Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
On Christmas Day, the Orlando Magic kick off their 2011-2012 season on the road against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder are seen by many as the favorites to win the Western Conference, while the Magic are trying to figure out how to best handle that Dwight Howard situation you may have heard about.
To preview Orlando’s journey, Magic Basketball teamed up with Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post and Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus to give our takes on the battle for a starting spot between power forwards Ryan Anderson and Glen Davis, Howard’s chances of winning the Defensive Player of the Year award for a fourth consecutive season, and more.
Sidenote: make sure to buy Pro Basketball Prospectus 2011-12!
Between Ryan Anderson and Glen Davis, who should start at power forward for the Orlando Magic on Christmas Day?
Evan Dunlap, Orlando Pinstriped Post: Glen Davis. I think the nod has to go to Glen Davis, even though few people would argue he’s a better player than Ryan Anderson. Stan Van Gundy seems to prefer Anderson off the bench–his starts at power forward last season didn’t go so well–and I think Davis is a better matchup for the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka anyway.
Kevin Pelton, Basketball Prospectus: Ryan Anderson. As Anderson is the next Dirk Nowitzki, he should totally start at power forward. I actually think that balances the rotation better, because Big Baby will need to back up Dwight Howard too, and it’s usually easier to balance those minutes for someone coming off the bench.
Danny Nowell, Magic Basketball: Ryan Anderson. I’m not even really sure of what Big Baby’s ostensible values are compared to Anderson — I guess he has a reputation as a defensive player because of his time with the Celtics, but Anderson is more efficient, stylistically more appropriate and a better rebounder. Also, more talented. It will probably be Davis. I’m depressed.
Eddy Rivera, Magic Basketball: Ryan Anderson. If Brandon Bass is better than Glen Davis and Anderson is better than both of them, the answer should be a no-brainer. However, head coach Stan Van Gundy always seems to prefer Anderson coming off the bench as a super-sub, so Davis might as well get the nod as the starter. It was the case with Bass last season.
Matt Scribbins, Magic Basketball: Glen Davis. I can’t believe this is my answer, but I am going to say it for “non-basketball reasons.” The Magic need to do everything possible to keep Dwight Howard happy and giving his friend (Davis) the starting nod may do just that. It obviously isn’t enough to keep him in Orlando, but it’s a baby step in the right direction.
How would you grade the Magic’s offseason?
Dunlap: F. It seems a bit strange to classify an offseason in which a team’s general manager handed out mostly fair dollar-value contracts as an “F,” but that’s really the only choice I have here. Otis Smith did nothing to significantly upgrade the roster, leaving Orlando with the same weaknesses that allowed it to be dismissed in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
Pelton: D+. I still don’t understand the upside of the Davis-Bass trade, which seemed to be exchanging nearly identical players in order to pay the new one more money. I don’t think the Jason Richardson contract was terrible, and I think the decision to go all-out to retain Dwight Howard is the right one.
Nowell: D-. Dwight hasn’t already left, and the Magic didn’t bite on the proposed terrible deals for him, but that’s about the only positive I have. The Davis trade was ludicrous, the Richardson contract was too long for too much—in short, they went after exactly the sorts of deals which put them in a bind in the first place.
Rivera: F. For whatever reason, general manager Otis Smith thought it’d be a smart idea to trade Bass for Davis and Von Wafer, then give Davis a 4-year, $26 million contract, then re-sign Jason Richardson to a 4-year, $25 million contract on top of that. So now Davis is overpaid and Richardson is on the hook for the Orlando Magic until he’s 35.
Scribbins: C. But only because an F and an A average out to a C. I’ll give them an F for off-season acquisitions (at which position did they improve?), but an A for still having the game’s most dominant center on their roster. I thought Dwight was long gone before the opener.
Fact or Fiction: Orlando will finish with a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference.
Dunlap: Fact. The Heat and Bulls are miles ahead of the rest of the East, so finishing in the top four isn’t a guarantee that the third and fourth seeds will be on the Miami/Chicago level, but I do believe Orlando has the edge over most teams in the conference. I expect it to battle Boston and New York for the other top-four seeds.
Pelton: Fact. But if Orlando keeps Howard the full season. The Magic were much, much better than the other contenders to move up in the Eastern Conference last year, and the offseason hasn’t entirely closed that gap.
Nowell: Fact and fiction. If Dwight stays, they’re a lock for a top-four. If he doesn’t, it only makes sense for them to start bottoming out immediately. I don’t think he probably stays, so I’m leaning toward fiction, but this is pretty impossible to predict.
Rivera: Fact: This is a tricky question because it’s contingent on Howard sticking around until the end of the season. If Howard isn’t traded at the deadline, then it becomes hard to believe that the Magic won’t finish with a No. 4 seed or higher. If Howard is traded at the deadline, then all bets are off for Orlando.
Scribbins: Fact. The No. 4 seed is worst case scenario. I believe Dwight Howard will stay in Orlando throughout the season, and there are only three teams in the East that might be better than the Magic (Celtics, Heat, Bulls). I think the Magic will fight with the Bulls for the No. 2 seed because the Celtics will have to manage an aging roster.
Fact or Fiction: Dwight Howard will win the Defensive Player of the Year.
Dunlap: Fiction. On the one hand, he’s clearly the league’s best defensive player, has been for several years, and probably will be for several years. On the other, we know sometimes awards voters get sick of naming the same guy to win an award year in and year out, no matter how deserving. Tyson Chandler will get a ton of consideration here.
Pelton: Fact. Tyson Chandler is really the only other player I can see being a contender.
Nowell: Fact. Even if Dwight’s season is spread across two different teams, I don’t see anyone else who could possibly distance themselves from Dwight enough to snag the award. I’ll be curious about this, though, since media fatigue will surely set in with voters and some darling like Tony Allen could sneak one if that happens.
Rivera: Fact: Like LeBron James with the Most Valuable Player award, this is Howard’s award to lose every season. It’s hard to believe there’s another player out there in the NBA that makes as much of a defensive impact as Howard. It’s hyperbole but it’s true: Howard is in a league of his own on defense. There is no equal out there.
Scribbins: Fact. I will answer fact to this question for at least the next few years too. 24 other players besides Dwight Howard received votes on last year’s ballot. However, Dwight had more points that the rest of the ballot combined (with 90 points to spare!).
Which rookie will have the biggest impact for the Magic this season?
Dunlap: Justin Harper. I highly doubt any of the rookies manages to carve out a role in Orlando’s rotation. Though playing behind Davis and Anderson at power forward, Harper stands a better chance than DeAndre Liggins (raw, buried behind a lot of more experienced and polished guards) and Daniel Orton (raw, behind Howard and Davis at center) almost by process of elimination.
Pelton: Justin Harper. Daniel Orton still seems to have a ton of development to do in terms of being able to contribute in the NBA. Harper is a much more polished, experienced player. If he can provide some length defensively and the outside shooting Orlando wants, I could see him being part of the rotation for stretches.
Nowell: Daniel Orton. He’s looked the most ready to contribute thus far, even hitting a couple long jumpers in preseason. He’s a pretty rare combination of size and skill, and if his development is on schedule, he fill’s the team’s greatest need in providing depth behind Dwight.
Rivera: DeAndre Liggins. More so than Orton or Harper, Liggins is the type of player Orlando needs in the rotation. The Magic are lacking for wing players that can defend multiple positions and Liggins can do that. The question is where does Liggins find the minutes to be able to make that type of impact?
Scribbins: DeAndre Liggins. I don’t think any of them will make a substantial impact this season, but Liggins will make a bigger impact than the other two. Orlando needs another defender, and Liggins gets after it like a junkyard dog.