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Boston Celtics

Orlando Magic: An Illusion or a Real Contender?

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Were the Magic an illusion last season?

When writers write about the Magic the natural (and predictable) thing to do is make a play on the word ‘Magic’. Spells, tricks, illusions, etc.

After seeing what people think about this team after last season, it might be appropriate to go with the illusion analogy.

Some say the Orlando Magic are absolutely for real. But there is a strong core of doubters. Legit title contender or trickery?

Van Gundy’s team certainly cast a spell on every opponent, save their last one, and made a number of new fans. Were the new fans hypnotized into imagining that a team was there…that wasn’t?

Stan Van Gundy, the ‘master of panic’, according to a large center that now plays for Cleveland, had a team that didn’t …..panic throughout a strong playoff run. So much for the label.

After losing to L.A. 4 games to 1 the Magic are suffering a bit of the same doubt that the Cavaliers did, the year they were ousted 4-0 by the Spurs. Is this really a potential title team? In keeping with my contenders theme…..What are the team weaknesses?

There are two theories in play….

1) They are absolutely legit. They just rose to unexpected heady heights and couldn’t quite finish against a team that was more determined. That was even with Rafer Alston, not Jameer Nelson running the show. This year they will be more prepared mentally to go all the way. They have a stronger overall roster this season.

2) They are pretenders to the throne. Paul Pierce tweeted that they were poodles in the Finals. The Celtics being without Leon Powe and Kevin Garnett are the only reason they made it that far. Vince Carter is not better for this team than Turkoglu.

Defense

Basketball-Reference rated them #1 with their defensive rating (101.9).  That defensive rating was the team’s best since the 99-00 season when some guy who supposedly doesn’t know anything about defense was the team’s coach (Doc Rivers). It was the 3rd best in team history.

Comparatively, they finished 6th in points allowed (94.4), a big leap from the 99 ‘points per’ of the year before.

For a team that boasts the league’s best rebounder, they were only the 9th  best (+1.2) rebounding team in differential (how much they out rebounded their opponent).  They moved up a bit to 7th best on the critical defensive rebound list (+1.7).

Their inside-outside offense has been criticized by a few. Their lack of a strong rebounding classic power forward was noted.

Changes:

Gone: Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston, Tony Battie, Tyronn Lue,

Added: Vince Carter, Ryan Anderson, Brandon Bass, Matt Barnes, Jason Williams, Linton Johnson, Morris Almond

Analysis:
They lost 2/5ths of their starting five with ‘Mr. Versatile’ Hedo Turkoglu, and a young talented guard in Courtney Lee.

But they have added a much stronger group of role players. This team should be a team to reckon with. Others may wonder, but there is little question in my mind that they got stronger.

32 year old, 6’ 6” Vince Carter is the key acquisition. They gave up the future for the present. He can create his own shot at any time, will draw double teams and isn’t afraid to take the big 4th quarter shots. He gives them a dangerous offensive player they didn’t have before, and I don’t even like VC. How they use him in the 4th quarter will help determine how much better this team got. He will get team mates open. Will he pass to them?

6’ 8” Brandon Bass will help Howard rebound and inside, and gives the team a more physical dimension.

6’ 10” Ryan Anderson is a sleeper throw in. The kid has talent and had some solid moments, though I have to see how they handle him here. Not sure where he gets his minutes, with Lewis and Bass playing the same position. More offense than defense, but a defense stretcher with the long ball.

6’ 7” Matt Barnes gets thrown into the mix with Mickael Pietrus for SF minutes. In addition to being a nice hustle player, the Magic have doubled the fouls to throw at Kobe, Lebron, and Paul Pierce.

6’ 1”   Jason Williams (34 years old in November, and a  retired for a year) is a question mark at this point, while 35 year old Anthony Johnson is the back up for Jameer Nelson. So back up point guard is a concern for the Magic, if Nelson goes down.

Otherwise, this team has solid depth at every other position. Even returning Marcin Gortat can do well for a short period if Howard goes out.

Weaknesses/questions:

Funny to say this but…Dwight Howard’s weaknesses got exposed in the playoffs. His lack of a go-to move and fairly raw offensive game hurts the team and his growth. Push him a few feet out and he is rendered quite ineffective. Whatever Clifford Ray did for him hasn’t progressed as much since Ray left for Greener pastures.

Howard is a force of nature on defense. But he is more athleticism than smarts. Defensively, certain teams like the Lakers (and Celtics) have figured out to neutralize him just enough to minimize his fantastic natural ability.

Carter will replace Hedo’s shot making, but what about ball movement, defense and chemistry? Will Van Gundy get a ‘bought in’ Vinsanity?

Can a team have too many good-but-not-great players? Will everyone be kept happy with their minutes?

While Jameer Nelson finally looked like the leader he had been saying he was, we still don’t know how he will respond to leading his team in the playoffs (though he did comeback to play in the Finals).

Summary
Though Dwight Howard will only be 24 in December, and Jameer Nelson is only 27, they went for VC and experience, to go ‘all in’ now, after coming so close last season.

Other teams power forwards will still hate to guard Rashard Lewis at the three point line, and they have other long ballers. Carter can penetrate, or drill it long. As Ray Allen did, he will have to learn to dribble less, and make quicker decisions with the ball.

They have a bunch of shooters, Pietrus proved to be remarkably clutch as well as a good defender, and Howard is starting to hit free throws. If Nelson and Lewis can become cold blooded shot makers in the 4th quarter, this team is right there.

My feeling is that they are not quite there, but….

If Van Gundy can get the additions to fit in a smart way, the difference is measured in inches now, not feet.

Thomas Halzack