Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 74

Dec 21

Friday’s Mini-Magic Word

  • “Can the Orlando Magic actually make the playoffs?” That’s the headline of today’s profile on the Magic by Zach Lowe of Grantland — a must-read. Lowe lists three trends that suggest Orlando has a chance to reach the postseason. Here’s one of them: “Orlando’s own fantastic defense. The Magic, having lost Dwight Howard and a defensive mastermind coach in Stan Van Gundy, rank sixth in points allowed per possession. Each member of of last year’s top-10 overall in that category made the postseason, and 91 of 100 such teams did so in the last 10 seasons. It’s very hard to miss the playoffs with a top-10 defense. They’ve been even better since getting Nelson back, re-jiggering their rotation, and getting better minutes from Nikola Vucevic, Gustavo Ayon, and some other unheralded pieces; over their last 10 games, the Magic have given up just 95.2 points per 100 possessions, a mark that would top the league for the season.”
  • Matt Dollinger of Sports Illustrated: “After winning four in a row, Orlando is just one game away from the No. 8 seed in the East. (For those scoring at home, Howard and the Lakers trail the West’s No. 8 seed by 1.5 games.) If the Magic are serious about the playoffs, they’ll need to do something to improve their offense, which ranks 29th in points per possession and just lost co-leading scorer Glen Davis for 4-6 weeks with a dislocated shoulder — another blow given that Al Harrington and Hedo Turkoglu remain out indefinitely.”
  • Reactions from head coach Jacque Vaughn and J.J. Redick on Glen Davis’ injury (sprained left shoulder).
  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: “Magic coach Jacque Vaughn wouldn’t reveal after Friday morning’s shootaround whom he will start for injured power forward Glen Davis, but rookie Andrew Nicholson might get the call. Shooting guard J.J. Redick sounded as if Nicholson would face the Toronto Raptors tonight, making his first pro start. No matter if he starts or not, he will need to be a factor.”

Dec 21

The early returns on Nikola Vucevic

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Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

As the 2012-13 Magic were tipping off, I named the performance of Nikola Vucevic as one of the five biggest questions for Orlando this upcoming season.

Vucevic was given the inside track to the Magic’s starting center position almost by default and cemented his status as the team’s man in the middle with a strong preseason. But after his rookie season in Philadelphia consisted of two opposite poles of play, the Magic couldn’t be sure which Vucevic they were getting.

Well, the early returns from Vucevic have been similar to those of the entire squad — wildly encouraging. Vucevic has sustained many of his rookie season strengths while either improving or going away from his weaknesses. He’s been a huge cog in Orlando’s offense as a passer in the high post and looks like a mainstay within the Vucevic-Nicholson-Harkless frontcourt core.

The first thing that jumps out of the page with Vucevic is his rebounding numbers, which were a strength last season as well. Vucevic is snaring 24.6 percent of all available defensive rebounds, which ranks him 14th in the league, and has been a huge part of Orlando excelling on that end. He complements that mark with an offensive rebound percentage of 11.1 percent. Any way you look at it, Vucevic is one of the league’s prime rebounders: he’s 15th in the league with a total rebound percentage of 18.1 percent (right behind Dwight Howard ironically enough) and 15th in rebounds per game at 9.5 rebounds per game.

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Dec 21

#ORLrank 3: Tracy McGrady

Capture

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

 

G MP PER VORP WARP WS/82
2002-2003 75 2954 30.3 8.55 23.5 17.6
Tracy McGrady’s best season with the Magic

 
Earlier this month, a video emerged of Tracy McGrady elbowing a player in the chest during a Chinese Basketball Association game. It was a fitting peep into where McGrady stands at this point of his career: distant from both mind and heart, violently clinging on to a shred of our consciousness for the wrong reasons.

At the tender age of 32, when most superstars are gracefully descending into a final chapter, T-Mac is already years removed from relevance, for all intents and purposes a basketball pariah.

The expectation game is a fickle and cruel one, one which McGrady has clearly lost. His immense talent raised the bar to heights that only few have ever reached and McGrady couldn’t clear it for whatever reason — his bad back, his bad teammates, his bad psyche, whichever one you choose. He couldn’t even get close. For all intents and purposes, history will look back at McGrady’s career as a “could have, should have, wasn’t” ordeal.

Which is a shame because that misses the point entirely. Yes, T-Mac didn’t win rings or even a single playoff series; yes, his prime ended so swiftly that there wasn’t even a farewell tour, just an immediate disconnect; yes, he wasn’t everything that he should have been. But these points are irrelevant.

In 40 years, when we are feeble and old and our grandchildren demand stories of the greats, we won’t wax poetic about consistency throughout 10-year stretches. What sticks with our memory over all is singular points of transcendence, those special nights when something just goes right for a guy who happens to be on television as we go ballistic on our couch.

And for that short, marvelous period that was Tracy McGrady in an Orlando uniform, those experiences came nightly. The man had a control over the game of basketball that was virtually unparalleled, one that was enhanced by his nonchalant demeanor and those darn eyelids that looked like he was asleep at all times.

M.J. and Kobe worked maniacally to be at the points where they would overwhelm the opposition; Shaq bothered to be in shape for that one special 1999-00 season; Duncan was always smarter; Magic and Bird clearly loved and cared about the game more than anything else.

But with McGrady, transcendence was inherent and almost coincidental, like a guy who just woke up and happened to step in a pool of divinity before he put his socks on, cursing about how his feet got wet while proceeding about his way in reluctant magnificence.

That 2002-03 campaign was as dominant a statistical campaign as we’ve seen. The man was the beginning, middle and end of everything the Magic did. The raw numbers (32.3 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, and 5.5 assists per game) and the advanced stats (a 30.3 Player Efficiency Rating, one of just 8 players to cross the 30 threshold in PER, and a True Shooting percentage of 56.4 percent) are mind-blowing even without the YouTube archives. It had to be watched to be believed. He was a unique combination of other-worldly athleticism and every single skill the basketball court offers.

He was special. So inherently special that he couldn’t put forth the effort to maximize that skill-set, so good just by walking into the gym that he couldn’t put in the work to translate his gift into the accolades by which common perception measures greatness.

And then the guy, whose best teammates were a constantly injured Grant Hill and a declining Darrell Armstrong, loses to the Pistons in the first round of the 2003 NBA Playoffs after expressing relief that “it feels good to get in the second round” after going up 3-1 in the series. Then the guy’s body breaks down and he’s a failure for eternity. It’s fair, given the results-oriented nature of our society. It’s also completely misplaced.

It is impossible to separate greatness from wins, but it is impossible to use any other adjective to describe whatever it was that Tracy McGrady was doing through his short prime. McGrady’s own talents reached such magnitudes that they overblew what he had to accomplish to outgrow his own shadow; at that, he failed. Miserably so.

It doesn’t matter. He was transcendent all the same.

Voter breakdown for Tracy McGrady

Drexler Highkin Rivera Schiller Scribbins
Scale (1-to-10) 3 3 1 2 2
Average rank: 2.2

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.

Dec 20

Thursday’s Magic Word

  • According to Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus, the Orlando Magic have been the best team in the Eastern Conference in the month of December. Confused? Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post explains: “Orlando’s adjusted scoring differential, which accounts for strength of schedule, of plus-4.4 in December ranks it sixth in the league and first in the East.”
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel has a status update on Glen Davis, who was injured in last night’s game against the Washington Wizards. In short, Davis has a sprained left shoulder, he won’t need surgery, and a timetable for his return is to be determined.
  • Who will replace Davis in the starting lineup? Dunlap makes an educated guess: “None of Vaughn’s options to replace Davis is ideal, but the view here is that starting Nicholson is the right choice. As an offensively minded player, he gives the Magic the best lineup continuity in Davis’ absence, and he also happens to be a terrific prospect who will only improve with more playing time. However, I expect Vaughn will call upon McRoberts, at least ceremonially, much in the same way Harkless starts but games but only logs about 18 minutes per.”
  • John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com thinks Davis could be out 4-6 weeks.
  • With a win against the Wizards, which brings them closer to .500 at 12-13, the Magic continue to exceed expectations.

Dec 20

Recap: Orlando Magic 90, Washington Wizards 83

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Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

BOX SCORE

After a competitive first quarter, the Orlando Magic were able to cruise to their season-high fourth consecutive win with a 90-83 victory against the Washington Wizards. And the Magic have J.J. Redick and E’Twaun Moore to thank for that.

For Redick, it’s not puzzling that he played well. Redick is one of the best sixth men in the NBA, given that he’s an excellent shooter, underrated playmaker, and heady defender. What’s puzzling is that the Wizards, a good defensive team (ranked 13th in Defensive Rating heading into Wednesday’s game), didn’t make life difficult for Redick.

Redick shot 5-for-9 from the floor (4-for-5 from three-point range) for 17 points.

Redick buried a barrage of three-point shots — several of them came off of screen-and-curls. On one of Redick’s three-pointers, Gustavo Ayon set a pin-down screen and Redick curled around the screen for a catch-and-shoot opportunity off a pass from Moore. On another of Redick’s three-pointers, he received a handoff pass from Ayon, curled around the screen, took one dribble, and shot the ball in rhythm.

Quite frankly, Washington’s guards did a horrendous job of defending Redick in screen-and-curls and he made them pay dearly for their incompetence.

As for Moore, he did a nice job of mixing it up offensively — scoring mainly by spotting up on the perimeter and dribble penetrating into the lane. As a point guard, Moore is still a work in progress but as a scoring guard, he already has the tools to be effective.

Even though Redick and Moore were bright spots coming off the bench to lead Orlando to a win that brings them closer to .500 at 12-13, it wasn’t all roses against the Wizards. Late in the game, Glen Davis injured his left shoulder as he went up for a shot and was fouled by Emeka Okafor with 47.8 seconds remaining. Davis fell to the ground in severe pain and had to be taken back to the locker room.

The Magic fear Davis dislocated his left shoulder, but the extent of the injury won’t be known until an MRI is done on Thursday.

It’s a shame that the game had to end on a sour note for Orlando against lowly Washington, but them’s the breaks.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

Redick has been the Magic’s best player all season long and tonight was no different. Redick gave Orlando a nice lift off the bench, finishing with 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting from the floor (4-for-6 from three-point range).

X-Factor

The Magic’s starting backcourt of Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo could not get anything going offensively against the Wizards. Luckily for Orlando, their back-ups — Moore and Redick — were able to pick up the slack.

That Was … Ugly

Afflalo (15 points on 6-for-18 shooting) and Davis (12 points on 6-for-18 shooting) were not models of efficiency on offense. They both put up a lot of shots with little to show for it in the box score.

Dec 19

Preview: Washington Wizards at Orlando Magic

Essentials

  • Teams: Washington Wizards at Orlando Magic
  • Date: December 19, 2012
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Florida
  • Arena: Amway Center

Records

  • Wizards: 3-19
  • Magic: 11-13

Probable starters

Wizards:

  • Jordan Crawford
  • Shaun Livingston
  • Martell Webster
  • Earl Barron
  • Emeka Okafor

Magic:

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

Advanced stats

Wizards:

  • Pace: 91.4 (19th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 96.2 (30th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 104.3 (13th of 30)

Magic:

  • Pace: 92.5 (8th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 100.0 (29th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.9 (7th of 30)

Read about the Wizards

Truth About It

Dec 19

Wednesday’s Magic Word

  • Rob Mahoney of The Point Forward: “[A] player I wouldn’t mind seeing traded this season is Orlando’s J.J. Redick, who seems to have all of the qualities of a deadline-day target. He plays for a team that, while impressive in its efforts thus far, ultimately can’t make best use of his game. He’s in the final year of his deal on a team that really has no business re-signing him with so much extraneous salary already on the books. He does a little of everything, but has great specific value in helping to space the floor with accurate shooting and clever curls. His presence isn’t a defensive concession, and he can handle the ball somewhat reliably. That’s an incredible package of skills that shouldn’t take a king’s ransom to acquire.”
  • The Orlando Magic insist they won’t overlook the Washington Wizards, owners of the worst record in the NBA at 3-19, in tonight’s game.
  • Team defense has been a big reason for the Magic’s surprising 11-13 record.
  • Is a J.J. Redick-Derrick Williams swap a possibility for Orlando at the trade deadline?
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel on the Wizards: “This was supposed to be the season the Wizards made a playoff push, but they’re struggling more than anyone anticipated. Washington has lost six of its last seven games, including Tuesday night’s 100-95 overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks in D.C.”

Dec 17

Recap: Orlando Magic 102, Minnesota Timberwolves 93

Screen Shot 2012-12-17 at 10.55.13 PM

Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

BOX SCORE

Glen Davis’ struggles offensively this season have been well-documented. In short, Davis’ bad shot selection has been the driving force behind his inefficiency.

Despite shooting a career-high 65.4 percent at the rim on 5.2 attempts per game, Davis has undermined his effectiveness on offense because of his senseless desire to play like Dwight Howard from 3-9 feet and Kevin Garnett from 10-15 and 16-23 feet, even though he’s shooting 33.3 percent (2.4 attempts per game), 34.6 percent (2.6 attempts per game), and 33 percent (4.3 attempts per game) respectively from those shot locations.

As a result, Davis’ abysmal True Shooting percentage (48.1 percent), buoyed by a career-high usage rate (25.3 percent), has been an albatross on the Orlando Magic’s offense.

The thing is, Davis isn’t a train wreck offensively because of a lack of talent or skill. It’s because of his aforementioned bad shot selection. Davis’ outing against the Minnesota Timberwolves (28 points on 13-for-17 shooting from the floor) further drives that point home.

Davis had his best offensive performance of the season because he eschewed midrange jumpers in favor of shots at the rim. Davis’ shot chart is what you’d like to see from a big man with a strong inside game.

The thing is, Davis didn’t do anything special. Many times, Davis leaked out in transition, which allowed him to score many easy baskets, and the Timberwolves never adjusted. And in half-court sets, instead of settling for jumpers as it is usually his custom, Davis made a concerted effort to attack the basket off the dribble.

Davis scored 20 of his 28 points on 10-for-11 shooting in the second half and, alongside strong second half defense from the Magic (holding Minnesota to 31.9 percent shooting from the floor after allowing 61 points in the first half), was one of the driving forces behind Orlando’s come-from-behind win after trailing by as many as 15 points midway through the third quarter.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this game, aside from the fact that the Magic won a season-high third consecutive game, is that Davis is his own worst enemy offensively. These types of performances on offense shouldn’t be expected on a nightly basis, but there’s no reason why Davis isn’t capable of taking the same approach every game.

Who knows if Davis will ever realize that.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

“Big Baby” played big against the Timberwolves, putting up an efficient 28 points and delivering a fired-up post-game interview. It’s true that Davis’ decision-making offensively deserves scrutiny a lot of times, but never his heart and hustle.

X-Factor

J.J. Redick had 18 points (8-for-12 shooting from the floor) and seven assists coming off the bench, providing the lightning to Davis’ thunder on offense and letting out a Ric Flair “wooo!” after each made three-pointer.

Defining Moment

Trailing 68-53 with 7:54 left in the third quarter following a Luke Ridnour three-pointer, Orlando outscored Minnesota 49-25 the rest of the way thanks to stifling defense and Davis’ offensive explosion.

Dec 17

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Orlando Magic

Essentials

  • Teams: Minnesota Timberwolves at Orlando Magic
  • Date: December 17, 2012
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Florida
  • Arena: Amway Center

Records

  • Timberwolves: 12-9
  • Magic: 10-13

Probable starters

Timberwolves:

  • Luke Ridnour
  • Alexey Shved
  • Andrei Kirilenko
  • Kevin Love
  • Nikola Pekovic

Magic:

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

Advanced stats

Timberwolves:

  • Pace: 91.9 (16th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 103.8 (16th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.5 (5th of 30)

Magic:

  • Pace: 92.3 (12th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 99.8 (29th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 102.2 (8th of 30)

Read about the Timberwolves

A Wolf Among Wolves

Dec 17

Monday’s Magic Word

  • In December, the Orlando Magic have owned the top defense in the NBA.
  • The Magic earn kudos for handing the Golden State Warriors their lone loss on their six-game East Coast road trip.
  • Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk: “Don’t tell anyone, but coach Jacque Vaughn has [the Magic] playing really good defense lately. That’s how they beat the Warriors this week when the Heat couldn’t.”
  • A look at how J.J. Redick got a wide open layup against the Warriors on Friday.
  • Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio (who recently returned from a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee), and the Minnesota Timberwolves face off against Orlando in tonight’s game.
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel with a status update on Arron Afflalo: “Afflalo tweaked his right knee in the closing minutes of the Magic’s win Saturday night in Charlotte but returned to the court shortly afterward. Afflalo, the Magic’s leading scorer, hasn’t experienced any setbacks since.”
  • Jameer Nelson plays a prank on the Magic rookies.
  • Will Orlando try to sign J.J. Redick to a long-term contract?
  • More from Robbins, who thinks Redick is pulling a prank of his own: “Call me skeptical, but something tells me that J.J. Redick is perpetrating another prank on the all-too-gullible sports media corps. Redick said today he plans pull a page out of pro rassler Ric Flair’s repertoire and adopt Flair’s signature “wooo!” when he makes key 3-pointers from now on.”
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