made it past the first round for the first time since 1996. After a good showing against the Detroit Pistons, the Magic were sent home in five games. This offseason, the Magic made some nice moves to help build up the roster for a deeper run this year and are ready to do just that. Adding swingman Mickael Pietrus and rookie Courtney Lee will bring depth and solid defense to the team. Dwight Howard is poised for an even better year after leading the league in rebounding last season. After all, heís only 22 years old. With a dominant big man in the post surrounded by deadly shooters, the Magic will be near the top of the Eastern Conference once again. How far they get in the Playoffs, though, is their only big question.
Offense: The Magic averaged 104.5 points per game last season while nailing a league best 801 three-pointers. Wow. The Magic seemed to have the perfect answer to every problem. If Dwight couldnít score in the post, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Keith Bogans or whoever was on the perimeter would hit a three. If the perimeter player were locked down, Howard would be able to work one on one and embarrass his defender. This worked well until the Playoffs, when teams began to figure out how to put a hold on the Magicís offense. Forcing Orlando to jack up threes could kill you, but eventually, every team gets cold. That was how you stopped the Magic. Prevent Howard from getting his touches, and just wait until the perimeter guys wear themselves out. With Mickael Pietrus and Courtney Lee, the Magic have two guys who can score both outside, as well as cut to the basket to get their points. The Magic wonít be dependent on the three-point shot unless they choose to be. Dwight Howard will get his touches if the ball is moved accordingly, and either way, the Magic will get their fair share of three-point attempts. The Magic will still have close to the same offense as last year and they will put up over 100 points a night. The change, however, is that this yearís offense will be much more fine-tuned than what they had last year.
Defense: Dwight Howard may not be too fundamentally sound on defense just yet, but he is still an intimidating force on the inside. Players think twice before they tug on Supermanís cape, and that provides easy defense for the Magic. Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu arenít great defensively, but they had improved last year, and Dwight Howardís presence in the post probably had something to do with it. Mickael Pietrus is a proven defender, and has the potential to be a spectacular stopper on the perimeter, but the fear is that he still might believe he is one of the best offensive players in the league. His offense is certainly good, but his defense is the most valuable asset to his game, and until he realizes that, he wonít reach his full potential and become a truly great defensive player for this team. Along with Courtney Lee, Mickael Pietrus provides a solid defense on the perimeter, but if he stays focused, the Magic may not have to worry about wing players challenging Howard in the post. If the Magic can shut down the perimeter, their one defensive weakness may be eradicated.
Strengths: The inside-outside game in Orlando is superb. Dwight Howard dominates in the post; the shooters kill you on the perimeter. Itís simple, but very effective. The Magic couldnít use it to its full potential last season, but this year it looks as though it will be much more refined, and much more dangerous.
Weaknesses: The Magic were effective with their outside shooting, but when you live by the three, you die by the three. Some nights they were spot on, some nights they werenít. That is a risk they cannot afford to take this year. They should not give up on their three-point shooting, but they need to slow it down and get a few more post possessions before they start jacking up the shots.
Five Players to Watch:
Dwight Howard - Well, who else? Dwight Howard is arguably the most physically dominant specimen in the NBA since Shaquille OíNeal in his prime. Howard has the strength and speed to devour any defense and his nose for the ball has made him the most effective rebounder in the game. His blocked shots, and obviously his rim-rocking jams electrify the crowd at Amway Arena, and are momentum changers that can push the Magic to victory. While his offense is solid (20.7 ppg), he still isnít that great under the basket. Sure, he can dunk the ball over anyone, but what else does he do? Sure, he gets a layup here and there, but not near as many as he should be getting. Dunking takes a lot out of your legs, so adding a smooth move to his arsenal wouldnít hurt. His footwork is good, not great, but if he works on it he could be a truly great offensive big man. His dunks are amazing and fun to watch, but he still needs to add a little more to his arsenal of post moves. If Howard develops a jumper, well, my god.
Rashard Lewis - Yes heís overpaid. Everyone says that. The Magic might have spent a little too much on the former Sonic, but to many people, it was worth it. With Rashard Lewis on the perimeter spreading the floor, it allows for Dwight Howard to work his magic, no pun intended, in the post. Lewis is a deadly shooter who matches Dwight Howard perfectly, and even though he makes too much money, he gets the Magic wins, which was the whole point in paying him anyway. He might not be the star of this team, but the fact that heís on the roster makes the game much easier for the real star of the team.
Hedo Turkoglu - For a while, many people just thought Hedo Turkoglu was another one-dimensional player who could only hit jump shots. Well, over the years, Turkoglu has shown some great passing abilities, and last year he became the teamís most trusted playmaker. When Dwight Howard gets a lob down low for an alley-oop, it is usually Hedo Turkoglu making that pass. Sure, his shooting is fantastic, but his best asset is his playmaking. Turkoglu is a benefit to every one of his teammates on the floor and improved in every area of his game last season. Thankfully, his great play was recognized as he was names Most Improved Player. This year, he could be even more valuable to the team.
Mickael Pietrus - Courtney Lee is without a doubt the shooting-guard of the future for the Orlando Magic, but Mickael Pietrus will be depended on from day one of this season. He has a nice shooting touch, but isnít afraid to slash his way to the basket for a layup or dunk. His defense will be most valuable to this team, especially if he focuses on it, and he coud end up being the player who propels this team farther into the Playoffs. ďAir FranceĒ is full of talent, but if he continues to let it get to his head, he wonít be as valuable to this team as he could be.
Jameer Nelson - Most people consider Jameer Nelson a disappointment. He hasnít quite lived up to his hype, but some people have been waiting for him to emerge as another Chris Paul or Deron Williams. It just wonít happen, folks, heís a scorer, and though he is a good passer, it is a secondary skill to his scoring. If Nelson can be utilized correctly, he doesnít need to be a star on this team, if he can score in bunches, thatís all the Magic need from him. His passing is still good enough for him to be an effective playmaker, though, and he still has the chance to be one of the leagueís best point guards.
Title Hopes: The Orlando Magic have improved, the players have improved, but the East has improved as well. The Magic have a key ingredient in creating a championship team, as they have a dominant post player, but this year seems to soon for them to take over the league. They might be champions in 2010, maybe later, but this year, they still donít have what it takes to compete with Boston. They will win their division, but the title is still out of their reach.
Prediction: 1st Place, Southeast Division