Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 47

Oct 02

The balancing act in rebuilding

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Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

There is an elephant in the room in Magic camp as the 2013-14 season gets ready to commence. Actually, there are two elephants — Glen Davis, who is about as big as an actual elephant, and Arron Afflalo, a slightly smaller one.

The big question as the second year of Orlando’s rebuilding phase begins is this: what direction do the Magic want to go? What is the identity of this team?

On the one hand, youth looks great. There’s nothing more exciting for a franchise than having young, talented legs. Especially when those legs are trending towards improvement and occasionally winning games along the way.

But on the other hand, a team full of rookies and sophomores is rendered precarious without the helping hand of some savvy veterans. This is one of those times that I’m glad I’m not a general manager that’s trying to reconstruct a roster.

This brings us to the subject of Afflalo and Davis.

First off, they are both good players on relatively fair contracts, which give them solid trade value.

Second, neither of them is good enough to be gobbling up minutes from some of the younger players who need room (and time) to develop. That’s not a slight on either guy. It’s just that both of them probably are better suited in a very specific role (a la Davis in Boston and Afflalo in Denver).

Lastly, they are likely not part of the long-term plan in Orlando, which makes them categorically different than, say, Jameer Nelson, whose contract can come off the books next season (only $2 million is guaranteed until July 15, 2014) and therefore is not an elephant of any kind.

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Oct 02

Player Profile: E’Twaun Moore

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Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Frankel’s 2013-14 projections

PPG RPG APG TS% PER
1.3 0.4 0.5 46.6 10.8

The good news for E’Twaun Moore is that there aren’t many players with an apostrophe in their first name, so even casual basketball fans can remember him. The bad news is he’s not going to receive as much playing time with Victor Oladipo in the backcourt. The good news for Magic fans is that it might not be such a bad thing.

Right now, E’Twaun is right behind Jameer Nelson on the depth chart for next season with Beno Udrih gone to New York, but that could change in a hurry depending on how training camp goes. Oladipo is the future, and while Moore might be just 24 years old, Ronnie Price and Manny Harris will compete for minutes in training camp.

With Aaron Afflalo coming back at the off-guard, expect to see coach Jacque Vaughn use Oladipo at both guard positions to give him some more run in what is basically another post-Dwight rebuilding season before the 2014 draft.

Among every guard in the league last season that played at least 20 games and averaged 20-plus minutes in those games, Moore’s 10.7 PER was only better than 9 other players, per Hoopdata. Of those players with a PER below Moore’s, only Austin Rivers (.431) — who had one of the worst rookie seasons in NBA history – and defensive specialist Avery Bradley (.464) had a worse True Shooting percentage than Moore (.473).

That is bad company to keep. Even Jacque Vaughn, not a celebrated shooter during his 12-year NBA career, had a .500 True Shooting percentage for his career. So maybe ‘Twaun will make his bones like Bradley and hound opposing points when Jameer, Oladipo, and Afflalo take a seat.

Unfortunately, Moore gave up 0.97 points per possession on defense last season, good for 400th in the league, per Synergy Sports. However, he’s pretty decent defending against the pick-and-roll ballhandler (0.81, 138th), which accounts for around 35 percent of the plays he defended. For comparison’s sake, let’s look at Bradley’s stellar defense, since he’s one of the rare players that shot worse than Moore from the field last season.

Bradley gave up just 0.73 points per possession, which was 16th in the league, per Synergy Sports. Avery was also ranked 19th guarding against pick-and-roll ballhandlers, giving up just 0.65 points per possession. That’s impressive and atones for his poor shooting (though with Rajon Rondo in the backcourt with him, get ready for a lot of opposing jerseys in the paint, Celtics fans). Moore doesn’t make up for his poor shooting on the defensive end.

When you watch Moore play, it’s not that he’s loafing on defense, or unable to grasp the offense, it’s that he’s 24 now, and after two seasons in the league and a chance to really show something last season when Nelson went down, he still shot under the Mendoza line (.399 percent). His defense isn’t otherworldly enough to account for that drop-off from a guard — the offensive engines in the contemporary NBA.

The Magic were actively worse last season when Moore was on the court. While starting 21 games last season and appearing in all 82 games, the Magic were 3.8 points per 100 possessions worse with Moore on the floor, per NBA.com.

While 24 is still a young age and he’s only played two seasons since being drafted out of Purdue in the second round by Boston, Moore has to show an improved offensive game more than anything else.

At least he’s got that apostrophe, and by most accounts he’s a good guy too, but from what he showed last year, he might not be an NBA-caliber guard.

Oct 01

Tuesday’s Magic Word

  • The Orlando Magic began training camp today. One of the major storylines to come out from the first day is Tobias Harris logging minutes primarily at small forward.
  • Bradford Doolittle and Amin Elhassan of ESPN Insider think Jameer Nelson is better off as a third guard for another team. Doolittle believes Nelson is best served playing with the Indiana Pacers, while Elhassan suggests Nelson is aptly suited to play with the Toronto Raptors.
  • John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com chronicles Victor Oladipo’s first practice as an NBA player.
  • Nikola Vucevic talks about what he wants to improve on: “My goal this year is to be a better defensive player. I have to do that so that our team can be better. As I get older, stronger, it’s something I want to focus on.”
  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: “Using Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook as the model, the Magic envision utilizing Oladipo’s dynamic athleticism at the point at times during the season. He was primarily a shooting guard at Indiana.”
  • Glen Davis is the key to the Magic’s defense.

Oct 01

Player Profile: Jameer Nelson

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Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Frankel’s 2013-14 projections

PPG RPG APG TS% PER
14.3 3.8 7.6 48.8 13.6

At this stage in his career, it’s safe to say that Jameer Nelson is a seasoned veteran as he enters his 10th season with the Orlando Magic, which makes him the longest-tenured Magic player in franchise history along Nick Anderson (who would have thought Nelson would last this long with the organization?).

Here’s what’s important to consider. Despite receiving major scrutiny — from basically anyone — for being unable to consistently recapture his 2009 form, Jameer definitely has a little more left in the tank.

Nelson saw an increase in his points and assists in the 2012-13 season, but don’t let the improvement of his per game averages fool you. He saw a rise in his stats across the board, but that was due to a dramatic increase in playing time — he played 35.3 minutes per game (his career average is 28.9 mpg). His per-36 numbers last season showed he was the same player he’s always been.

The bottom line with Jameer is that he gets it done over the course of a long regular season. There are going to be moments when he looks sloppy and even lost on the floor, but then he will explode for 25 points a week later and absolutely torch guys on the perimeter like he’s still got his St. Joe’s legs.

Streaky shooting is his downside, and with the new-found support of Victor Oladipo and return of Arron Afflalo, look for (or at least hope for) Jameer to turn into more of a drive-and-kick point guard, given that his shot has fallen off significantly since 2009.

The big worry for Nelson is that his PER has declined each year over the last four seasons. This past season, he found himself hovering around the league-average with a 14.4 PER.

Nelson’s .498 True Shooting percentage wasn’t that much better, either. When you can’t hit the deep ball and the long 2′s aren’t falling, you become less of an offensive threat. That’s the bottom line.

Nelson should look to lead in other ways than he’s used to leading. If he can look to facilitate first, drive second, and shoot third, he will get back to being more of an efficient player. There is plenty of young talent now offensively where he can start to think more like a traditional point guard instead of a primary scoring option on the team.

Sep 27

Magic sign Romero Osby and four others

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Via Orlando Magic press release:

The Orlando Magic have signed rookie forward Romero Osby, General Manager Rob Hennigan announced today. Per team policy, terms of the deal are not disclosed. In addition to Osby, the Magic have signed free agents Mickell Gladness (#40, 6-11, 220, 7/26/86, Alabama A&M), Manny Harris (#3, 6-5, 185, 9/21/89, Michigan), Solomon Jones (#22, 6-10, 245, 7/16/84, South Florida) and Kris Joseph (#32, 6-7, 210, 12/17/88, Syracuse). The roster currently stands at 19 players (roster to follow).

Osby (AHZ-bee, 6’8”, 230, 5/7/90) was selected by Orlando in the second round (51st overall) of the 2013 NBA Draft. He appeared and started in 63 career games during two seasons at the University of Oklahoma, averaging 14.4 ppg., 7.2 rpg. and 1.1 apg. in 29.4 mpg., while shooting .509 (321-631) from the field. Osby also played in 71 games (three starts) in two seasons at Mississippi State University, averaging 4.2 ppg. and 2.6 rpg. in 12.8 mpg.

Sep 06

T-Mac Week recap

September 2

September 3

September 4

September 6

Sep 06

The dunk heard ’round the world

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Photo by Getty Images

Before his dunk on Shawn Bradley, before 13 in 35, before 62, and before 2003, Tracy McGrady wowed everyone with his self alley-oop dunk in the 2002 NBA All-Star Game in Philadelphia. It was an iconic play that will forever be remembered every All-Star weekend as one of the defining moments of the McGrady lore.

The irony is that T-Mac showcased the dunk in a game against the Boston Celtics in the 2000-01 season — his first with the Orlando Magic after leaving the Toronto Raptors in the summer of 2000. It drew the “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd. His teammates were awed. But it occurred in front of a half-empty Fleet Center on local television in a preseason game. In other words, it didn’t really happen.

It was equivalent to McGrady conducting a soft opening before unveiling a store to the public for real. He was working out all the kinks. What was the path of least resistance to attempt the dunk? Where on the backboard did he have to throw the ball to? Where on the court did he have to throw the ball from? Once T-Mac ironed the creases of the dunk just so, he was ready to debut it on a bigger platform.

Fast-forward to 2002. Coming off a breakout year in 2000-01, where he was voted in as a starter as a first-time All-Star and was named the league’s Most Improved Player, McGrady was selected to his second-consecutive All-Star team but this time as a reserve. Michael Jordan coming out of retirement had something to do with that.

But unlike the 2001 All-Star Game, where he had a quiet performance (two points in 21 minutes), T-Mac made his presence felt the moment he stepped on the floor at the All-Star Game in 2002.

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Sep 04

2003: A magical odyssey

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Photo by Fernando Medina/Orlando Magic

Tracy McGrady’s career contains a plethora of “what ifs.” What if he just stayed in Toronto? What if Grant Hill’s ankle wasn’t mangled? What if Tim Duncan came to Orlando instead of Hill? What if Yao Ming stayed healthy? And, of course, what if McGrady made it past the first round?

In the swirl of those persistent questions, while simultaneously fighting the constant pressures of creating an instant evaluation of a player’s entire career the split second he retires, it’s easy to forget just how special a player McGrady was at his peak.

Especially during the 2002-2003 campaign, when McGrady was at the height of his powers and playing at a transcendent level commensurate to a prime Michael Jordan.

And the way he took his game to that plane of existence was wholly unique. He wasn’t an uber-efficient big man like Shaquille O’Neal, and he wasn’t an inefficient gunner like Allen Iverson. McGrady was somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, posting the league’s highest usage rate yet remaining very efficient in the process.

To show how unique of a player he was, I compared McGrady’s statistics to every other player that participated in 2002-03 and calculated similarity scores for those players. I won’t go into the specifics of the calculation, but the metric spits out a number out of 1,000. Above 950 is great, 930 is good, and below 920 it starts getting iffy. McGrady’s two most similar players that season were Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce, who both scored in the 800s. Other than those two, no other players even sniffed matching his statistical profile.

Looking back now, we can see how utterly historic McGrady’s season was offensively. He’s one of only six players in NBA history to put up a season with a usage rate above 35 percent (35.2) and a True Shooting percentage above 56 percent (.564). And he’s one of only four players in NBA history to have a usage rate above 35 percent and turnover percentage below 9 percent (8.4).

And overall, he’s only the eighth player in NBA history to post a PER above 30.0 for a season (30.3). He was in rarified air that year, where only players like Jordan and Shaq were his statistical equal (this is before LeBron James came crashing to the party).

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Sep 03

Tracy McGrady and unaccountable greatness

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Photo by Fernando Medina/Orlando Magic

I don’t particularly like baseball. It’s a step-up from college football, but I can’t remember ever watching an entire MLB game after turning 10 years old. Instead, I watched basketball and then went out to my hoop out back and tried to duplicate Michael Jordan’s tongue wag, or the left-handed dunk Starks threw down over Jordan’s Bulls (I had an adjustable rim, obviously). Baseball reminded me — and still does — of a long-running argument my grandparents used to have over a Euchre hand while drinking lemonade on their porch.

But after growing up a bit, I can’t fault those who love the game of baseball. It’s unwise to treat anything you’re passionate about as sacrosanct above all else, so I adjusted and conceded that other sports might be as inspiring to others as basketball was, and is, to me. Maybe that’s why when Tracy McGrady announced his retirement from the NBA, long after anyone really cared about him, I thought about Joe DiMaggio. It’s hard to explain why because I lack the requisite diction, but I’ll try.

If you look at DiMaggio’s nine World series titles, 10 American League pennants, 13 All-Star nods and so on and so forth, the differences with McGrady’s career — one without a ring or even a simple playoff series win — are acute. That’s what makes this such a hard comparison to make.

No matter what we do, some people do it better. These other people can seemingly perform some task, play some sport, or instrument, or occupation, or manipulate a paintbrush better than you, or me, or really anyone. These people are often called “naturals,” “savants,” or a “genius.” That which comes hard to the majority comes to them with ease. As John Keats once said, “If poetry comes not as naturally as leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all.”

Keats was a genius, and he couldn’t understand why poetry was so hard for others. Keats was also sort of stuck-up.

But Keats knew poetry, and for him it was as innate as painting was to Picasso or the guitar to Jimi Hendrix. Some people just fall into their perfect complement. Basketball came naturally to Tracy McGrady. So much so, he was drafted right out of high school, a 6-foot-8 savant who could jump out of the gym. When the Raptors selected him with the No. 9 pick in the 1997 draft, they had no way of knowing of what they were getting, of course. Even basketball naturals take time to acculturate from high school to the NBA.

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Sep 02

T-Mac and 62

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Photo by Fernando Medina/Orlando Magic

Disclaimer: I’m about to poke a few holes in Tracy McGrady’s 62-point game against the Washington Wizards. No doubt it was one of the most impressive individual outings of his career, but this was a volume shooting session. A Nick Young lucid dream. T-Mac had the green light and he fired away every time he was in range. My only beef is that when you’re going to shoot the ball every time you touch it, maybe we should expect you to score closer to, say, 81?

We’re actually going to touch on the hot hand theory here in a bit, but first, let’s take a brisk walk through this legendary game from nine years ago.

Pretend you’re a coach for a minute. Your team is playing in Orlando and, by far and away, the biggest offensive threat is a 6-foot-8 maestro with a silky smooth jumper. Objective A is to do what? Yes, make sure he doesn’t get into the paint. Objective B? Don’t give him any open jump shots.

You’ve heard the coach speak before. “If they’re going to beat us with difficult, contested jump shots, then they’re just going to beat us.”

In the case of Washington vs. Orlando on March 10, 2004, we need to slightly adjust the aforementioned jargon. “When Tracy McGrady shoots the ball 37 times, and more than 30 of those shots are contested but he still makes 20 of them, we’re probably going to lose.”

We can’t take anything away from T-Mac in this outing, because even upon reviewing the game nine years later, it was an outstanding effort. But let’s take a look at some context. Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in a game in 2006. If you had to guess, how many shots do you think he took? The answer is 46, just nine more attempts than McGrady in his 62-point game. That’s comparing apples and oranges, but the way that the two players got their buckets in these respective games were similar.

Take a handoff pass, drill a 3. Back down, fadeaway, buckets. Hand in the face? Don’t care. Still shooting. Net. Take it to the rack? Why? I’ll just shoot from the perimeter. Money.

T-Mac’s 62-point game was a classic case of a guy who was “feeling it,” a concept that we know isn’t entirely sound. When you sit around with your buddies talking about that game, you can’t help but think about how amazing it was. I’m sure phrases have been thrown around like, “he couldn’t miss!” Sure, that’s how we remember it.

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