Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 55

Oct 11

How to graciously root for a loser

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Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

I’m a Buffalo Bills fan. I know I’m writing for a basketball blog, and this is the second time I’ve mentioned a different team sport, but if you’ll bear with me for a second, it’ll come together shortly.

The Bills — if you don’t know — haven’t made the playoffs since I was in high school. That year, we lost to the Tennessee Titans in a game many still remember as the “Music City Miracle.” It was not miraculous for Bills fans.

The brutal twist of fate on that January day in 2000 came after a decade where I spent my formative years detesting Super Bowl Sunday. The Bills lost four straight Super Bowls from 1990-1993. It was a trying time for a young kid from upstate New York who worshipped sports. But I learned a lot from those years and from the ensuing playoff drought we’re currently in the middle of, going back to that horrendous loss in Nashville.

I offer this preface as a way to show you my bonafides as a fan. I have stuck with my Bills through a lot and I have come out with a new appreciation for cheering on a loser.

By most accounts — including most, if not all, of the writers on this site — the Magic are not going to be very good next year. Sure, Tobias Harris offers hope, and ‘Dipo might be a two-way star in the next half-decade, but for the next six months, Magic fans will be faced with a whole lot of losing.

While you never want to get used to the idea of losing, something that has unfortunately stricken a large swath of Bills fans, you also don’t want to be a grouchy, glass-half-empty fan, either, forever looking at an upcoming game as a chance to sob alongside the Nightengale. You should see the beauty in the Nightengale’s song — like Coleridge did, but minus all that opium.

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Oct 10

Thursday’s Magic Word

  • Sean Fennessey of Grantland is excited about Victor Oladipo: “He is a treasure to watch; he appears to be driving himself insane on every possession, consumed by the need to be ubiquitous. He is Ed Reed and Benedict Cumberbatch and a frothing roadrunner all rolled into one.”
  • What’s the best-case scenario for the Orlando Magic this season? Ben Golliver of The Point Forward has the answer: “Orlando strikes lottery gold for the fourth time in franchise history, earning the right to select Andrew Wiggins (or anyone else who strikes its fancy).”
  • Here are the game-day storylines in advance of the Magic’s preseason tilt with the Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow at Amway Center.
  • Tracy McGrady, who will be honored by the Magic on November 1 against the New Orleans Pelicans in the home opener, looks back fondly at his tenure in Orlando.
  • Orlando lost to the Pelicans in last night’s preseason opener, but Oladipo played well in front a bevy of Hall of Famers — Julius Erving, Rick Barry, George Gervin, Artis Gilmore and David Thompson.
  • John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com details Andrew Nicholson’s offseason improvements: “Not only are his arms and chest noticeably bigger, but Nicholson’s frame going from 234 pounds to 248 pounds better allows him to hold his position when posting up or defending down low. And a jump shot that was fairly reliable from 17 feet last season has now been extended to 23 feet, allowing him to make the first 3-pointer of his NBA career in Wednesday’s exhibition opener against the New Orleans Pelicans.”
  • Tobias Harris is listed as one of 13 breakout power forward candidates.
  • The Magic are interested in having a D-League team in Jacksonville.
  • Not only is Nicholson is expanding his game offensively, but he’s looking to get better as a rebounder and defender.
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn experimented with his playing rotation during his team’s preseason opener Wednesday night, playing Kyle O’Quinn at power forward alongside Nik Vucevic at center. In the game’s first five minutes, O’Quinn committed three personal fouls, while Vucevic had one. Vucevic finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, while O’Quinn had four points and three rebounds.”

Oct 10

Magic to honor Tracy McGrady on November 1

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AP Photo/Scott Audette

Via Orlando Magic press release:

As a part of the Orlando Magic’s 25th anniversary season-long celebration the team will honor former Magic All-Star Tracy McGrady at the Magic’s November 1 home opening night matchup vs. the New Orleans Pelicans, tip-off set for 7 p.m. In addition to being honored at center court, McGrady will also serve as a color commentator for a portion of FOX Sports Florida’s broadcast and be featured on Magic Drive Time radio show on 740 The Game with host Dante Marchitelli on Thurs., Oct. 31 from 5:30-6:00 p.m.

“Legends’ Nights” is an on-going program which will honor former players throughout the Magic’s silver season. In addition to the Magic’s “Legends Nights”, the 2013-14 season will feature the Silver Ticket Sweepstakes and Scratch Off Promotion, special appearances, game entertainment and other events throughout the season.

Tracy McGrady, a native of nearby Auburndale, played four seasons for the Magic after signing with the team as an up-and-coming player in 2000. He quickly developed into the most lethal scorer in the NBA. His 28.1-point regular-season scoring average is the highest in Magic history. In three trips to the playoffs with the Magic he averaged 33.8 ppg., 30.8 ppg. and 31.7 ppg. for a 32.0 ppg. average in 15 playoff games. A Magic history highlight was the franchise-best 62 points he scored against the Washington Wizards on March 10, 2004.

Oct 10

Player Profile: Maurice Harkless

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Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Frankel’s 2013-14 projections

PPG RPG APG TS% PER
8.5 4.2 0.8 49.7 13.2

Maurice Harkless is potential incarnate. At 6-foot-9 with near-elite athletic ability, broad shoulders and hands that brush his knees, his is the physical model from which all modern day forwards should be constructed. But as anyone who watched the energetic 20 year-old ebb and flow through his rookie season will tell you, there’s far more to his game than “could be” and “what if?”

Fortunately for Harkless and the Orlando Magic, he has one side of the ball — that with which young players most often struggle, in fact — down pat. Harkless is already an effective, if flawed, defender, owing much of his early success to that ideal blend of physical attributes. He was one of just 11 players in the NBA to average at least 1.5 steals and 1.0 block per 36 minutes last season.

Harkless has much to learn from a scheme and discipline standpoint defensively, is an underwhelming rebounder, and needs to get stronger, too. All that should come with experience and time, though. Once it does, it’s easy to imagine Harkless developing into one of the league’s premier defenders. Players that can capably and seamlessly guard multiple positions are few and far between, and Harkless’ consistent motor is another attribute in his favor on this end, too.

But if he’s on the tracks to becoming great on defense, Harkless’ offensive train hasn’t even left the station. That’s not surprising — he played out of position his lone year at St. John’s and got most of his points via hustle and athleticism.

Transitioning to a mostly perimeter-oriented role was bound to be an adjustment for Harkless, and that assumption proved true in more ways than one: he shot a dismal 22.2 percent on 2-pointers outside the restricted area and compiled far more turnovers (69) than assists (50) last season. That poor shooting mark extends beyond 2-point jumpers, as Harkless shot 57 percent from the free throw line and 27.4 percent from beyond the arc while compiling a .504 True Shooting percentage.

But it’s not all gloom and doom for Harkless offensively. He’s already prolific and efficient at the basket and on the break, and he shot an awesome 39.7 percent on 3-pointers in March while taking a season-high 3.0 attempts per game. Harkless will no doubt improve offensively, but there are still no signs of him becoming the type of force he might eventually be on defense.

That doesn’t mean he won’t be an extremely useful player. Two-way basketball is more en vogue than ever now, and Harkless has enough defensive chops that he’ll always have a place in the league. The biggest question facing his career is what type of role will he have on offense?

Should he continue honing his shot from 3-point range and advance his off-dribble game, Harkless will be an impact performer. If his offensive development mostly stalls, he’ll settle into a niche a la Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Though the former arc is obviously optimal, the latter one is hardly disappointing. Point being, the Magic have a player here — they just don’t know what kind yet.

Oct 09

The tragedy of Hedo Turkoglu

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Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Back in 2009, I had a more-than-casual interest in LeBron’s Cavaliers. My buddy and I watched almost every game of the playoffs that year in a small bar here in Chattanooga, and we both felt that we were watching something special.

The Cavs had annihilated Detroit and Atlanta, sweeping both teams and waltzing to the Eastern Conference Finals. We thought — practically everybody thought, as I recall — nothing on this planet could stop LeBron James and company from advancing to the NBA Finals.

Enter Hedo Turkoglu and the Orlando Magic.

Hedo’s captain-esque performance in the Conference Finals gave way to an onslaught of clout the likes of which LeBron had rarely seen in the postseason, and it produced a 4-2 series win for the Magic and a trip to the Finals.

In those six games, I came to respect, loathe, revere, and fear Hedo as the Magic stared down King James and stood tall. I was a Cavs fan then, and I cringed when Hedo touched the ball. My shoulders got tense when he instigated the pick-and roll with Dwight Howard. As a LeBron fan, Hedo absolutely terrified me.

Following that stretch of brilliance, he entered a downward spiral — first in Toronto, then in Phoenix, and back in Orlando. Hedo declined as a player, got suspended for a failed PED test, and is now expected to have his contract bought out soon by the Magic. What happened? How did we get here?

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Oct 09

Player Profile: Tobias Harris

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Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Frankel’s 2013-14 projections

PPG RPG APG TS% PER
17.9 7.5 1.9 55.4 18.8

After being buried on the bench for the first half of last season, Tobias Harris broke out in a big way after being inserted into the starting lineup for the Orlando Magic. His per 36 numbers with the Milwaukee Bucks always indicated that he could be a big producer, and when finally given the minutes in Orlando, he flourished.

With the Magic, Harris functioned as one of the primary focuses on offense, owning a 23.1 percent usage rate (third-highest after he joined the team). And he used the majority of those possessions wisely last season. Most of Harris’ offense came at the rim or from behind the 3-point line, two of the most efficient spots on the floor to score.

It’s a safe bet that Harris will be an offensive focal point again this season, as the Magic have very few players cut out for high usage roles. How a full season of heavy usage and defenses focusing on him effects his efficiency is a big question mark, as he wasn’t that efficient of a player offensively last season (he posted a .524 True Shooting percentage).

He created a lot of offense for himself with post ups and isolations, so it would have been nice to see at least some distribution skills. Sadly, that wasn’t the case, and this season he is projected to have an assist percentage lower than that of Glen Davis and Nikola Vucevic.

Harris will especially have to become more comfortable with the pick-and-roll as a ballhandler, as that made up less than 3 percent of his offense last season, per Synergy Sports. He’s a threat defenses will pay attention to because of his shooting and driving ability, so if he can improve upon his vision, Harris in the pick-and-roll could be a big weapon for the Magic.

The biggest question going into the season for Harris is what position will he play? Last season, he logged most of his minutes with the Magic at the four. But that may not be feasible with a larger, healthier stable of power forwards this year. It’ll be interesting to see how he transitions to more time at the small forward, especially on defense.

It’s hard to say whether or not Harris was an influential defensive player at power forward last season. His defensive metrics were all over the place: opposing power forwards posted an 18.1 PER against him, and he graded out as neutral according to regularized adjusted plus/minus and above-average on Synergy Sports. And his on/off numbers showed Orlando was 7.5 points per 100 possessions better defensively when he was on the floor.

It could be a case of small sample size. And those numbers may change with different responsibilities this season. But the verdict is still out on Harris’ defensive prowess.

When he has the ball in his hands, he’ll be a mismatch nightmare. He’s too quick for power forwards and too big for small forwards. Harris will have to improve his spot-up 3-point shooting in order to play more on the wing though, as he only shot 33.9 percent on spot-up 3s last season, per Synergy Sports.

This will be a big season for Harris, as we still really aren’t sure what he is yet. Is he a legitimate first option? Is he a small forward or power forward? Was his production last season a case of stat-stuffing on a bad team? Depending on how he performs this season, we’ll have a much clearer view of who Harris is and what his role with the Magic should be going forward.

Oct 08

Tuesday’s Mini-Magic Word

  • Maurice Harkless has worked on improving his jump shot.
  • Josh Cohen of OrlandoMagic.com has more on Harkless’ development: “Harkless spent countless hours this past summer improving his strength. It’s not a coincidence that he added 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason. We’ve seen other players around the league with similar talents like Paul George and Trevor Ariza make big strides after concentrated offseason training. Expect Harkless to be vastly enhanced – offensively and defensively – in his second NBA season.”
  • How much playing time will Victor Oladipo get at point guard? John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com offers his take.
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “Maxiell has worn a relatively fashionable pair of Wilson glasses during Magic practices. But soon he expects to receive goggles that resemble the eyewear Horace Grant donned during Grant’s days with the Chicago Bulls and the Magic. Maxiell doesn’t expect the new goggles to be ready for Wednesday night’s preseason opener against the New Orleans Pelicans in Jacksonville.”
  • Zach Lowe of Grantland provides his outlook on the Orlando Magic this season: “This is a developmental year for a team that’s finally going to walk into some serious long-term cap flexibility next summer — especially if they deal Jameer Nelson or buy out the final year of his contract.6 There are some interesting pieces here, and it was fun to watch Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless stretch themselves when things fell apart last season. But Orlando’s defense collapsed without Glen Davis after a surprising 12-13 start, and its offense was never any good. It’ll have major issues spacing the floor, and each young guy will experience growing pains — especially if Jacque Vaughn gives Victor Oladipo heavy time as the team’s main playmaker.”

Oct 08

Player Profile: Doron Lamb

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Photos by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

Frankel’s 2013-14 projections

PPG RPG APG TS% PER
1.0 3.3 2.4 42.5 5.1

Magic fans are constantly going to have to have perspective this season, that Orlando’s goal is to lose. Bad players playing lots of minutes is a good thing. With that in mind, Doron Lamb should contribute in the right way to this Magic team.

Austin Rivers got all the hype for having one of the worst season’s of all-time for a rookie, but Doron Lamb deserves a bit of attention as well. He had the lowest PER (4.8) and third-worst regularized adjusted plus/minus (-5.9) among players who played more than 500 minutes.

Lamb shot terribly from nearly everywhere, and didn’t do anything to make up for that shooting deficiency, rebounding and assisting at abysmal levels. He was lost on defense, as is typical for rookies, getting blown by left and right and missing rotations to shooters.

But every so often, Lamb would do something good. Like score a career-high 16 points against the Milwaukee Bucks, his former team, and flash a sweet shooting stroke from beyond the arc.

This year, Lamb projects to improve in almost everything, due to his age, but still be terrible. The one glimmer of hope is his aforementioned 3-point shooting, where he shot 37.8 percent on 37 attempts last season. If that is somewhere near his true ability and not a fluke of small sample size, Lamb could at least occupy a semi-useful role on offense in the future.

He has good athleticism, so if he can figure out some of the nuances of NBA defense and keep up at somewhere around that shooting level, Lamb could be more than just a replacement-level player.

Oct 07

Monday’s Magic Word

  • Rob Mahoney of The Point Forward sees Jameer Nelson as a prime trade target this season: “Orlando’s roster teardown is well underway, but Nelson remains as a vestige of the Howard era. The 31-year-old point guard would do much more good for a more competitive team, and with just a quarter of his salary guaranteed next season, he could be an interesting trade chip.”
  • Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post: “The Orlando Magic will wind down training camp Monday with a morning session. Their first preseason game is set for Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans in Jacksonville. Coach Jacque Vaughn said Monday before Orlando’s practice that he doesn’t anticipate heavily using his veterans in the preseason opener.”
  • Is Victor Oladipo the favorite to win Rookie of the Year honors?
  • Arron Afflalo is hoping to become a more efficient player offensively for the Orlando Magic.
  • Nikola Vucevic is no longer a secret around the NBA.
  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel shares this tidbit: “The Magic’s starting lineup for the regular season is expected to be Nelson at point guard; Arron Afflalo at shooting guard: Maurice Harkless at small forward; Tobias Harris at power forward; and Nik Vucevic at center.”
  • Ronnie Price understands he’s been brought in to mentor the young players on the Magic’s roster, and it’s something he’s willing to do for the better of the team.

Oct 07

Player Profile: Victor Oladipo

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Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Frankel’s 2013-14 projections

PPG RPG APG TS% PER
N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

After his first two seasons at Indiana University, Victor Oladipo might have snuck in at the tail end of the first round in the 2012 NBA Draft. As a defense-first guard with a 6-foot-9 wingspan on a staunch 6-foot-4, 215-pound body, ‘Dip could match up against either guard position. But he didn’t — yet — possess the offensive skills that would translate well to the next level. So he smartly stayed in school, and worked on his game.

Then, as a junior, he improved his outside shot and became an important part of the Indiana offense. He averaged 13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists a game for an Indiana team that spent 10 weeks ranked No. 1 in the nation.

That’s what happens when you’re as hungry to improve as Oladipo was after his sophomore season as a Hoosier. But how his improved game translates to the NBA remains to be seen — though Summer League evidence seems to point to a hawkish defender with a possible ceiling as an All-Star.

Oladipo’s performance next season on the defensive end is easier to determine than his offensive role. He’ll spend time at point and the off-guard, depending on Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson’s health and productivity, so his ballhandling and ability to run the offense will be on display. We just don’t know how bad the growing pains will be.

There’s a huge learning curve for most rookies, but Oladipo appears to have a cot reserved at the gym, and his desire to improve is a large reason he jumped so high in the draft. With the Magic rebuilding, Oladipo is a Rookie of the Year candidate, but any rookie honors will depend on a role that’s still being decided as we enter the second week of training camp and the first round of preseason games.

Oladipo’s shooting improved enough in his final season at Indiana, I was surprised at his junior year shooting splits of 60/44/75. A 60 percent mark from the field with close to two 3-point attempts per game is incredibly efficient against the Big Ten. He’s so strong, while also being quick, opposing points couldn’t keep him from getting easy buckets at the rim.

After watching him leap around the gym during the NBA rookie photo shoot in August, I can attest to his athleticism first-hand. He just runs and jumps like a natural athlete, and when you combine that with his determination on the defensive end, we could be looking at an All-NBA defender in a couple years. That prediction hinges on his ability to defend faster and stronger players, but all signs point to a top-flight defensive talent.

Victor’s junior-year shooting numbers won’t continue at the NBA level, though. He shot 37.5 percent in four games during Summer League play in Orlando, but if you discount his abysmal 2-for-13 performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder, that percentage rises to 44.4, and an outrageous 70 percent from 3 (7-for-10 in three games). But it’s still Summer League, and it’s doubtful Oladipo will be that effective against first-team NBA defenses.

Oladipo drastically  improved his shooting after his sophomore season at Indiana, and there’s no reason to doubt that same improvement as he enters his rookie season.

A possible game-changing perimeter defender, Oladipo has the ability and the drive to be the all-around (point?) guard that helps lead the Magic back to prominence over the next decade.

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