Here’s Part II of my roundtable discussion (click here for Part I). In this segment, different Orlando Magic writers talk about Dwight Howard‘s evolution on offense with the help of Hakeem Olajuwon, and more.
What will it take for opposing players to respect Howard’s jumpshot just enough and as such, alter the way they defend him?
Melnick: Howard has to have more confidence in his shot and just shoot his jumper more often. Anyone who has been to a Magic practice has seen Howard make the shot fairly consistently. Up until now, Howard hasn’t had the confidence to consistently take the shot. If Howard begins to shoot more and more, his confidence is going to grow. Defenders will have to respect that shot and that will allow Howard to use his superior athleticism to blow by his opponents like he does when he faces slower defenders. We saw a glimpse of this in Orlando’s first preseason game when Howard utilized a spin move to get easy looks against Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets.
Robbins: I’m not sure. I think Howard is so effective on the inside, that it would take a lot for opposing teams to significantly alter the way they defend him because if he gets the least bit of space down there, he’s unstoppable. He’s already next to unstoppable and the only way to really stop him when he’s close to the basket is to foul him. He’s got to show that he can hit that 12-15 foot jumper with regularity, with a very solid regularity, for them to leave the hoop. Certainly we saw Yao Ming respect that jumper in the first pre-season game. If you recall, Dwight hit a pair of those mid-range jumpers in the game’s first six minute and then Dwight used a pump-fake to get Yao to commit for a great drive to the hoop. I don’t know if other centers will play Dwight that way. I think Yao is rather immobile, so we’ll see what happens. Time will tell with that.
Rock: He has to start hitting them, which can’t happen unless he takes them, which can’t happen until he feels comfortable taking them, which can’t happen until he takes a few hundred per day. He’s accomplished the last two parts. Let’s see if he can continue progressing. Until then, we have the memory of his sinking two jumpers over Yao Ming, and then driving by him for a score when Yao honored his shot, this preseason to hold onto.
Rossman-Reich: They may never fully respect Howard’s jump shot. After all, what would you rather give up? A 12-foot jumper from Howard or a dunk or a 5-foot hook shot that leaves Howard in good position for the offensive rebound. But to get teams to really respect it, he has got to come out with it early in the season and early in games and make two, maybe three per game. It sounds extreme, but, again, what kind of shot would you have Howard rather shoot? He has got to really be killing teams with his jumper before teams start to defend it the way Howard can take advantage of it.
Savage: To me, it’s simple. He’s got to make them. It’s as simple as that. I think the key for Howard is take a few early on in the game, be confident with them, knock them down. If he takes them early on in the game and establishes that, it’s going to carry over to the later periods. As we saw when the Magic played the Rockets against Yao Ming, Dwight Howard took a few early shots early in the game, knocked them down, Yao Ming stepped up, and then he started blowing past him. I think that’s the key. If he can knock a few of those down in the first quarter, opposing defenses are going to start playing up on him and then he can use the advantage of switching back-and-forth and exploding past people and using his biggest asset, which is scoring within the circle.
Who do you anticipate will have a greater impact between Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon?
Melnick: I like both pickups but I think Quentin Richardson is going to have a bigger impact. Since Richardson appears to be Orlando’s starting small forward, he is going to be asked to defend the opponent’s best wing (LeBron James, Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant, etc). Richardson is up to the challenge and although no one can really stop these players, Richardson is at least as qualified to defend them as last year’s starting small forward, Matt Barnes, was.
Richardson also brings a bit of toughness to the team. When I asked Richardson about his passed altercations, he let it be known that he’d prefer to avoid getting himself into those situations but would not back down from anyone.
Richardson is also an underrated rebounder. He has a career rebounding rate of 10.1% and grabbed 10.6% of available rebounds last year when Richardson was with the Miami Heat.
Richardson is an obvious upgrade offensively. In fact, last season he posted career highs in effective field goal percentage (55.8%), true shooting percentage (57.2%) and 3-point percentage (39.7%).
He should fit in with the Magic very nicely.
Robbins: It will depend on how you define impact. They’re both going to be members of the rotation, no question about it. I would guess that Richardson will be the starter on opening night. The team will need both of those guys this year, there’s no question about that. They’re going to need toughness from Richardson. They’re going to need him to rebound. They hope they’ll benefit from his three-point shot. Chris Duhon, right now, is slated to be the back-up point guard and that’s an important role for them. Both of those guys are going to have to be good defenders. That’s obviously an obvious statement to make, but the Magic have had some problems in recent years defending quick point guards and Duhon may be needed to help contain a Rajon Rondo come playoff time. Quentin Richardson, I think, will certainly be needed when the Magic play the Heat or when the Magic face the Celtics with their wing players so those guys will have to contribute on defense. They’ll have to be solid and they should be solid.
Rock: Richardson will almost certainly play more minutes, so I’m inclined to say him. And he gives the Magic another three-point shooter to space the floor for Howard, which is not something they had last season at small forward, with only Mickael Pietrus and the below-average Matt Barnes launching from beyond the arc. I’m curious to see what the Magic’s first unit can do when it boasts four guys whom a defense must guard all the way out to the three-point line.
But Duhon will certainly be useful, especially on defense. Jason Williams gave an honest effort last year, but he has to play so far off his man that opposing point guards get entirely too comfortable setting up their offense.
Rossman-Reich: Quentin Richardson will have the greater impact this season. I expect Richardson will end up starting since Mickael Pietrus has played well off the bench the last two seasons. In either case, I think Richardson plays significant minutes against the significant players. Richardson will get the call against the Dwyane Wades, Kobe Bryants and LeBron James of the world. And he is more likely to get hot and go for a big game than Duhon.
Yes, Duhon will probably have to come in and start for 10-15 games (always seems to happen with Jameer Nelson). But I think Duhon was brought in more for his consistency and his lack of flash rather than his ability to really make a humongous difference. Richardson, I believe, will make a bigger impact on defense as one of the primary perimeter defenders on the team. His ability to make the 3-pointer and be a bigger 3-point threat will also make that Magic lineup more potent offensively than it was with Matt Barnes in there.
Savage: I think it’s tough, because I’ve gone on record on almost both ends of the spectrum but I think it’s going to come down to Q-Rich. Obviously he’s going to have a greater chance of cracking the starting lineup, so his minutes are going to be greater. He’s going to have a bigger chance to make an impact. But if you look at the Celtics series last year, a lot of people point to a lot of blame, there’s a reason Matt Barnes isn’t on this team anymore. The reason is that, in that series against the Celtics, the Celtics played off of him. They challenged him to shoot. If you look at the games the Magic won, Matt Barnes had good shooting games on those night. With his inconsistency in shooting, teams could play off of him. Teams sagged off on Matt Barnes. They can’t do that with Q-Rich. With Q-Rich, if you leave him open to take three-point shots from the outside, he’s going to knock them down and that scare factor is going to cause a lot of teams to either choose another player to leave open or not double-team Dwight Howard. Every player on that court right now can shoot and score, and a lot of them can post up so Quentin Richardson brings two elements that will be helpful to this team on the offensive end, which is not only his three-point shooting ability but also the ability to post up, create double-teams, and also create open looks for other players.
I’ll go on record and say this right now. Richardson’s three-point percentage is going to be even higher this season because he’s going to get looks that he hasn’t seen potentially is his entire career since he left the Suns because people are going to try to leave him to double Dwight Howard on occasion. It’s going to happen. He’s going to be a guy that gets left open or at least gets sagged off of from time to time and when teams do that, he’s going to knock down his open shots. He’s a very good open shooter. Even in practice, I’ve seen it.
What do you expect from Vince Carter in his second season with Orlando?
Melnick: I expect [Vince] Carter to make better decisions and take better care of the ball.
Carter got off to a horrible start last season. As the season progressed, Carter began to play better and better. He did a better job of getting his teammates involved, turned the ball over less, took better shots and just played a much a smarter game. He looked good before disappearing in the Eastern Conference Finals.
A few weeks ago, Alex Kennedy put out a report saying Carter was never quite on the same page with Dwight Howard if you watched some of the games, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. For the first time in his career, Carter had to take a back seat to a better player. Carter appears to have changed his mentality and has shifted his focus completely to winning which is why I think he’ll make better decisions, especially in pick-and-roll situations whether he’s running the 2/5 pick-and-roll with Howard or even the 1/2 pick-and-roll with Jameer Nelson that was so successful later in the year.
Overall, I expect Carter to be a more efficient player.
Robbins: I think the familiarity will help him. I think Magic fans should remember that he’s 33 years old and players at that age typically don’t have significant statistical upticks. I may be wrong on that, but that’s my general view. I think he’ll be more efficient this year. I think he needs to attack the basket more often. I think he needs to draw more fouls, and that will be a fascinating thing to watch to see if that occurs.
Rock: Improvement. Something closer to the All-Star-caliber stats he posted during the Magic’s 33-8 close to the season. But I have to say the news that the Magic want him to take on a bigger role caught me by surprise. I like the idea of his transitioning to a complementary player, only to emerge into the spotlight when the team absolutely needs a basket. In theory, having Carter on the attack is a great idea. In practice, it could be less so; how many more pull-up 13-footers will he settle for?
Rossman-Reich: Is Vince Carter circa 2000 walking into the Amway Center any time soon? Nope. Is Vince Carter circa 2005 walking into the Amway Center any time soon? Not likely. Is something better than what we had last year going to be playing in a Magic uniform next year? Probably.
Carter is going to be better. You have to believe that or keep telling yourself that at the very least. Carter has never been on a winning team before last year. I think Carter can become something resembling how he played in New Jersey. Orlando does not need him to average 25 points per game, and getting adjusted to the mentality that he does not have to be “the man” was a little bit of a struggle. He slowly became adjusted to that role. All Orlando wants from Carter is to be able to take over the game in stretches and be dependable in crunch time.
There are a lot of habits Carter has not been able to shed now that he is playing for the Magic. But another year, and the things he did well in Orlando should become more comfortable and second nature. Broadcasters were quick to point out that Carter had developed “losing” habits. If he developed any winning habits, it was from being a part of last year’s team and getting so close to a championship.
Savage: I expect Vince Carter to be Vince Carter. As Otis Smith told me in a conversation we had this off-season, I think Vince Carter was a victim of being sucked into the vortex of trying to fit in with the team last year and there was a struggle. Dwight Howard is such a commanding presence on the team offensively, not only with his persona but with the way he commands the ball on the offensive end and it’s very easy for a player to come here, see that it’s Dwight Howard’s team, and do everything to try to fit in. I think this year you’re going to see Vince Carter be Vince Carter. He’s going to be more aggressive, he’s going to try to be a playmaker, and do what he does best. He’s worked extremely hard this off-season. He’s gotten in phenomenal shape working out with strength and conditioning coach Joe Rogowski and for a guy that has such a great jumping ability, he improved his vertical jump by two inches this off-season so that shows how much of a level of commitment he’s put into this off-season. Over a conversation I had with Vince during the off-season, he admitted this is probably the hardest he’s ever worked out in his career and I think it’s going to show. I think it’s started to show already in the pre-season. He’s had some great outings and is playing the style that everybody expected when he first got here.
And the other point, too, that I’d like to make, at this stage in his career from my conversations with Joe Rogowski, this is a stage in the career where players that hit that age, most of the time the thing that starts to go is their legs. He’s made a big emphasis on this off-season to working out his lower body, and that’s why he improved his vert and that’s why I think his career will be extended because he’s making that a big priority now. Not saying that he didn’t do this at all last year, but there’s a greater commitment this year.
What will it take for the Magic to win a championship this year?
Melnick: The Magic, who are usually the most efficient all-around team (both offense and defense) in the NBA have to be even better because their competition is even better. The Celtics have added Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal, Delonte West, and Von Wafer and we all know what the Heat did. The Bucks and Bulls should be improved teams as well.
The Magic can do several things to help their cause:
Dwight Howard has become an even better player. Adding that jumper discussed above to his repertoire will go a long way in doing that. Jameer Nelson has to be the All-Star we saw during the postseason. Nelson was fantastic – he took good shots, made those shots, distributed the ball well and just gave a great all-around effort. Rashard Lewis has to play more like the 2008-09 version. Now that Lewis is 31, we can’t expect him to duplicate play from earlier in his career but he must be better and must play better in the postseason. Yes, he was sick against Boston but he was nearly non-existent. Vince Carter, as discussed above, must be a smarter player. There are several other things the Magic have to do but I decided to focus on Orlando’s four former All-Stars.
Robbins: As last season showed, you can have a magnificent regular season and then trip up against a peaking team and then have your entire year end in disappointment. I think they’re going to have to be playing their best basketball when they’re playing these tough postseason series. Certainly they need to stay healthy. Dwight has to stay healthy, as he does his whole career. Jameer Nelson needs to be healthy, despite the team’s depth at point guard, because they need an offensive force in the playoffs. I think that those are the two keys, and I think they’re going to have to find a go-to scorer in those physical playoff series. Preferably from their perspective, it will be Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis playing better than they did in the Eastern Conference Finals but the Magic will need some improvement from Dwight from the foul line I think. They’re going to need Jameer Nelson to continue to be an offensive force, so it’ll be interesting to see.
Rock: Howard has to take his game to unforeseen heights on offense. Carter, Nelson, and Lewis must all bounce back in a big way.
I don’t think there’s any team the Magic aren’t capable of beating in a 7-game series, not even Miami. The team is lethal at both ends, is clearly motivated after taking last year’s playoff loss to heart, and has one of the league’s five best coaches leading it. The components are there, but it’s up to the team to put them together in a meaningful, sustained way.
Rossman-Reich: 16 wins in April, May and June. The championship is still very much in Orlando’s hands. The Magic have the talent and the players on their roster to win a championship. They were six games away from doing it last year and three games the year before. This team knows how close to the top of the mountain it is and I believe the loss to Boston will make them hungrier.
But as we learned last year, anything can happen in the playoffs. A lot of what happens depends on how teams matchup at the time they play and how they are playing at the time they meet up. It is all up in the air.
You can see the Magic doing a whole number of things this season. Would it surprise anyone if they lost in the second round to the Celtics? Would it surprise anyone if they beat Miami in the conference finals? Or the Lakers in the Finals?
Orlando is that good. This is a team that, for the most part, went through a lot of battles last year and met disappointment. So if, when April comes around, this team is properly focused and playing with a lot of hunger, this is a championship-caliber team. The postseason is really, quite simply, a race to 16 wins. Getting to those 16 wins takes talent, cohesiveness and a little bit of luck. Provided there are no injuries, Orlando has the first two for sure.
Savage: There’s a number of factors and it would be easy to go into a number of directions, but I think it comes down to two guys and it’s Dwight Howard and Vince Carter. If Vince Carter plays up to the level that he’s playing in this pre-season, if Dwight Howard continues to grow as a leader as we’ve seen already into this season with extreme focus and take his game to the next level, the Magic are the most balanced and deep team in the NBA. They have pieces in all positions. They got depth at all positions, and I think the key thing is for those guys to fully hit their potential for this season. If they do, the Magic will be hoisting a trophy.
I like to thank everyone for taking the time to answer my questions.