- John Schuhmann of NBA.com: “The Magic continue to prove that they’re not that bad, going 3-2 on a West Coast trip and playing their best defense of the season along the way. The highlight came last Sunday in L.A., but more impressive was Monday’s win at Golden State, where there was no post-Dwight letdown. Of course, they’re still a long shot to make the playoffs, so it might not be good to be not that bad.”
- Despite being the youngest head coach in the NBA, Jacque Vaughn is getting the most out of the current roster for the Orlando Magic.
- Rob Mahoney of The Point Forward on Arron Afflalo becoming a volume scorer: “Now that he’s had a taste of high-usage basketball, I doubt that there’s any way for him to duck back into the more limited role that once defined his game.”
- A list of 20 observations on the Magic after 20 games.
- Jameer Nelson makes a weekly award list for the wrong reason.
- Orlando, without Dwight Howard in the middle, is ranked 8th in Defensive Rating this season. Go figure.
- Andrew Nicholson and J.J. Redick led the way in the Magic’s 98-90 win over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.
Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
With their win over the Suns on Sunday night, the Magic secured a 3-2 record over the course of their five-game West Coast road trip, which should be cause for celebration in and of itself.
More significant than a few tough road wins, however, has been the sense that Jacque Vaughn and the Magic are beginning to realize what they have in Andrew Nicholson — a versatile scoring big man that can be used as a building block for the future.
Nicholson had easily the best game of his rookie season against the Suns, posting career-highs in virtually every statistical category in just 25 minutes and scoring in a remarkably efficient manner — 9-for-11 from the field.
Nicholson’s performance wasn’t simply a rookie having a good night against a bad team (and the Suns are a very, very bad team). It was the culmination of several weeks of honing an offensive game that was already pretty polished at St. Bonaventure, but has only grown more refined since he debuted for the Magic.
Not a lot about Nicholson’s game is flashy. His scoring is more smooth than explosive, and at his best, as he was against Phoenix, he excels by finding ways to shake free of defenders and put himself in the spots he likes.
So where is his offense coming from so far?
In the limited minutes that will surely increase after Sunday, Nicholson has been devastating in the paint. He can finish ably around the rim on dunks and tip-ins, but he’s also shown a diverse set of moves in the low post. He’s averaging 1.14 points per possession on post-ups and so far has shown a highly effective hook shot, per Synergy.
Nicholson loves the long two from the left side of the floor — it’s easily his most successful shot as a shooter from outside the paint. However, he’s shown the ability to score from almost anywhere inside the three-point line if he gets open. He scores very efficiently out of the pick-and-roll as well, averaging 1.21 points per possession.
Nicholson is still playing a mere 14 minutes per game, which is to be expected with Glen Davis putting up lofty (albeit inefficient) scoring numbers. As long as the Magic continue to overachieve like this, it seems likely that Vaughn will keep relying on Big Baby to anchor the offense (or at least keep playing him to showcase him for a possible trade). However, it’s safe to say that Nicholson has proven enough in his limited minutes thus far this season to warrant a longer look as the season wears on.
Nicholson may not ever be a star or a first option on offense, but the Magic don’t need him to be. As Nate Drexler pointed out last week, the Magic as presently constructed don’t have a Kyrie Irving/Anthony Davis-type “franchise player.” This season is all about developing their young talent so that it will be ready to be good, high-level complimentary players whenever the Magic do land that star in a future draft, be it Shabazz Muhammad or Andrew Wiggins or whoever else.
And as a rookie, Nicholson is well ahead of schedule in developing into just that type of versatile scoring big man.
AP Photo/Paul Connors
In the franchise’s 23 years of existence, the word “bust” has almost always been used to describe the draft picks made by the Orlando Magic. When the Magic haven’t owned the top overall pick, their track record in the draft has been horrible. Names like Fran Vasquez and Jeryl Sasser have provided a cautionary tale of drafts gone bad.
But every once in a while, the Magic get it right — players like Courtney Lee and J.J. Redick come to mind. Lee proved to be a key cog in Orlando’s run to the Finals in 2009, while Redick has been with the Magic in 2006 and has grown into one of the best sixth men in the NBA.
It may be time to add Andrew Nicholson to that short list of draft picks in the mid-to-late first round that pan out for Orlando.
The Magic concluded a five-game West Coast road trip (finishing with a 3-2 record) with a 98-90 win over the Phoenix Suns, thanks in large part due to Nicholson’s and Redick’s contributions off the bench.
Nicholson had his best game as a pro in an Orlando uniform, finishing with 19 points, nine rebounds, three assists, and four steals — all career-highs. Not only was Nicholson efficient offensively, shooting 9-for-11 from the floor, but he was big in the fourth quarter, scoring nine of his 19 points in the period.
Whether it was backing down Luis Scola on the left block and making a righty hook at the rim while showcasing some nice footwork in the process, or slipping the screen in a 2/4 pick-and-roll with Redick and making another righty hook in the paint, or nailing a midrange jumper along the right baseline on a sideline out-of-bounds play to put the game out of reach, there was very little the Suns could do from letting Nicholson have his way on offense.
As for Redick, he scored 17 of his 20 points in the first half and helped spark the Magic offensively when they were in need of a jolt. Redick did most of his damage scoring off of hand-off passes, where he was able to catch-and-shoot in rhythm. As the game wore on, Redick became more of a facilitator than a scorer, with six of his nine assists coming in the second half — four of them to Nicholson.
If there’s one thing that Nicholson has proven already with Orlando, it’s that he’s not a bust. In fact, Nicholson leads the Magic with a PER of 18.6 (minimum 100 total minutes). No, the question now becomes — how good can Nicholson be?
For Magic fans, that’s an exciting question to ask.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
Nicholson and Redick were standout performers against the Suns, coming off the bench and providing a big lift for the Magic. Nicholson (nine points) and Redick (five assists) each keyed a big fourth quarter for Orlando.
In a game of runs, the Magic were able to use a 20-8 run that spanned most of the fourth quarter to come away with a 98-90 victory against Phoenix. With the win, Orlando finished their West Coast road trip with a 3-2 record.
- Teams: Orlando Magic at Phoenix Suns
- Date: December 9, 2012
- Time: 8:00 p.m.
- Television: Fox Sports Florida
- Arena: US Airways Center
- Magic: 7-12
- Suns: 7-14
- Jameer Nelson
- Arron Afflalo
- Maurice Harkless
- Glen Davis
- Nikola Vucevic
- Goran Dragic
- Shannon Brown
- Jared Dudley
- Markieff Morris
- Marcin Gortat
- Pace: 92.7 (9th of 30)
- Offensive Rating: 98.5 (29th of 30)
- Defensive Rating: 102.8 (8th of 30)
- Pace: 92.8 (8th of 30)
- Offensive Rating: 104.2 (14th of 30)
- Defensive Rating: 109.7 (29th of 30)
Read about the Suns
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
For the most part, the Magic’s offense of late has been fairly well-balanced, even in their losses. They get contributions from diverse areas of the roster, with the youngsters trading off having standout performances and the veterans generally being reliable.
That held true for one quarter on Friday and one quarter only. Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo keyed an Orlando comeback that included a 16-0 run after being down 46-34 at the half. The Magic outscored the Kings 30-16 in the third quarter and it appeared that Jacque Vaughn’s squad was set up for another surprising victory. In the final period, however, the offense fell apart again as Sacramento’s speedy guards overpowered their defense.
The first half was defined by the Magic shooters’ inability to hit anything outside the paint. Afflalo, Glen Davis, and Andrew Nicholson were effective enough when they attacked the basket, but everybody’s shots were ice-cold the entire half. Considering their shooters went 1-for-15 from outside the paint in the first half, it’s a miracle they weren’t down much more than 12 at the break.
In that first 24 minutes, the Magic were outplayed in every aspect of the game. Their bigs were outhustled on the boards by Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins. Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette, who have been having good games on different nights of late as Keith Smart has continued to shuffle his rotation, both had solid halves, as did Aaron Brooks. They were able to exploit the Magic’s weak perimeter defense and construct a balanced offensive attack that Orlando’s lethargic shooting did nothing to counter.
Nelson and Afflalo came alive in the third, reversing the team’s fortunes from the field and forcing four turnovers by the Kings. Afflalo rediscovered his three-point shot to an extent, but was most effective when he was attacking the basket and getting to the line, which he did four times.
Davis, Nicholson, and Nikola Vucevic stepped up and outrebounded the Sacramento bigs, and the Kings’ shooters went cold. But everything fell apart again for the Magic in the fourth, as Thomas and Fredette led the Kings’ backcourt down the stretch with a couple of key three-pointers to retake the lead and put the Magic away.
The Magic’s third-quarter run to make this a game was impressive, but it wouldn’t have been necessary had the team been able to hit a jump shot in the first half. The Magic have good shooters and this was simply an unlucky instance when all of them happened to go cold the same night.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
Jameer Nelson led the charge as the Magic went on a 16-0 run in the third quarter to claw back into the game. He scored 10 of his 17 points in the third quarter on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting (including hitting both of his three-point attempts) with three assists.
The Kings had more turnovers than the Magic (18 to 16), but Orlando did a poor job minimizing the damage their mistakes caused. Their lethargic offense was only able to score 10 points off the Kings’ 18 turnovers, while Sacramento went to town on Orlando’s, scoring 21.
That was … textbook Big Baby
Glen Davis scored 20 points and had 11 rebounds before he fouled out, but it took him 19 shots to get there. This inefficiency, as expected, was due to his settling for too many long jumpers. The shot chart should explain itself.
- Teams: Orlando Magic at Sacramento Kings
- Date: December 7, 2012
- Time: 10:00 p.m.
- Television: Fox Sports Florida
- Arena: Sleep Train Arena
- Magic: 7-11
- Kings: 5-12
- Jameer Nelson
- Arron Afflalo
- Maurice Harkless
- Glen Davis
- Nikola Vucevic
- Aaron Brooks
- Tyreke Evans
- John Salmons
- Jason Thompson
- DeMarcus Cousins
- Pace: 92.4 (13th of 30)
- Offensive Rating: 99.4 (28th of 30)
- Defensive Rating: 103.4 (10th of 30)
- Pace: 91.5 (19th of 30)
- Offensive Rating: 101.9 (25th of 30)
- Defensive Rating: 108.5 (26th of 30)
Read about the Kings
AP Photo/Chuck Stoody
Darrell Armstrong’s career with the Orlando Magic can be summed up in one phrase.
The ultimate underdog.
Undrafted coming out of Fayetteville State University in 1991, Armstrong took a long and winding road to make it to the NBA. Armstrong spent time in the USBL (United States Basketball League), CBA (Continental Basketball Association), GBA (Global Basketball Association), and in Europe where he played in Cyprus and Spain.
Spotted by former general manager John Gabriel during his days with the USBL, Armstrong signed a 10-day contract with the Magic in 1995. That was Armstrong’s first big break, but he didn’t reap the benefits right away.
In his early years with Orlando, Armstrong made his impact either in street clothes or in warm-ups as a bench cheerleader. Then there was his embarrassing showing in the 1996 Slam Dunk Contest, where Armstrong accidentally made a reverse layup rather than complete a dunk. Needless to say, it took several seasons for Armstrong to play a significant role for the Magic in actual games.
Then 1997 came. That’s when Armstrong became a role player. It seems silly that Armstrong coming off the bench and averaging 15 minutes per game marked a watershed moment in his career, but it was. It proved Armstrong belonged in the league.
Then 1999 came. That’s when Armstrong became a star.
It seems unfathomable that a player trapped in basketball purgatory for so many years could become an under-the-radar star in the NBA, but that’s what happened to Armstrong. Coached by the late, great Chuck Daly, the 1998-99 lockout-shortened season served as a bridge between two eras for Orlando. It was the final season for Nick Anderson, Horace Grant, and Penny Hardaway — three players that fostered the first golden age of Magic basketball. Armstrong, on the other hand, represented a new era.
During that year, Armstrong became the first player in NBA history to win both the Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year awards. Deservingly so, as Armstrong made quantum leaps in his game from the previous season, becoming Orlando’s best player despite coming off the bench (he averaged 30 minutes per game). For example, Armstrong’s PER jumped from 15.7 in 1998 to 22.2 in 1999 and his WARP jumped from 3.2 to 16.0 in the same timeframe.
And Armstrong did it his way — being a leader, as well as taking charges, picking up floor burns, and diving into the stands. Armstrong’s motor never stopped. It’s a cliche term you hear a lot from scouts, but it accurately described one of Armstrong’s strengths as a player.
It’s through that heart and hustle that Armstrong became “Mr. Heart and Hustle” during the “Heart and Hustle” season the following year in 2000, permanently endearing himself to Magic fans with his passion and zeal.
In nine seasons with the Magic, Armstrong was a true rags to riches story. Armstrong was a hard worker and the Magic fan base loved him for it.
Voter breakdown for Darrell Armstrong
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.
What happens when you’re a team that doesn’t have a go-to scorer?
Do the next best thing — have a go-to play.
It’s true that the Orlando Magic’s preferred crunch time lineup — Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis, and Nikola Vucevic — is one of the most efficient five-man units in the NBA this season, averaging 115.6 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com’s stats database (minimum 50 total minutes), which ranks seventh in the league.
But this is a classic case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Individually, Nelson, Redick, Afflalo, Davis, and Vucevic aren’t effective go-to scorers. Redick has historically proven to be the best and most efficient crunch time scorer out of the group, yet no one would ever mistake him for being Ray Allen either. Redick doesn’t have the pedigree.
In actuality, what makes the Magic effective in crunch time is their ability to collectively execute pet plays with consistency to circumvent the problem of not having a go-to scorer. And there is one pet play in particular, ran by teams like the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls, that Orlando has heavily relied on this season when they’ve needed a bucket in crunch time. In fact, it was recently used in the Magic’s 102-94 win against the Golden State Warriors on Monday.
What makes this play so effective is the number of variations to it.
The play begins in a 1-4 set. Nikola Vucevic and Glen Davis are at the elbows, while Arron Afflalo and J.J. Redick are at the wings. Redick initiates the play by making an entry pass to Davis in the high post.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
Before this season started, the Magic were a popular pick as one of the league’s worst teams. With the two best players of last year’s 37-29 outfit traded and Jacque Vaughn coming in as a rookie coach, it wasn’t hard to envision a lot of struggles at Amway Center. It is through the prism of these justifiably low expectations that the Magic, currently at 7-11 and competitive on most nights, stand as somewhat of a surprising success.
Even so, there has been an odd trend among the players that have come in for the departed Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson. Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless, the two young assets who arrived in the Howard deal, have both been showing some positive signs regarding their prospective careers. The veteran prizes, however, have mostly underwhelmed. Josh McRoberts has experienced a minor renaissance, but Al Harrington has yet to take the court, while Arron Afflalo and Gustavo Ayon have both seen their games regress.
Afflalo has seen something of a bounce-back week, with a solid performance in Utah coming after two straight games of torching the state of California. But on the whole, he’s struggled to adjust to being a main cog for an NBA offense. His True Shooting percentage is seeing a significant drop for the second straight year -– after a scorching 62 percent in 2010-11, he was at 58.4 percent last year, and is at 53.4 percent so far this year. A lot of this is the result of a re-distribution in his shot locations, as extensively covered by Sean Highkin. But it’s also clear that Afflalo is being asked to do more for himself as less is done for him by others.
Afflalo made an offensive name for himself as a spot-up shooter. And indeed, in 2010-11, his most efficient offensive year, a whopping 41.5 percent of his offensive possessions were spot-ups, per Synergy. This was a wise strategy, as Afflalo averaged 1.19 points per possessions on those plays, which ranked him 30th in the NBA. That wild success powered him through to the point where he averaged 1.1 points per possession overall, which placed him 12th in the league on offense.
Over the last two years, however, he’s been spotting up less and less. Only 33.9 percent of Afflalo’s plays were spot-ups last year and this season, that number is all the way down to 26 percent. Perhaps by coincidence, he’s also converting less: he dropped down to 51st in spot-up plays in 2011-12 and this season, he ranks a mediocre 125th, as the rest of his offense has been dragged down as well. Afflalo is only averaging 0.92 points per possession this season, which ranks him 149th overall offensively.