Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 90

Aug 30

Dwight Howard and the 99 percent

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s hard enough to believe there is an award called the Rich and Helen Devos Community Enrichment award. Given the turmoil Dwight Howard put Magic fans through in both wanting the beloved Stan Van Gundy fired and then getting traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s hard to remember the Dwight Howard who was once a shoo-in to win the award.

But think back to the start of the 2011-2012 lockout-shortened season and remember the goofy, fun-loving, and dominant player, fresh off a career year in 2011 which culminated in him taking home the distinction of Defensive Player of the Year for a league-record third consecutive season.

One thing was clear. The Orlando Magic was Dwight’s team and nobody had any problem with that. He was the future, not the problem. He was the hero, not the thorn in the side of a city. He not only won Community Enrichment awards and Defensive Player of the Year awards but he probably deserved more individual accolades, particularly the MVP.

Then things took a turn for the worse. The Magic became average. The lack of new blood and perpetual lethargy from veteran players wore out the franchise. Orlando was going nowhere as a team. You know the rest of this story. One quick (yet seemingly drawn out) downward spiral later and Dwight is the enemy, posted up in his ivory tower in Los Angeles.

But let’s not make the mistake of forgetting the Dwight Howard that was almost universally praised at the end of the 2010-2011 season.

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Aug 30

Dwight Howard’s lasting impact in Orlando

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Dwight Howard is, by some distance, the greatest player in Orlando Magic history. Beyond everything that has transpired in the past two years, beyond the most mutually embarrassing unhappy-superstar saga this side of Vince Carter, that is the ultimate takeaway from the eight seasons he spent with the Magic. He gave the franchise a newfound respectability, a signature player utterly unlike any of his era.

Several things set Howard apart from the other superstar-level talents that have worn the blue and white. The first, of course, is his longevity in Orlando.

Shaq bolted for Hollywood after four seasons and the dominance of his Lakers-era peak has reduced the Magic years, despite a franchise-first Finals appearance, to (at best) secondary status in his body of work.

Penny Hardaway’s status as the franchise’s all-time signature guy was partly doomed with Shaq’s departure, as he was forced to take on a greater load without the benefit of a big man that proficient. But it was mostly a left knee injury during the 1997-1998 season, which needed microfracture surgery (back when not many people in the NBA knew what that procedure was), that short-circuited Penny’s career and affected his standing in the pantheon of Magic greats.

Like Shaq, T-Mac only spent four seasons in Orlando and while his staggering, breathtaking season in 2003 is the highest individual peak any Magic player has had, his teams didn’t do much in the way of winning playoff games, making it considerably more difficult to reminisce about his apex as a part of any greater cause.

Which leaves Howard, who not only put together the phenomenal individual seasons that have been covered elsewhere during Dwight Week at Magic Basketball, but also shepherded the Magic to a period of title contention, including one trip to the Finals.

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Aug 29

Dwight Howard’s last game in a Magic uniform

Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Dwight Howard is a phenomenal basketball player and it’s a real shame his final game in a Magic jersey was not legendary, not impressive, and not even on par with what he is capable of.

Orlando will remember Dwight in several different ways. On the one hand, he was the lovable center, ever-devoted to the city of Orlando. On the other hand, he was a scoundrel, an indecisive child who got his coach fired and then left. Even another voice, the reasonable voice, is bidding Dwight good luck in Los Angeles and claiming it’s probably a better fit for him.

The one thing you won’t hear anyone remember him for in Orlando is what actually happened on the floor. That’s what’s so crazy about Dwight’s last game in an Orlando Magic uniform on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers. It doesn’t matter in the least what happened in that game. It doesn’t matter that he was playing with a jacked up back, doesn’t matter that he shot 28.6 percent from the field, doesn’t matter that he somehow shot 12-for-18 from the free-throw line, and doesn’t matter that he recorded a big ol’ double-double (20 points and 22 rebounds).

Still, though, there’s tons of intrigue in this game.

The ESPN broadcast crew on April 7 did everything in their power to uphold Dwight’s status as a superstar. Even in his early struggles, they pointed out the things he was doing right. How often do we need to hear that a screen is not something we’ll read about in the stat sheet? The truth is Dwight did a lot of things right in the game. He also did a lot of things wrong, a lot of things lazy, and a lot of things that make an optimist like me say, “thank God we don’t have to endure that style of play any longer.”

Playing time
Dwight played 44 minutes in this game. That’s seriously ridiculous. The guy played more than 44 minutes in only four other games during the regular season (out of the 54 games he played in last season). So, if you’re the sadistic type, rest in the fact that at least Van Gundy got his money’s worth out of Dwight in their last dance together.

Dwight’s game against the Sixers reminds me of that scene in “Miracle” when Herb Brooks made the USA hockey team run wind sprints (“Herbies”) over and over after tying Norway in an exhibition game.

“Again…”

“Again…”

“Again…”

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Aug 28

Dwight Howard, defense, and dominance

Photo by Fernando Medina/Getty Images

“Old Indian game. It’s called, uh, put the ball in the hole.” – Randle McMurphy, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

Basketball really is as simple as an in-character Jack Nicholson says it is. Put the ball in the hole, stop the other guys from putting the ball in the hole, and you’re all good.

It’s only us loonies that insist on making it more than it is -– a story about humans, mental achievements intertwining with physical capabilities, or the guys with the colors I like against the guys with the colors I hate.

The trick to putting the ball in the hole is getting there, because –- here’s the catch -– the hole is pretty high in the air. 10 feet, to be exact. Most of us are not 10 feet tall, not remotely, not even with our hands stretched up high.

But if you can get your Chief Bromden lookalike to stand under the basket and hold the net shut, you can shut off the other team.

Dwight Howard won the genetic lottery, a 6-foot-11 behemoth with springs for legs and boulders for shoulders. But to dismiss his defensive dominance as the natural conclusion to the combination of his parents’ DNA is lazy and ignorant. True, Howard’s sheer being is domineering on the basketball court as we approach the rim –- even as an 18-year-old rookie with almost no idea how to play the game, that build and athleticism were enough to average 1.7 blocks in 32.6 minutes per game -– but over the years, Howard has become the first player in NBA history to win three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards because of his ever-increasing understanding of how to take that Apollonian structure and utilize it with devastating effects.

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Aug 28

The evolution of Dwight Howard’s post game

Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

For the consensus best player at his position, Dwight Howard sure hears a ton of criticism, not all of it unwarranted. He doesn’t take the game seriously enough. He needlessly blocks shots out-of-bounds instead of tipping them to teammates. He can’t make free throws and is thus a liability to his team in fourth quarters. His lack of back-to-basket moves limits him offensively.

I aim to address that last criticism of Howard’s, which has become a talking point for fans, analysts, and journalists throughout Howard’s eight-year career. Howard is by no means the game’s most polished back-to-basket center, but he’s not the glorified Tyson Chandler some folks make him out to be either.

To call Howard’s post game “clunky” is to be charitable to the six-time All-Star. Though he possesses excellent speed and quickness for a man his size, Howard is nothing if not deliberate on the block as he reads defenses.

A few years ago, Howard only had a jump hook in his arsenal; he’d pound his way to the goal, elevate, and toss the ball near the rim. He could do this move with either hand on either block, but it was his only weapon. A savvy defender could exploit his lack of versatility, as well as his famously top-heavy frame, by lowering his center of gravity to leverage Howard further from the basket, giving help defenders more time to dig down for a steal and making Howard’s eventual shot attempt a lower-percentage proposition.

Howard is still methodical, and even boring, when he operates in the post. What’s changed is the variety of moves at his disposal. Howard’s learned to counter the leveraging maneuver with quick spins to the baseline. He has a drop step that he can use on either block to shed defenders. He’s added a rolling hook, albeit one that’s much more effective going left-to-right with his right hand, as well. Regardless of the move he uses to set up his shots near the rim, he’s able to arc his shot more consistently in the past with fewer line-drive misfires.

Put simply, Dwight Howard is not utterly hopeless in the post as some folks in and around the game might have you believe. He’s neither refined nor spectacular in this part of his game, but he’s effective.

Evan Dunlap is the founder and managing editor of Orlando Pinstriped Post.

Aug 27

The Magic’s 2009 Finals run: starring Dwight Howard

Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

If you were to compare the current incarnation of Dwight Howard to any other player in NBA history, at least from a narrative-based perspective, the closest parallel would probably be post-Decision LeBron James. Like LeBron, Dwight was drafted straight out of high school, developed into a dominant superhuman, took his team to the Finals, couldn’t replicate that success, and ultimately, departed on the wings of a PR catastrophe to a hated superteam in a glitzier market.

LeBron, however, made the Finals in 2007 with a team heavily featuring the likes of Eric Snow and Drew Gooden; his subsequent failures in the years after that came with far superior teams. Dwight’s Finals team — the 2009 Magic –- may not have been good enough to win it all, but they were a fascinating and successful combination of players and personalities made possible only by the fella in the middle and his friend on the sidelines.

Four-out, one-in
The plan was as simple as it was brilliant.

Even three years ago, when the complaints about his post game were based in fact more than ignorance, Dwight Howard was the sort of interior presence that weighed an entire court in his direction. Strong and agile, capable of elevating from any given spot and arriving with the ball at the rim, the premise was simple –- get Dwight either near the rim or rolling to it and you immediately solicit a response from all five defenders. It was within this defensive scramble that Orlando’s offense thrived and it was this constant set of circumstances that their personnel was set to exploit.

The team’s starting lineup was a perfect reflection of that philosophy.

Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu could run the pick-and-roll with Dwight and were well-versed at either finding him diving towards the rim or pulling up themselves for a jumper on the perimeter within the space that his movement created.

Rashard Lewis, the prototypical stretch four, would spot up off the ball, ready to benefit from the chaos by releasing a wide-open three.

Courtney Lee –- as were Mickael Pietrus and J.J. Redick when they came off the bench –- was an athletic swingman with a good outside shot who would fill the seams created by the constant ball movement without complaining about his role.

If the offense was a Dwight-centric system, full of pieces that could react and respond to what his sheer presence created, the defense was even more dependent on his performance –- and the results were even better.

Dwight commanded the paint, and though many of his teammates were limited defenders outside of it, the direction of Stan Van Gundy would send them flying out to the three-point line, preventing opponents from making shots worth one point more, while knowing that Dwight is behind them to cover for their eager close-outs. Howard played his part to perfection –- in 2009, he led the league in blocks and rebounds per game and was second in total rebound percentage and block percentage. And to top it all off, the Orlando Magic ranked first in Defensive Rating during the regular season. All those statistics allowed Dwight Howard to take home his first Defensive Player of the Year award.

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Aug 24

Dwight Week

In light of Dwight Howard being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers on August 9, thus ending the most successful era in Magic franchise history, Magic Basketball will dedicate a week (beginning on Monday) to look back and reflect on Dwight’s tenure with the Orlando Magic.

Topics will range from his on-court fit with the Lakers alongside Mike Brown, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash, a retrospective look at Dwight during the Magic’s 2009 Finals run, analysis of the trade between Orlando and Los Angeles, and more. Call it “Dwight Week.”

Stay tuned.

Aug 15

Magic re-sign Ish Smith

Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Via Orlando Magic press release:

The Orlando Magic have re-signed free agent guard Ish Smith, General Manager Rob Hennigan announced today. Per team policy, terms of the deal are not disclosed.

Smith (#10, 6’0”, 175, 7/5/88) played in 26 combined games last season with both Golden State and Orlando, averaging 2.8 ppg., 1.6 apg. and 1.3 rpg. in 9.0 mpg. He played in six games with the Warriors, averaging 4.5 ppg., 1.5 rpg. and 1.5 apg. in 10.5 mpg., before being waived on Jan. 13. Smith was signed as a free agent by Orlando on Feb. 2. In 20 outings with the Magic, he averaged 2.3 ppg., 1.6 apg. and 1.3 rpg. in 8.6 mpg. Smith also played in one playoff game (May 2), tallying one rebound and one blocked shot in five minutes.

Aug 10

Dwight Howard traded to Lakers

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Via Orlando Magic press release:

The Orlando Magic have acquired six players and five future draft picks in a four-team, 12-player trade, general manager Rob Hennigan announced today.

Orlando acquired guard Aaron Afflalo and forward Al Harrington from Denver, forward Maurice Harkless and center Nikola Vucevic from Philadelphia, as well as forward Josh McRoberts and guard/forward Christian Eyenga from the Los Angeles Lakers.

In addition, the Magic have also acquired five additional draft picks over the next five years. Orlando receives: a second round pick from Denver in 2013, a first round pick from either Denver or New York in 2014, a conditional first round pick from Philadelphia and a conditional second round pick from the L.A. Lakers in 2015, and a conditional first round pick from the L.A. Lakers in 2017.

The Magic have traded center Dwight Howard, guard Chris Duhon and forward Earl Clark to the L.A. Lakers, while sending guard Jason Richardson to Philadelphia. As part of the deal, Philadelphia has acquired center Andrew Bynum, while Denver has acquired guard/forward Andre Iguodala.

“A primary goal for our basketball team is to achieve sustainability while maintaining a long-term vision. We feel this deal puts us in a position to begin building in that direction,” said Hennigan. “In addition to the six players joining our team, we will be in a position to maximize our salary cap flexibility in the near future, as well as utilize the multiple draft picks we have acquired going forward.”

“Dwight Howard accomplished tremendous success on and off the court during his eight years in Orlando,” said Hennigan. “We wish him, Chris (Duhon), Earl (Clark) and Jason (Richardson) all the best in the future.”

Aug 09

Magic sign Kyle O’Quinn

Photo by Fernando Medina/Orlando Magic

Via Orlando Magic press release:

The Orlando Magic have signed rookie forward Kyle O’Quinn, General Manager Rob Hennigan announced today. Per team policy, terms of the deal are not disclosed.

O’Quinn was selected in the second round (49th overall) of the 2012 NBA Draft. He averaged 8.8 ppg. and 6.2 rpg. in 21.4 mpg. during last month’s AirTran Airways Orlando Pro Summer League.

O’Quinn (#9, 6’10”, 240, 3/26/90) appeared in 129 career games at Norfolk State University, averaging 12.5 ppg., 8.5 rpg. and 2.2 bpg. in 27.3 mpg. and shot .553 (610-1,104) from the field during his collegiate career. He was the 2012 Lou Henson recipient as the nation’s top mid-major player. O’Quinn was the 2011-12 MEAC Player of the Year and a two-time MEAC Defensive Player of the Year (2010-11, 2011-12). He was also named MVP of the 2012 Portsmouth Invitational, averaging 11.7 ppg., 11.7 rpg. and 3.7 bpg. in three games.

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