For Magic fans, Matt Guokas is a legend of sorts. Guokas will forever be linked with the beginning of the Orlando Magic, serving as the head coach of the 1989 expansion team that featured the likes of Terry Catledge, Jerry “Ice” Reynolds, Reggie Theus, among others, and remaining with the team until 1993 when Brian Hill replaced him after Shaquille O’Neal’s rookie year.
Fast forward to today, Guokas is the television color analyst for the Magic and will be teaming up with play-by-play announcer David Steele for their seventh year as a tandem. It should be noted that Guokas is a forward-thinking analyst, not afraid to cite metrics like team efficiency, pace, and whatever else. For team announcers, amidst the statistical revolution in the NBA, that’s still a rarity.
Did I mention that Guokas played with Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham, and Hal Greer with the Philadelphia Sixers, winning a championship alongside them in 1967 against the then-San Francisco Warriors? Good times.
Needless to say, Guokas’ experience and knowledge of the league is impeccable.
Yesterday, I was able to speak with Guokas about a variety of topics, including his thoughts on the new-look Miami Heat, Dwight Howard‘s continued development as a player, and more.
What’s your take on the Miami Heat now that they have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh?
Anytime you have three very, very talented guys like that, it’s going to be good.
They’re going to make some of the lesser players better, although there are big question marks with the other seven or eight guys that are going to have to do a lot of the playing. Most of them are veterans, have been around, and certainly can contribute like Mike Miller. Mario Chalmers has a few years under his belt.
They’ll be good. They’re still going to have … there’s going to be a lot of pressure obviously from being under the microscope. Any time there’s a game, there’s going to have to be all kinds of explanations as to how can a talented team do this and all that. I think they’ll be well-guided in terms of not paying so much attention to what it is they do record-wise in the regular season. They’re going to win a lot of games anyway. It’s just how they come together as a team and what their results are in the playoffs.
In terms of seeding in the East, do you foresee the Heat finishing with the best record in the conference?
You just never know.
The Magic are going to win a lot of games. Chicago is going to be improved. I think Boston will probably take the same approach that they took last year. They got off to a great start and they had a great record at the point of the Christmas Day game, but since that time they went 27-27 and they were nursing [injuries] through the regular season. I think you’ll see them do that again. Consequently, they probably won’t win as many games.
But I think Miami will do a little of that too. They’re not going to wear out those three guys in particular during the regular season, so the amount of games that any of these top teams win is not a big deal. Certainly it didn’t matter to Boston last year, with not having home-court against Orlando and Cleveland. They were still able to come out of the East.
Hypothetically speaking, if any of those teams you mentioned have to max out in the regular season to secure the top seed in the East, do you agree that it’s the Magic?
Yeah, and it’s the nature of this Orlando team. So far in Stan Van Gundy‘s four years, he has really never shown any desire — nor have the players — to slack off in terms of resting guys coming down the stretch. The Magic finished with a 33-8 record in the last half of the season, and had the two relatively easy first rounds and all that. But they just seem to have the personality and identity of just going out and playing and seeing where they are at the end of the year.
In terms of matchups, there’s been a lot of chatter of the Dwight Howard factor against Miami. Do you think Orlando’s advantages at point guard and center are enough to overcome the mismatches James, Wade, and Bosh will have?
I think that’s something we’re all looking forward to see. *laughs*
It’s going to be a little bit different. Even though Cleveland in the last couple of years, when they won [66 games], they did not have a dominant group of players other than LeBron James. But they were still able to win a lot of games.
Now it’s always tough coming down the stretch in close games as to what you’re going to do with LeBron James and what you’re going to do with Dwyane Wade, because they’re going to have the ball in their hands. They’re capable of getting the ball to the basket or making a play for somebody else so it’s going to have to be a tremendous team defensive effort, which the Magic have. That doesn’t mean they’re not going to be scored on or have trouble with those guys. They’re going to have to do some different things, and they’ve done them before with those particular guys as far as double-teaming them and what not. But they have somebody to turn the ball to and make another play, which is something those guys have not had before.
Do you think this is the year Howard fully emerges as a dominating two-way player?
That’s not to say that Dwight [Howard] has not been very good the last couple of years on opposite sides of the ball. Now again, a lot of it will depend at the offensive end on how he’s defended. Normally the better teams try to play him with one player for most of the game, pretty much give him his points, foul him occasionally, then look to foul him in the fourth quarter. Now Miami might have to do something different because their finishing centerman is going to be Chris Bosh, and there’s no way he can handle Dwight all by himself so they’re going to have to do some double-teaming. So what that does is take some possible initial scoring opportunities away from Dwight that he might get in a one-on-one situation, but now the other guys are going to get a lot of good, open looks on the weakside and beyond the arc and all that kind of things. Dwight is still going to be able to get on the offensive board.
So everybody always keeps looking at Dwight and looking at stats, I don’t know what it is. *laughs*
It might be the fantasy league thing. They have him on their fantasy league. They want him to put up big numbers. Dwight getting 18, 19, or 20 points a game, that’s plenty and there’s going to be some nights when he is single-covered by some of the other teams in the league where he’s going to be up in the 30’s but I’m not looking for Dwight to turn into Hakeem Olajuwon or anything like that. That’s not important. What is important is that he continues to stay healthy, be available, and play the kind of defense and rebound and block shots the way that he’s capable of doing. If he does that, the scoring will take care of itself. He makes the Magic one of the top teams in the league.
There’s been a lot of talk about Brandon Bass’ inability to grasp Van Gundy’s defensive schemes. What do you expect out of Bass this season?
I know that was the excuse thrown out there, that he didn’t grasp the schemes.
First of all, the Magic are loaded. They got a lot of players and they got a lot of guys that can play the four spot. And even though Rashard [Lewis] missed the first ten games because of his suspension, that had open things up. Ryan Anderson, I think, played a lot better than everybody expected. I think Stan was going into those first ten games to try to probably split the time between Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson but Ryan was knocking down the threes and playing good basketball, blending well, and was winning so obviously he deserved the minutes. Not that Brandon didn’t, it’s just the team was going well so why change?
It’s going to be the same thing this year. Look, Rashard is going to be at that four spot and depending on who the other team is and how Stan feels about the defensive matchup and boards and everything like that, whether it’s going to be Ryan or Brandon, I pretty much look for the same thing this year as we had last year with a little Marcin Gortat thrown in there as well.
Are those criticisms of Bass’ team defense fair? Bass had the same type of problems when he played for the Dallas Mavericks.
I didn’t see it. Again, I’m not at the practices. I’m not in the locker room. I’m not in the huddles. I’m not looking at the tapes. I never saw any glaring miscues. Even though you really want to dissect tape, you can find mistakes probably for any player so that’s overplayed a little bit. I never really saw anything glaring from Brandon.
I saw a guy that when he stepped on the floor, that he brought the intensity, brought the energy, pretty much was what was expected of him when they signed him. He just looked like a guy that wanted more playing time, which is a good sign obviously. There were just too many bodies and not a spot for him to get [minutes]. So I think it was more a case of just not enough opportunities to play rather than some kind of … not knowing what was going on defensively. I didn’t really see that.
With Lewis, there’s been discussion that he may play more minutes at small forward. Do you think the Magic need to play him more at that position?
Yeah, I’d like to see the Magic get opportunities for Rashard. Now Rashard is not one of those kind of players who chases the ball or hunts for his own shot. He pretty much lets things develop, and takes what comes to him. He’s got a kind of a passive attitude that way, and it’s worked for him for 10, 11 years now. I don’t see him changing there.
He may have to play more minutes at the three because I think there’s going to be a period of adjustment without Matt Barnes, who did what not Rashard can do but did some other things that were very important to the team, like get out and run, get some advantages from the defense as far as getting an easy basket out on the break, cut to the basket, get a tough rebound, stick his nose in there defensively. Somebody is going to have to, not necessarily do those things because I don’t think the Magic have anybody that can do those things but it’ll enable Rashard to get some minutes at that three spot against certain teams and by also doing that, you open up playing time for Bass and Anderson.
Do you think the Magic are going to miss Matt Barnes this year?
I liked what Matt did. When he stepped into the starting lineup, think back the last few years. It was Matt last year, who was not a starter at the beginning of the year but once he got in there, took advantage of it and held that spot and did a lot of good things for the team. He was the fifth guy pretty much, opponents had to leave somebody open so it was going to be Matt Barnes. Now he shot the three-ball better as a starter when he was playing those regular minutes than he did coming off the bench, although he’s not a 38 to 40 percent three-point shooter. He was better than adequate at that spot.
But all those other little things that he did, I think the Magic will miss that a little bit.
Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow.