Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
When a player doesn’t have any singular elite skill on the basketball court, analysts tend to refer to them as “energy and hustle guys.” It can be taken as a backhanded compliment, a way to talk about a player without being forced to actually praise their play. But for some guys, the term not only fits, but it perfectly characterizes their games in the best possible sense. Bo Outlaw was one of those players.
At an unimposing 6-foot-8 and 210 pounds, Bo lacked a true position in an era where roles were much more defined than they are today. His athleticism was off the charts, but his technical abilities and basketball instincts were about as undeveloped as could be. But he made it work. He made it work so well that he was able to turn a 10-day contract with the Clippers into a 15-season NBA career, 10 seasons in which he spent playing legitimate rotation minutes.
He did this by finding meaningful ways to contribute that compensated for his almost total lack of a scoring arsenal. He was good for some dunks, but a scorer he was not. However, he was an outstanding passer for his size and position. In each of his first four (and best four) seasons with the Magic, from 1998 to 2001, he averaged at least 2.4 assists per 36 minutes, a number that was as high as 3.8 per 36 in the 1999-2000 “Heart and Hustle” season.
But while Outlaw’s passing was impressive for a power forward, his true calling card as an NBA player was his defensive versatility. He was capable of guarding multiple positions and in each of his last three full seasons of his first stint in Orlando, he helped anchor a defense that ranked in the top 10 each year. He was a core piece of the third-best defense in the league during the lockout-shortened 1999 season, in which the Magic finished 33-17 (losing in the first round to the Philadelphia 76ers in four games).
One of Outlaw’s strengths as a defender was his unique ability to be an equal opportunist when it came to amassing steals and blocks — a quick look at this list and you’ll see his name listed among some of the best defenders in NBA history. Among players whose steal and block percentages were two and four percent respectively in a single season (minimum 1,000 total minutes), Outlaw was in special company.
Outlaw was traded to Phoenix in 2001 primarily as a salary dump, bringing to an end the tenure of one of the most popular yet underappreciated players in Magic franchise history. (An interesting historical what-if: the Magic also sent a 2002 first-round pick to the Suns alongside Outlaw, which Phoenix used to draft Amar’e Stoudemire.) He returned to the Magic for the final three seasons of his career, between 2005-2008, but by that point, his days of being a productive contributor were mostly behind him.
Still, it was a fitting end to one of the unlikeliest, most unique, and most enjoyable NBA careers of its era. Bo Outlaw was exactly the type of hard-nosed, defense-first player typically ignored by the media but embraced by fans. But beyond just those cliched terms like “energy” and “hustle,” he had a real impact on the defensive end of the floor and was capable of making highlight-reel plays on offense too.
Voter breakdown for Bo Outlaw
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What is #ORLrank?
Magic Basketball ranks the top 10 players in Magic franchise history. #ORLrank is the Twitter hashtag to use if you want to get involved in the discussion or just follow along.
You can also follow along here: @erivera7
How did we rank the players?
Five MBN writers ranked each player 1-to-10, in terms of the quality of each player.
Thanks to Daniel Myers, Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference, and Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus for contributing to the project.