Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 70

Dec 14

#ORLrank 4: Penny Hardaway

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Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

 

G MP PER VORP WARP WS/82
1995-1996 82 3015 24.6 6.73 19.3 14.4
Penny Hardaway’s best season with the Magic

 
Penny Hardaway was, in many ways, the quintessential Orlando Magic superstar. Since the franchise’s inception in 1989, a handful of the most exciting players of the past 23 years have donned the pinstripes and none have truly reached the limits of their physical gifts in a Magic uniform.

Shaq bolted for L.A. after four seasons. Tracy McGrady’s career with the Magic was derailed by injuries and then resurrected once he was traded to Houston. Dwight Howard bullied his way to the Lakers this past summer. Penny’s left knee betrayed his body before being traded to Phoenix.

The Magic have a tendency to feature superstars with outsized personalities and even more stratospheric on-court abilities, and these stars have an unfortunate propensity for having their time in Orlando end in disappointment. The unsung hero of this group is Hardaway, whose prime, like T-Mac’s, was cut short by some bad injury luck just as he seemed to be building a dynasty in Orlando.

Penny’s career is largely an afterthought in the greater public view, despite being one of the most iconic players and cult figures of the mid-to-late-’90s NBA. Part of that may simply be how far removed he is from having played in an NBA game and how irrelevant he was, for the most part, following the Magic portion of his career. None of this is fair to him and he deserves every bit of recognition he gets as not only an integral player in the Magic’s history, but also in the overall fabric of the game.

One viewing of this highlights mix is all it takes to remind you how unstoppable Penny was in his prime. Not for nothing did LeBron James grow up idolizing him. Penny was a do-it-all scoring threat in the same mold as Magic Johnson. His explosiveness and creativity made him nearly impossible for opponents to guard, especially attacking the basket. Everything he did looked effortless.

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Dec 13

Thursday’s Mini-Magic Word

  • Is it possible the Orlando Magic could sneak into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference?
  • Why do the Magic continue to get off to slow starts in games? Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post has the answer: “The current starting five of Jameer Nelson at the point, Arron Afflalo and Maurice Harkless on the wings, and Glen Davis and Nikola Vučević up front has logged 113 minutes together, according to NBA.com, and has been outscored by 48 points.”
  • Rob Mahoney and Ben Golliver of The Point Forward look back at the four-team deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers during the offseason. Both Mahoney and Golliver agree that the Magic could have gotten a better haul for Howard: “If the Thunder acquired a Raptors first-round pick that’s only top-three protected in a deal for James Harden, the Magic surely could have done better than protected picks that could wind up falling in the 20s.”
  • Brett Pollakoff of ProBasketballTalk on Orlando’s loss last night: “Let’s just say that this one won’t exactly be sent to Springfield, Massachusetts for archiving.”

Dec 13

3-on-3 roundtable: A look at the Magic’s surprising start

orlando-magic-v-phoenix-suns-20121209-194215-360

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Orlando Magic have clearly been one of the surprise teams in the NBA this season. With Stan Van Gundy, Dwight Howard, and Ryan Anderson out of the picture, the Magic were projected to be one of the worst squads in the league.

Instead, Orlando has been borderline average, thanks in large part due to Jacque Vaughn’s coaching wizardry and the players competing hard on a nightly basis. Veterans like J.J. Redick have grown into bigger roles, almost out of necessity, and rookies like Andrew Nicholson have contributed immediately.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Magic can continue to overachieve as the dog days of the season near.

With one-quarter of the regular season in the books, the Magic Basketball crew gets together to examines some of the top storylines surrounding Orlando’s surprising 8-13 start.

Most pleasant surprise so far?

Nate Drexler: Orlando’s ability to win as a team. The old adage is that if you play hard as a unit, you will find success. The Magic are really proving that with their blend of young talent and veteran role players. It didn’t seem possible from the outset, but the way these guys are relying on each other to win games and executing in that reliance is both pleasant and surprising.

Sean Highkin: The two players the Magic got from the Sixers in the Dwight Howard trade — both of whom were seen as throw-ins when the trade was initially being dissected. Nikola Vucevic has blossomed into a reliable defender and rebounder as the Magic’s starting center. Moe Harkless has the beginnings of a solid defensive skill-set.

Noam Schiller: Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic started strongly as a rookie in Philadelphia, but by the second half of last season, he was shooting so poorly that Doug Collins found him unplayable. Be it a year of maturation or a friendly system that allows for mistakes, the Montenegrin big man has started every game and is performing relatively well.

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Dec 13

Recap: Atlanta Hawks 86, Orlando Magic 80

Jeff Teague, J.J. Redick

AP Photo/John Raoux

BOX SCORE

Heading into Monday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, the Orlando Magic were earning plaudits for going 3-2 on their West Coast road trip (which included impressive wins against the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors).

Unfortunately for the Magic, they were unable to keep the good vibes going against the Hawks, as Atlanta came into town and A-Town stomped Orlando. Don’t let the final score fool you. The game was not as closed as it seemed. The Hawks jumped out to a 16-2 lead in the first quarter and never looked back.

The Magic fell behind early because they were unable to get anything going offensively. Orlando is one of the worst offensive teams in the league, ranking 29th in Offensive Rating (only the Washington Wizards are worse), so it should come as no surprise that they hit a cold spell on offense. And it was mostly because the Magic settled for jumpers.

On the flipside, Atlanta didn’t do anything special against Orlando. The Hawks simply played good defense and displayed competence offensively.

Eventually, the Magic were able to get back into the game thanks to scoring runs of 9-2 and 10-2, which began in the latter stages of the first quarter and spanned up to the middle of the second quarter. Orlando even took the lead at 27-26 with 6:35 left in the period.

But Atlanta responded with runs of 6-0 and 9-0, pushing their lead back to double digits heading into halftime. After trading baskets to start the third quarter, the Hawks went on a quick 6-0 run and opened up a 17-point lead to blow the game wide open, which prompted head coach Jacque Vaughn to sub out the starting lineup en masse. The deficit ballooned to 19 points shortly thereafter for the Magic.

From there, Atlanta cruised to an easy victory over Orlando.

Again, the Hawks didn’t do anything special. Al Horford and Josh Smith had double-doubles for Atlanta, but they weren’t overwhelmingly dominant on both ends of the floor. Jeff Teague had a nice game, even though it seemed like he was sleepwalking through most of it.

This was a winnable game for the Magic. The problem was that Orlando got off to a slow start in the first quarter and were unable to dig themselves out of a hole. This is not the first time this has happened to the Magic and it won’t be the last. Can Orlando buck that trend sooner or later? It remains to be seen.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

Al Horford helped lead the way for the Hawks, finishing with his seventh-consecutive double-double of the season (13 points, 13 rebounds, and four assists). Horford’s play of the game was his posterization of Nikola Vucevic in the second quarter.

X-Factor

Josh Smith also finished with a double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks) for Atlanta, but it was his defense that stood out the most. Smith did an excellent job of blocking and altering shots at the rim.

That Was … Easy

The Hawks jumped out to a 16-2 lead to start the game and were on cruise control the rest of the way. The Magic tried to make a game of it near the end, but their efforts were thwarted.

Dec 12

Preview: Atlanta Hawks at Orlando Magic

Essentials

  • Teams: Atlanta Hawks at Orlando Magic
  • Date: December 12, 2012
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Florida
  • Arena: Amway Center

Records

  • Hawks: 12-6
  • Magic: 8-12

Probable starters

Hawks:

  • Jeff Teague
  • Devin Harris
  • Anthony Morrow
  • Josh Smith
  • Al Horford

Magic:

  • Jameer Nelson
  • Arron Afflalo
  • Maurice Harkless
  • Glen Davis
  • Nikola Vucevic

Advanced stats

Hawks:

  • Pace: 92.1 (13th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 104.6 (14th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.5 (6th of 30)

Magic:

  • Pace: 92.6 (10th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 99.0 (29th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 102.6 (8th of 30)

Read about the Hawks

HawksHoop

Dec 12

How are the Magic exceeding expectations?

orlando-magic-v-phoenix-suns-20121209-194215-352

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Thinking back to October, I wasn’t particularly optimistic about covering the Magic for the 2012-13 season. You didn’t have to over-analyze anything to realize the Magic were rebuilding, as they spent the summer offing the likes of Stan Van Gundy, Dwight Howard, and Ryan Anderson. This team was going to stink and everyone knew it. Or at least they thought they did.

Now Orlando is creeping up on mediocrity and looking more and more like an average NBA team. That’s troubling to some, as all this hard work and team effort will seemingly only amount to a low draft pick and more averageness.

I, however, have enjoyed this run of success Orlando has experienced in the early goings of the regular season. Themes of team effort, all-out defense, ball movement, and solid coaching echo throughout Orlando. And here they are at 8-12. It caused me to look back at five projected reasons for imminent failure this season and how Orlando has defied those expectations.

No Dwight Howard
This only really concerned me from a defensive standpoint. Sure, you miss a big threat in the middle offensively but truth be told, I thought Orlando would get murdered in the paint on defense. With a lack of size and a real lack of any major threat at the rim, it seemed as though teams would be able to waltz in, feed the post, attack the hoop, and live either in the paint or at the free-throw line.

What we’ve seen, though, is a real team effort and I mean that in every cliche sense of the phrase. Quite literally, the Magic’s defense has kept them in most of the games that they’ve played. It’s no secret the Magic lack any scoring punch, so you have to point to their eighth-ranked defense that has kept them afloat without a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate serving as the anchor.

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Dec 12

Glen Davis’ new nickname: ‘Black Hole’

Screen Shot 2012-12-11 at 11.05.16 PM

Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

A cursory glance at Glen Davis’ numbers might leave the impression that he’s having a career year so far this season. Davis is averaging career-highs across the board with 32.8 minutes per game, 16.1 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game, and 2.1 assists per game.

It’s fool’s gold.

Davis’ rebounding and passing has improved a little bit this season, as evidenced by a small spike in his total rebound and assist percentages, but his scoring has not. Davis may be averaging 16.1 points per game, but it’s buoyed by inefficient volume shooting. This season, Davis is posting the highest usage rate of his career (25.9 percent) with diminishing returns — his True Shooting percentage (47.8 percent) is well below the league average (53.2 percent).

This is par for the course for Davis, by the way, given that he’s historically been an inefficient player on offense. You’d have to go back to Davis’ rookie year with the Boston Celtics to find the last time he posted a True Shooting percentage above the league average. And that’s only because Davis was a low usage player back then. As Davis’ usage rate has increased over the years, his efficiency has declined in the process.

Now Davis has fully entrenched himself as a black hole offensively. Part of it is because the Orlando Magic, bereft of scoring, need him to be. But mostly it’s because Davis never saw a shot he didn’t like.

In some ways, there is value in Davis being a volume scorer. The Magic are 3.6 points per 100 possession better on offense with him on the floor, per NBA.com. The problem is that Orlando, as a team, is averaging 97.5 points per 100 possessions with Davis in the lineup (Washington Wizards level of futility).

So what kind of shots is Davis taking that is making him an inefficient player offensively and the Magic a poor offensive team?

Let’s take a look at Davis’ most recent inefficient outing, which came against the Sacramento Kings on Friday, where he scored 20 points on 8-for-19 shooting from the floor.

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Dec 11

Tuesday’s Magic Word

  • Ben Golliver of The Point Forward lists head coach Jacque Vaughn as an early contender for Coach of the Year: “Five of Orlando’s wins have come against bottom-dwellers (Pistons, Cavaliers and Suns), so Vaughn isn’t necessarily guaranteed to become the league’s next coaching prodigy, but his early work deserves a bit of early shine.”
  • Could Jameer Nelson be on the trade block? Zach Lowe of Grantland thinks so, as he lists Nelson as a name to watch: “The Magic badly missed Nelson’s playmaking during the seven games he was out due to injury, but he’s shooting poorly in the first year of a pricey three-year deal, and he hasn’t lifted Orlando’s offense at all since his return. Nelson’s almost 31, so the market for him won’t be very big even if the Magic try to pair him with J.J. Redick’s expiring deal.”
  • In the same link, Lowe also marvels at Arron Afflalo’s stepback jumper.
  • Glen Davis has improved his efficiency offensively in recent weeks.
  • What did the West Coast road trip for the Orlando Magic teach them? Quite a bit — like maybe it’s time for Andrew Nicholson to have a bigger role in the Magic’s offense.

Dec 10

Monday’s Magic Word

  • 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.

Dec 10

Andrew Nicholson carving out a niche

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.

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