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When the Orlando Magic originally hired Stan Van Gundy as their new head coach in the summer of 2007, as a fan, I didn’t know what to think. To be honest, I knew more about the Magic’s initial coaching hire that offseason, Billy Donovan, than I did about Van Gundy.
Donovan was just coming off his second consecutive national championship at the University of Florida. All I knew about Van Gundy, at that point, was that “he wanted to spend more time with his family” after resigning as head coach of the Miami Heat in the 2005-2006 NBA season after 21 games. Or something like that. I honestly didn’t know if Van Gundy was the right hire or not for the Magic, or if he was a good coach to begin with.
But after five seasons with Orlando between 2008-2012, in which Van Gundy compiled a .657 winning percentage, 31 playoff wins, four 50-win seasons, three Southeast Division titles, one Eastern Conference title (and NBA Finals runner-up), I came to find out that not only was Van Gundy the right hire for the Magic but that he was, or “became” to put it more accurately, one of the best coaches in the league.
As a fan, and later as a writer, I learned a lot from Van Gundy. He helped me better understand the nuances of basketball like never before in my life.
I learned the value of the stretch four
Who would have thought power forward Tony Battie suffering a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder before the start of training camp for the 2007-2008 NBA season would have a profound impact on the Magic?
Without a traditional power forward to pair next to Dwight, Van Gundy made a choice to start Rashard Lewis — Orlando’s prized free agent signee that offseason — at the power forward position, despite the fact that he was previously a sweet-shooting small forward with the Seattle SuperSonics.
It turned out to be, arguably, Van Gundy’s most innovative concept.
Up to that point, the league had never seen a power forward shoot an extreme volume of threes with proficiency. Yet here was Lewis, shooting three-pointers at a dizzying rate while players and coaches around the NBA were trying to adjust and adapt. Even a player like Dirk Nowitzki, early on in his career with the Dallas Mavericks, didn’t come close to attempting the amount of three-point shots per game that Lewis did.
With Van Gundy turning the league on its head and opposing teams trying to solve the stretch four puzzle, a new golden era of Magic basketball began.
With Lewis stretching the four, three things happened for Orlando. First, the Magic’s pick-and-roll attack became very difficult to defend. With opposing power forwards not accustomed to defending a stretch four on the perimeter, on many instances, Lewis found himself open behind the three-point line as Orlando’s ball-handlers executed pick-and-rolls. Second, with Lewis spreading the floor, Dwight got plenty of room to operate in the post. Third, and lastly, with Dwight doing damage on the low block, any double-team had the potential of resulting in a wide-open three-point shot for Lewis.
In essence, Lewis proved to be a vital part of the Magic’s ecosystem offensively.