Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
To continue Magic Basketball’s preview of the 2010-2011 season for the Orlando Magic, I gathered writers that cover them on a day-to-day basis. Each writer, except for one, has media access with the Magic and offers an authoritative voice concerning the team.
So, without further ado, here are the participants:
Josh Robbins, Orlando Sentinel
Dan Savage, OrlandoMagic.com
Ben Q. Rock, Orlando Pinstriped Post
Andrew Melnick, Howard the Dunk
Philip Rossman-Reich, Orlando Magic Daily
Each individual provided his opinion on which team in the Eastern Conference — between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat — is a bigger obstacle for the Magic, Ryan Anderson‘s role on the team, and more
Which team concerns you more — the Boston Celtics or the Miami Heat?
Andrew Melnick: This is tough because both teams will present a lot of problems. The Celtics have added a few nice pieces and look very deep but I think this year’s Magic team is better equipped to handle them. Before media day, the Magic had a lengthy meeting (somewhere around three to three-and-a-half hours) and based on the comments from several players, toughness — both mental and physical — is being stressed this season. I think the Magic, through losing to the Celtics last year, are better equipped to deal with them this year. Dwight Howard’s performance in the second half of the series also backs up that statement. He is learning to play differently against different big men (i.e. using finesse against the powerful Kendrick Perkins).
The Miami Heat offer a completely different challenge. Not only do they have three All-Stars and arguably the two best players in basketball but all of three of them have absolutely torched the Magic throughout their careers. In fact, Dwyane Wade averages more points against the Magic (29.9 ppg) than he does against any other team. Chris Bosh (23.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg) and LeBron James (28.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 6.4 apg) have put up huge numbers as well.
I don’t see how the Magic can consistently deal with all three of these players on the defensive end (well, I don’t see how anyone can) and with Wade and James defending the perimeter, it’s going to make life very difficult for Orlando’s shooters and drivers.
The Heat also put pretty good talent around their big three, including sharpshooter and former Rookie of the Year (while with the Magic) Mike Miller.
Dwight Howard should be able to handle all of the Miami’s big men but with James and Wade constantly penetrating, it’s going to be quite difficult for Howard to stay out of trouble – he’s going to have to be extremely careful and pick his battles.
Philip Rossman-Reich: I want to say Miami, but only because the Heat represent the great unknown. And that whole Miami Thrice, Evil Trinity, LeBroward-Miami-Wade-Palm Bosh County Area trio (credit my South Florida friend for giving me that moniker).
What we saw in the Eastern Conference Finals (real simply) was a team not ready to play for the first three games and then scrambling to get back. Just about anything could happen in a seven-game series with Boston and I think most Magic fans feel more comfortable with the Celtics just because we know what they are going to throw at us. There is still a ton of mystery surrounding how the Heat will play. And in the Playoffs, familiarity and handling that familiarity is key.
If Orlando were to face Boston in the playoffs, they could theoretically draw on the experience of the last two postseasons in playing the Celtics. I am sure they can say the same thing.
Miami has a ton of weapons (understatement of the year). And even a good defensive team like Orlando would not want to have to deal with them in a seven-game series. Even if they have a coaching advantage with Stan Van Gundy over Eric Spoelstra.
Josh Robbins: I think they’re going to be equally tough. The Celtics proved last May that they have the frontline that can bottle up the Magic. They can single-team Dwight Howard, which helps them cover the Magic’s three-point shooters, and that took the Magic out of their comfort zone. If I were the Magic against the Heat, I certainly recognize that the Heat are going to have two guys out on the wing — LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — who are going to cause problems. I don’t see how any team in the league accounts for both of those guys consistently, so I think it will be tough. Now that said, the Magic have some things going for them. No question about it. They have the league’s and the world’s best center, who seems to be diversifying his game, and they have a continuity that should help.
Ben Q. Rock: Miami, without question. What the Celtics did this summer, armed with only the mid-level exception and minimum contracts to offer, is nothing short of remarkable, and in any other summer we’d all be tripping all over ourselves to commend Danny Ainge for his work. But the Heat added better, younger players.
It’s not that I take the Celtics lightly, or anything. But Miami is clearly the better team.
Dan Savage: I believe the Boston Celtics, because they’re the team that has the size to challenge Dwight Howard and cause problems in the low post. They have a number of players that they can rotate there between Shaquille O’Neal, Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis, and Kevin Garnett. A lot of players that provide problems on the inside. If you look at the past number of teams that won championships, they usually have a number of big men. If you look at the Lakers with the success they’ve had with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, it’s teams with that size that scare me. And right now with the Heat presenting a frontline of Joel Anthony and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, I think Dwight Howard is licking his chops when he looks up at that team. Any favorable matchup with Dwight Howard along with the weakness that Miami Heat have at point guard, essentially the Magic’s two strongest positions are Miami’s two weakest, I look at that as a more favorable matchup for Orlando than when you compare to Boston.
Should the second unit for the Orlando Magic primarily play with a stretch four or a traditional power forward? Let’s presume that Rashard Lewis is at small forward.
Melnick: I believe the Magic should run with a stretch four more often than a traditional four for one simple reason; Ryan Anderson is Orlando’s best four off of the bench.
Although Anderson can shoot the 3-pointer (he shot 37% from beyond the arc last season) but he is a good all-around player. Anderson had a rebounding percentage of 12.8% while fan-favorite Brandon Bass grabbed 11.3%. Anderson also had a better PER, a better effective field goal percentage, and a better true shooting percentage.
Simply put, Anderson is the best four on Orlando’s bench.
Robbins: Tough to say. I think Anderson is an easier fit for the Magic because he does many of the things that [Rashard] Lewis can do — stretch the floor. The Magic coaches consider Ryan Anderson the team’s second-best rebounder, so I think that right now if I were going to guess, if the Magic do play Rashard Lewis at the three, that Ryan Anderson would play most of the minutes at the four unless they need more of a bruising presence, in which they’ll use Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat. But I still think they’re trying to work that out.
Rock: Brandon Bass has looked solid at power forward alongside Lewis in the preseason. He’s actually been solid everywhere, come to think of it. So I’m leaning in that direction, but Anderson is such a great rebounder it’s hard to keep him off the floor.
Rossman-Reich: I think it would depend on the matchup. The way Brandon Bass is playing (through two preseason games, at least), he is certainly earning a serious look to get more minutes. I would say if Lewis is at the three, Orlando should go with a traditional power forward. Honestly, that second unit could use as much help scoring as possible. And if Lewis is in there at the three, Bass may give the unit a better chance at defending the basket and getting to the basket for shots in the paint and close-range shots. Right now, that is what the second unit really struggles with. Again, it would depend on matchups. If the opponent has a stretch four in there that would give Bass some trouble defensively, you go with Ryan Anderson or move Lewis to the four.
Savage: That’s a tough one, because my answer is going to vary depending on what team they’re playing. I think that’s something the Magic are going to do this season. Stan Van Gundy is big on matchups, and they’re going to look at the matchups. But right now I have to say my answer is Ryan Anderson because you bring him on the floor, you still have a very good rebounder. A player that’s a very good offensive rebounder and you don’t lose any three-point shooting. He can bang, you still have a lot of size, and at the same time you still have all that shooting. The intriguing thing is if Brandon Bass can pick up the defensive rotations, I know he worked hard on it in the off-season, and if Marcin Gortat can extend his range and shoot a little better, the Magic can matchup well with any time with their size as well as shooting.
What is holding back from Ryan Anderson taking more minutes from Lewis?
Melnick: With Ryan Anderson, it seems to be nothing more than issues of rhythm and confidence. When Rashard Lewis was suspended for the first 10 games of the 2009-2010, Anderson stepped in as the starting power forward. He scored 16, 16, 20, 7, 20 and 11 points in each of his first six stars before injuring his ankle. After missing four games, Anderson returned to action but the Magic had already re-inserted Lewis into the starting lineup, forcing Anderson to the bench and really limiting his minutes. Anderson had a few other big games but never really got into the same kind of rhythm.
It’s possible that Anderson began to lose confidence, especially late in the season when Stan Van Gundy went to Brandon Bass instead of Lewis for a stretch or during the postseason when Van Gundy decided to use Marcin Gortat as the backup power forward.
I think Anderson can overcome these issues and will be an improved player this season.
Robbins: Well, I don’t think there’s anything necessarily that Anderson is doing that is holding him back. I think Rashard Lewis is the team’s guy. The team has invested a lot of money in him, and there’s a reason for that. He’s a good player. Rashard Lewis probably doesn’t get the credit that he deserves as being a good team defender. As for Ryan Anderson, Stan Van Gundy had said it several times in training camp and he said it last season that Anderson’s main point of emphasis has to be his defense and I think his defense will arrive in time. We forget often that Ryan Anderson remains the team’s third youngest player, and so he has a lot of developing to do and I think eventually sooner than later his defensive game will catch up with his offensive game.
Rock: At this point, it’s only Lewis’ own skill. Anderson can produce on a level similar to Lewis if given enough minutes, but Lewis performs well in a few areas in which Anderson struggles, namely defense and passing. Trust comes into play here. Lewis has played three seasons under coach Stan Van Gundy, compared to Anderson’s one.
Rossman-Reich: Anderson needs to get better at something other than 3-point shooting. He had a great run at the beginning of the season, but he virtually disappeared as the playoffs wore on. Teams knew all he could do — and wanted to do — was shoot and they were able to chase him off the line and make him put the ball on the floor. Anderson just is not at the level where he can do that very successfully.
Anderson has got to diversify his game (almost like J.J. Redick did). Whether that means he looks to post up more, becomes a better rebounder or a better post player or a more consistent and elite shooter, he will continue to give way to Lewis — and possibly even Bass at times.
Savage: I think the biggest thing with Ryan Anderson and I think it’s something that he’s focused on this off-season is just building up his strength, his jumping ability, and you got to remember Ryan Anderson is still a very young player. He’s still picking up on the defensive nuances, he’s still learning other things, but when it clicks for this guy, Stan Van Gundy said that Ryan Anderson doesn’t know how good he can be. He doesn’t think everybody else knows it. I think that’s true. I think the kid has a lot of potential and let’s face it, he’s out there, he gets a lot of minutes, he’s going to continue to grow, and I think he’ll do extremely well.
But if you really look at it, the main obstacle that’s been holding back Ryan Anderson is that he’s playing behind Rashard Lewis. When it comes down to it, you’re playing behind an All-Star caliber power forward so that’s been his biggest obstacle so far. Stan Van Gundy has this certain system and until this season, he wasn’t too willing to change it based on matchups. The only thing that’s standing in Ryan Anderson’s way is himself, just growing as a player and picking up certain nuances in Stan’s system.
How do you think assistant coach Patrick Ewing feels about Dwight Howard working out with Hakeem Olajuwon during the off-season?
Melnick: I don’t think Patrick Ewing should have any feeling other than happiness with the exception of pride despite Olajuwon being a rival of Ewing (Olajuwon’s Rockets defeated Ewing’s Knicks in the 1994 NBA Finals). I’m sure Ewing knows that as good of a player as he was, he can’t teach Howard everything. Olajuwon is one of the all-time greats and is at least in the conversation when we’re talking about the greatest centers of all time.
Ewing should be proud that he has encouraged Howard to work harder than ever before and seek out help from any and all who will help him.
Robbins: I don’t think that would concern Patrick. To be fair, I have no spoken with Ewing about that so I can’t presume to know what he thinks. That would be pure speculation.
Rock: I don’t think he minds at all. I get the sense that Ewing wants the Magic to succeed, and if that means Howard starts taking advice from another Hall-of-Fame center, he’s probably cool with it. But because I haven’t spoken to Ewing, I can’t say definitively.
Rossman-Reich: I am sure Ewing is not too happy about it on one hand. But very happy that he has a pupil that appreciates his era of basketball and wants to learn from some of the best players to play the game. It all will help Howard and ultimately make him a better player. If Ewing really wants a ring, he will be happy to have Howard study from anyone that can help him. Now, if Howard starts studying with Reggie Miller and the Davis boys, there might some issues.
Savage: I think Patrick encouraged it. Patrick is a Hall of Fame player. He’s always encouraged Dwight to go out and learn as much as he possibly can. Patrick is an assistant coach and people forget that Patrick is more than just Dwight Howard’s coach. He’s an assistant coach on the Magic. He does everything else that every other assistant coach on the Magic does and I think people often overlook that. He wants Dwight Howard to improve his game as much as any other coach on the Magic and he’s encouraged Dwight, he’s helped Dwight reach out to these people, so I don’t think there’s any sort of controversy there between Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon. Patrick Ewing wants what’s best for Dwight Howard, he wants what’s best for this team and ultimately, I think Patrick wants to be a head coach in this league and the best way for Patrick to become a head coach in this league is for the Magic to win a championship and the best way for the Magic to win a championship is for Dwight Howard to become the best player he can be.
Stay tuned for Part Two this afternoon.