Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 87

Dec 07

#ORLrank 5: Darrell Armstrong

AP Photo/Chuck Stoody


1998-1999 50 1502 22.2 5.26 16.0 10.4
Darrell Armstrong’s best season with the Magic

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

Drexler Highkin Rivera Schiller Scribbins
Scale (1-to-10) 8 6 5 5 5
Average rank: 5.8

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 07

The Magic’s secret weapon

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’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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Dec 06

Diminishing returns on Arron Afflalo and Gustavo Ayon

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Dec 06

Recap: Utah Jazz 87, Orlando Magic 81

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images


After rallying in the fourth quarter to beat the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors in the first two games of their West Coast road trip, the Orlando Magic tried to catch lightning in a bottle thrice against the Utah Jazz.

Trailing for most of the game, the Magic put together a comeback in the fourth quarter against the Jazz but fell short. Orlando was down 68-57 heading into the final period and briefly held a 79-78 lead after a Glen Davis dunk at the 3:32 mark, but the Jazz were able to close the Magic out thanks to Al Jefferson.

Jefferson, nicknamed “Big Al,” was big for Utah in crunch time.

After Randy Foye nailed a three-pointer to give the Jazz a 81-79 lead following Davis’ dunk, Orlando was unable to respond on the ensuing possession. On the next trip down for the Jazz, Jefferson’s number was called and he delivered. Jefferson found himself with the ball in isolation on the left wing. Being defended by Nikola Vucevic, Jefferson faced up on the perimeter then backed down on the left block. After a few dribbles, Jefferson got into the paint with little resistance and dropped an easy hook shot over Vucevic.

On the ensuing possession, after Jameer Nelson was fouled while the Magic were in the penalty and connected on both free-throws to make the score 83-81 in favor of Utah, Jefferson’s number was called and he delivered once again. Isolated against Vucevic in the left corner, Jefferson faced up and nailed a 21-foot jumper effectively end the game with 1:51 remaining.

Jefferson’s dominance on offense can’t be overstated. Throughout the game, Jefferson had a healthy diet of hook shots, midrange jumpers, and floaters. There was no one for Orlando that could stop or slow down Jefferson. Jefferson befuddled Vucevic, especially, with uptakes to go along with his great footwork and solid shooting touch.

The same could be said for Paul Millsap, who was equally dominant offensively. For Millsap, nearly everything came easy for him — seven of his eight field goals were layups. Millsap was just too quick for Magic defenders.

By the end of the night, Jefferson finished with 31 points and 15 rebounds, while Millsap had 22 points, four rebounds, three assists, and three blocks. If you want to know why the Jazz won, Jefferson and Millsap were the reasons. They collectively destroyed the Magic’s frontline and left it in shambles.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

Jefferson and Millsap were ruthless and efficient. They combined to score 53 of Utah’s 87 points. The only thing to slow either of them down was when Jefferson hurt his back late in the game after corralling a rebound.

Defining Moment

After the Magic went on a 12-2 run to briefly take a 79-78 lead after a Davis dunk, the Jazz responded by going on a 9-2 run to come away with an 87-81 win.

Dec 05

Preview: Orlando Magic at Utah Jazz


  • Teams: Orlando Magic at Utah Jazz
  • Date: December 5, 2012
  • Time: 9:00 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Florida
  • Arena: EnergySolutions Arena


  • Magic: 7-10
  • Jazz: 9-10

Probable starters


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


  • Mo Williams
  • Randy Foye
  • Marvin Williams
  • Paul Millsap
  • DeMarre Carroll

Advanced stats


  • Pace: 92.6 (12th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 99.9 (28th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 103.8 (11th of 30)


  • Pace: 91.5 (20th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 107.1 (9th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 107.2 (24th of 30)

Read about the Jazz

Salt City Hoops

Dec 04

Tuesday’s Magic Word

  • Jordan White of Hardwood Paroxysm details Maurice Harkless’ defensive impact on the Orlando Magic so far this season: “When Harkless is on the court, opposing teams’ Offensive Rating drops nearly four points, from 105.2 to 101.4. His offense is miles behind his defense, but credit the rookie for realizing that his best shot at early playing time would be to use his long-limbed frame and freaky athleticism to make an impact on defense, and credit Vaughn for rewarding his efforts.”
  • The Magic have a crunch time lineup that is one of the best in the NBA.
  • Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports: “Magic showing some life with quality back-to-back road wins against the Lakers and Golden State. One constant about the young Magic: They play hard.”
  • Watch Glen Davis beat the buzzer in last night’s game between Orlando and the Golden State Warriors.
  • Senior vice president Pat Williams says the Magic made the best deal possible when asked about the aftermath of the Dwight Howard trade.
  • Davis is a star of the night for his efforts (24 points and six rebounds) against the Warriors in the Magic’s 102-94 win.
  • Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk credits Orlando, who beat Golden State on Monday, for not suffering an emotional letdown after taking down Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
  • A look back at the Magic’s fourth quarter heroics against the Warriors.

Dec 04

On being the future of the franchise

Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

A phrase that gets thrown around a lot is “future of the franchise.” We often attribute this accolade to a guy who is a rising star or a guy who started proving himself right out of the gate as an unbelievable and capable talent. Kyrie Irving is the future of the Cavs, for instance. Anthony Davis is the future of the Hornets. We get that.

In recent months, Maurice Harkless’ name has been tossed around by a few writers as possibly being the future of the Magic and you know something? They’re right.

Orlando doesn’t have Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, or any young player close to that caliber. They didn’t cash in on on a blue chipper in the draft that could stand as an honest to goodness “future of the franchise.” At least not yet.

Instead, Orlando assembled a group of young, pretty good players who have to find their own way and carve their own niche in this league. The Magic coupled those youngsters with some veteran players who can show them the way.

We talk about guys like Andrew Nicholson as being a solid talent who has some room to grow and appears to be doing a lot of things right, if not a bit patiently. That right there is what the future of this team is and Harkless fits right into that camp.

Which is a really nice look for an Orlando team that just upped their record to 7-10 with back-to-back wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors. OK, those wins don’t mean a ton in the long run, but what it points to is a Magic team that is clearly not tanking, is full of young (and slightly timid) talent, and that does have a future.

Looking at Moe’s numbers, he seems anything but futuristic. Quietly boasting 4.4 points and 4.3 rebounds a game to go with a modest 12.1 Player Efficiency Rating, Harkless is spending the majority of his 18.4 minutes per game on the court acclimating himself to the climate of the NBA.

After all, it was just weeks ago that the rookie admitted his admiration for Carmelo Anthony and his excitement to play against Kobe Bryant. That doesn’t make him soft, it just makes him regular. He’s not big pimpin’ Kyrie Irving, who hits a million three-pointers in the 2012 Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star Weekend in Orlando his first year in the league. He’s a cerebral, intelligent, basketball player who is slowly working his way into the water instead of cannon-balling into the deep end.

Harkless has all the makings of being one of the best wing defenders in the NBA and he’s earned himself a starting role in the absence of Hedo Turkoglu. These are the types of things you have to look at as a Magic fan and say, “yeah, this guy really is the future of Orlando, or at least part of it, and that future doesn’t seem that bad!”

As guys like Harkless and Nicholson adapt to the league, and start getting more aggressive and more comfortable, they will become dangerous. And just when that starts to happen, look for Orlando to bring on a star (I’m talking a year or two from now). They are slowly developing the future. At least that’s what I’d be doing if I were in the front office.

Watch a few things about Harkless in the next few games. He’s fearless, but not overconfident. He’s smart, but doesn’t over-think. He’s creative, but doesn’t force the issue. Most importantly, he wants to impact this league, but knows he can’t right now.

Harkless can play in this league and his small steps so far have shown us that. Orlando is fortunate enough to have a guy wise enough at only 19 years old (or perhaps well-coached enough) to develop at the right pace.

Dec 04

Recap: Orlando Magic 102, Golden State Warriors 94

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images


Fresh off Sunday’s season-defining victory over Dwight Howard and the Lakers, the Magic continued to impress on their West Coast road trip with another victory over a quality opponent in the Warriors. This one was much more of a back-and-forth affair than the Lakers game, which was pretty well in hand for L.A. until a stunning late comeback by Orlando.

On Monday, the Magic played the Warriors close, leading at the half and tying after the third quarter. It was a combination of balanced late-game execution on offense (particularly on the part of J.J. Redick) and defensive stops that allowed the Magic to come away with the victory and improve their record to 7-10.

Redick was instrumental in putting this game away. He scored 17 of his 22 points on the night during the second half and was hitting almost any shot he took. He set up teammates well too, picking up three of his seven assists in the fourth quarter. His second-half scoring outburst was essential in combating a similar hot streak from Stephen Curry. Curry was on fire in the second half as well, scoring 20 of his 25 points and helping the Warriors stay in the game until Redick and Arron Afflalo closed the door in the final 12 minutes.

Jacque Vaughn’s defensive mindset continued to impress against the Warriors, as the Magic were able to get key stops late to prevent the Warriors from climbing back into the game once Redick opened up a lead with his hot shooting. The Warriors are one of the most balanced teams in the Western Conference and the Magic defense did an excellent job of severely limiting their range of weapons. Three Warriors players (Curry, David Lee, and Jarrett Jack) handled the bulk of the scoring load and Orlando defenders were able to neutralize just about everyone else.

Nikola Vucevic was a monster on the glass at both ends (15 rebounds) and Jameer Nelson was able to play facilitator for everyone despite a cold shooting night (nine assists). Even Gustavo Ayon, who has struggled mightily in recent weeks, was able to make an impact on the defensive end.

This is exactly the kind of win that’s great to see from a growing team. For the most part, nobody made any dumb decisions and the Magic took care of the ball well — committing only eight turnovers for the game.

Even as Redick was handling the lion’s share of the scoring down the stretch, there was a definite sense that he trusted his teammates enough to look to create shots for them and that level of trust extended to every other Magic player.

The Magic were able to execute early and late and got defensive stops when they needed to. That they did it against a team like the Warriors, who are great at home, on the second game of a road back-to-back, makes this win even more satisfying.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

J.J. Redick absolutely carried the Magic in the second half, both scoring and making plays for his teammates. He finished with 22 points on 7-for-13 shooting, five rebounds, and seven assists off the bench.


Turnovers. The Magic did an outstanding job all game taking care of the ball, turning it over only eight times. Not only was their defense able to pressure the Warriors into 14 turnovers, they were also able to capitalize on those mistakes and convert them into 23 points.

That Was … Encouraging

Arron Afflalo had one of his more efficient games of the season, scoring 24 points on 9-for-16 shooting. He did a good job attacking the basket and hit enough of his midrange jumpers that you could live with the shot selection.

Dec 03

Preview: Orlando Magic at Golden State Warriors


  • Teams: Orlando Magic at Golden State Warriors
  • Date: December 2, 2012
  • Time: 10:30 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Florida
  • Arena: Oracle Arena


  • Magic: 6-10
  • Warriors: 10-6

Probable starters


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


  • Stephen Curry
  • Klay Thompson
  • Harrison Barnes
  • David Lee
  • Festus Ezeli

Advanced stats


  • Pace: 92.6 (12th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 99.3 (28th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 103.9 (14th of 30)


  • Pace: 93.3 (5th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 103.8 (16th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 103.8 (13th of 30)

Read about the Warriors

Warriors World

Dec 03

Monday’s Magic Word

  • Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk: “There is no real revenge for Dwight Howard, but that win Sunday night sure tasted good to Magic fans. As it should.”
  • Will the Orlando Magic, after winning an emotional game against Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, suffer a letdown in tonight’s game against the Golden State Warriors?
  • Marc Stein of “The Magic would naturally be thrilled if Sunday night’s events at Staples Center plunged the Lakers into some sort of lasting crisis. Yet even if the misery doesn’t last, Central Floridians won’t soon forget the night that Orlando not only beat Dwight’s new crew but exposed his every flaw.”
  • Glen Davis had the play of the night in Sunday’s game against the Lakers — blocking Pau Gasol’s dunk attempt in emphatic fashion midway through the third quarter.
  • J.J. Redick on Twitter: “Sweet win. That’s for Orlando. On to the next one!”
  • Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated says Orlando was hell-bent on getting revenge on Howard: “Given all the damage Howard wrought — demanding a trade, undermining a general manager, forcing out a coach — it was not enough for the Magic to simply beat him. They had to humiliate him in the process.”
  • Jameer Nelson reflects on the Magic’s win against Howard and the Lakers, noting that the team really wanted to win the game because of what it meant to the city of Orlando and the franchise as a whole.
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