Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 91

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.

Aug 08

Jacque Vaughn represents low-risk and high-reward

Photo by Fernando Medina/Orlando Magic

I must admit that I do not know a lot about Jacque Vaughn, Stan Van Gundy’s recently appointed successor as head coach of the Magic. This works both in his favor and against him when evaluating the decision.

On the one hand, he has no real track record of success, and therefore his aptitude as an NBA head coach is hard to set in stone. On the other hand, however, there are no obvious red flags or any real arguments against him other than a lack of experience. And for a team that is (probably) soon to plunge into the depths of a rebuild, a coach with a clean slate makes sense.

Vaughn possesses the one quality that seems forever at the top of many teams’ lists when hiring coaches or front-office executives: tenure in the San Antonio Spurs organization. It’s easy to see why this résumé point is appealing: the Spurs seem to be forever a factory of contention, both in player evaluation and draft acumen, and Gregg Popovich’s ability to turn seemingly any scrub into a valuable on-court contributor.

In his introductory press conference last week, Vaughn spoke glowingly of his time studying under Popovich, and for a novice coach, it’s hard to do better as a mentor. However, praising the hire by saying, “He’ll be fine, he comes from the Spurs’ system” is just as lazy and reductive as slamming it because of his lack of experience. He will have to make his own name as a coach now that he’s been given the reins of his own team.

It will be hard to truly evaluate how good the fit is until we have a clearer picture of what the team’s roster will look like come training camp. This, of course, means addressing the elephant in the room.

Vaughn took a few barely-concealed shots at Dwight Howard during his press conference, being careful to include in his list of traits he looks for out of his players is that they want to play in Orlando. This would seem to suggest that, should Howard begin the 2012-13 season in a Magic uniform, Vaughn’s patience for his now-infamous diva act will be low.

The good news for Vaughn, however, is that he’ll be given a pretty wide berth when it comes to criticism from the media. If the Magic struggle out of the gate with Howard in the fold, it will be hard to blame Vaughn for doing what he can with a superstar desperately wanting out. His real tenure as the Magic’s coach won’t begin until Howard is traded and he’s given a new, fresh roster.

Vaughn’s hire is a risk because of his lack of experience, but the Magic are a team that can afford to take this kind of gamble. They’re in the midst of a long, drawn-out battle with their most iconic player in two decades that has sunk them from perennial contender to also-ran, but also liberated them from any kind of expectations.

I think Vaughn will be good — he has the right people (Popovich and Bruce Bowen) singing his praises, and he’s already won the respect of Magic players including Glen Davis.

When taking a risk on an unknown, an ex-player with a high basketball IQ is a good direction to go in. It’s frustrating that he won’t be able to begin his tenure in earnest until Howard’s situation is sorted out, but for now, the Magic seem to be in good hands.

Aug 02

Ryan Anderson: A sad farewell

Photo by NBA Photos/NBAE via Getty Images

Since its inception, the Most Improved Player award has gone to an Orlando Magic player five times in 27 years. If you include Gilbert Arenas, who earned the award in 2003 while he was in Golden State, 22 percent of the Most Improved Player award winners since 1985 are Magic players — a sort of cosmic and longstanding joke to the Magic faithful who have yet to win a championship. Good job, fellas. Keep it up. You’re improving. Some day, guys. Some day.

If you’re like me, you operate under the assumption that sportswriters voting for awards has almost nothing to do with statistics, and everything to do with narrative popularity and social context. This was seen most clearly in the 2011 MVP voting where (somehow) Derrick Rose took home the award over the likes of LeBron James and the then-beloved Dwight Howard.

We can only assume an award as superfluous as Most Improved Player, an award being voted on by the same cast of writers triumphantly chanting “we love drama,” will at best be as unfounded and inane as the coveted MVP award. After all, these writers are only human, and statistics are just a silly, insignificant game played by smarty-pants blog junkies who have no concept of how the game is meant to be played.

The pragmatist in me wants to write off this award completely, to discard it the same way I trash Academy Award winners for Best Supporting Actress for their role in a miserably unwatchable art film.

But never mind the meaninglessness of the award. Never mind the fallen system these writers use to determine who in fact “improved the most.” Forget the fact that the system itself is an exercise in arbitrary futility. This year, even if it was by accident, when they named Ryan Anderson the Most Improved Player in the league, they got it right. And with one swift move that sent Anderson to New Orleans in exchange for Gustavo Ayon in a sign-and-trade, the Orlando Magic once again got it wrong — but that’s another topic altogether.

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Aug 01

Orlando Magic’s 2012-13 preseason schedule released

Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Via Orlando Magic press release:

The Orlando Magic will open the 2012 preseason in Mexico City, Mexico on Sunday, October 7 against New Orleans. Orlando then hosts its first preseason game on Thursday, October 11 vs. Philadelphia. Tip-off is 7 p.m.

The Magic will play a total of eight preseason games, including four at Amway Center. The other three games are Friday, October 19 vs. Indiana, Sunday, October 21 vs. San Antonio and Friday, October 26 vs. Houston.

Orlando Magic season tickets, partial plans, group and single-game Amway Center suite rental opportunities are on sale now. Ticket highlights for the 2012-13 season in the Amway Center, named SportsBusiness Journal’s 2012 Sports Facility of the Year, include: 2,500 seats priced $20 or less, 8,000 seats priced $40 or less and 10,000 seats priced $50 or under. A limited number of season tickets are available through the Orlando Magic by calling 407-89-MAGIC or visiting orlandomagic.com.

Orlando opens training camp on October 1 at the Amway Center. The Magic’s complete schedule is available through their official website: orlandomagic.com. All local telecasts will be available in high definition on FOX Sports Florida. Orlando opens its regular season on Friday, November 2 at home against Denver (7 p.m.).

Click here for the 2012-13 preseason schedule.

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