Photo by Fernando Medina
The Orlando Magic are on a six-game winning streak, with notable wins over the San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics, and New York Knicks, and Hedo Turkoglu has been a big reason why order is being restored in the City Beautiful.
The Magic have the look of a championship contender again after losing eight of nine games in the month of December and looking nothing more than a second-tier team in the Eastern Conference. It’s too early to determine whether or not Orlando is good enough to beat the Miami Heat and Celtics in a seven-game series, but it’s clear that they’re in a better position to put up a fight than before. Again, Turkoglu’s return to the Magic is something that can’t be overlooked because of it.
It’s true. Turkoglu is no different than the player that left Orlando in 2009. Back then, it was clear that Turkoglu’s value was inflated by the mainstream media in large part because he was a focal point to the Magic’s trek to the NBA Finals. People remember Turkoglu’s game-winning shot in Game 4 against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs or his epic performance in Game 7 against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, in which he played the game of his life and finished with 25 points (on 9-of-12 shooting), 12 assists, and five rebounds. But when it was all said and done, Turkoglu performed no better than an average player in the postseason that year, despite his bevy of memorable moments.
It’s why general manager Otis Smith chose not to re-sign Turkoglu in the offseason and instead replace him with Vince Carter.
The thinking, at the time, was that Turkoglu was replaceable when looking at the numbers. Carter was just coming off an All-Star caliber season with the New Jersey Nets. Hence, it was logical for Smith to conclude that Carter could easily match or out-produce Turkoglu’s production when analyzing things in a vacuum. Plus, Carter offered Orlando the financial flexibility that Turkoglu could not, given that he was seeking a long-term contract. It all seemed to make sense. Out goes Turkoglu, in comes Carter, and the Magic could proceed to chase a title. Long story short, things didn’t go according to plan for Smith. Orlando, despite finishing first last year in efficiency differential, failed to reach their goal in the playoffs.
From a pure talent standpoint, there was no question that the 2010 iteration was better than their 2009 counterparts. From a pure chemistry standpoint, there was no question that the 2009 iteration was better than their 2010 counterparts.
Chemistry took the Magic to the Finals.
Talent did not.
That’s why Turkoglu is back.
Turkoglu, in a way, is the embodiment of the chemistry that Orlando had two years ago. It’s why Jameer Nelson, after witnessing Turkoglu finish with a triple-double against the Golden State Warriors on Monday, said that “it’s almost like Turk never left.”
Carter may be the better player, but he’s not the better fit.
Carter looked to score. Turkoglu looks to make plays.
Whenever Turkoglu is in the pick and roll, whether it’s the 3/5 pick and roll with Dwight Howard or other variations, more often than not he’s looking to make a play for his teammate. That was evident against the Warriors. By an unofficial count, four of Turkoglu’s 10 assists came in pick and rolls. In the second quarter, Turkoglu executed (as the power forward) a 4/5 pick and roll with Brandon Bass, who was able to make mid-range jumper. In the fourth quarter, Turkoglu ran 3/5 pick and rolls with Howard — twice finding Ryan Anderson on the wing for three-pointers and once dishing the basketball to the big fella for a dunk. It’s almost a guarantee that Carter doesn’t accomplish this if he was still in a Magic uniform.
Many times, Carter would look for his own shot in the pick and roll. Which is fine, given that Carter was an efficient scorer when he was playing for Orlando. But ball movement was an issue many times for the Magic and, like it or not, Carter was part of the problem because of his unwillingness, for whatever reason, to distribute the ball in pick and rolls. That’s why it can’t be understated the impact that Turkoglu has been making with Orlando. Turkoglu’s chemistry with Howard, something that matters a great deal for the Magic if they want to return to the Finals, is the same as it always has been in the five years they played together. Players for Orlando have been saying recently that there’s a different energy surrounding the team.
The trust factor between Turkoglu and Howard is palpable when they’re on the court together, and it’s trickled down the roster.
Thank Turkoglu for that.