Orlando Magic: Top 10 players who will determine the Magic’s success this season
Orlando Magic: Top 10 players that will determine Magic's success.
The Orlando Magic have spent the better part of the last decade trying to build a contender around Dwight Howard. Little did they know that it would eventually all fall apart, leaving their franchise in shambles and without a clear direction for the future. After all, it's hard to believe that just four short years ago, this team was in the Finals. And seemingly one solid piece away from finally capturing its first title.
Fortunately, after months of countless trade rumors and media coverage, the Magic finally stepped up, stopped avoiding the inevitable, and sent away their franchise star in a four-team trade. A trade which landed the Magic a bevy of promising young players and the keys to a fresh start.
That said, they are now widely accepted as one of the poorest ensembles in the league and will have literally no expectations for the time being. More or less putting them exactly in the position they need to be in. It will give them an opportunity to develop their young talent immediately, fill their needs through some potential lottery picks and establish an identity moving forward. With a loyal fan base, a new head coach and so many new faces in Orlando, the Magic will have an opportunity to build a new foundation.
With Howard finally out of town, this team can devote itself to seeking out its next great cornerstone. This slide show breaks down the players that will be most essential in giving birth the franchises new foundation this season, and in turn give life to the start of a new era in Orlando.
10. J.J. Redick/ Ishmael Smith
After his polarizing and record breaking career at Duke, J.J. Redick struggled mightily adjusting to the NBA game. As a 6'4 guard with limited mobility, it's taken Redick six years in the league to truly find his role.
Fortunately for the Orlando Magic, now that he's found that role, he's thriving in it. Redick has expanded his game considerably over the last few seasons, showing an ability to put the ball on the floor and to create for his teammates, as well as move very fluidly without the ball.
Redick has seen his minutes and production increase every year since his rookie campaign and that trend should only continue moving forward.
Obviously as far as recognizable names go, Ishmael Smith is the polar opposite to his counterpart on this slide. Fortunately for the Smith, the NBA measures talent, not popularity. After all, I recall a certain point guard in New York exploding onto the scene out of nowhere last season.
While “Ish” has already played for four teams in only four years, the fact he went undrafted out of Wake Forest and has still managed to stay active on an NBA roster speaks volumes to the level of talent teams see in him.
Jameer Nelson is going to need a back up this year and taking a glance at Orlando's depth chart gives every indication that Smith should be the front runner.
9. Maurice Harkless
Say hello to the first member of the deal that sent Dwight Howard to the L.A. Lakers. First and foremost, Maurice Harkless is a rookie, so placing any sizable expectations on this years 15th overall selection would be considered heedless.
That said, Harkless has been a severely underrated piece in the Howard deal. The St. John's prospect has great size at wiry, strong 6'8, and is an extremely capable rebounder for his position, as well as explosive, even in a half court setting. And although he's not a particularly adept shot creator, a quick first step and solid ball handling skills should make him a formidable threat off the dribble.
However, the most valuable aspect to Harkless' game is his do it all defensive mentality. He's solid in the passing lanes and has great awareness as a shot blocker. Now that Howard is no longer in town and the Magic's frontcourt is glaringly undersized, his defense could prove to be a major factor sooner rather than later.
8. Nikola Vucevic
Nikola Vucevic was a key player acquired in the Dwight Howard trade and stands as the lone 7-footer on Orlando's roster. The 21 year old Mongarian center may or may not start this season, depending on where they decide to start Glen Davis. But his size and rebounding prowess alone will be more than enough to warrant some significant playing time immediately.
Vucevic's numbers last season were surprisingly exceptional in a limited role, as he posted an eye-catching 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in only 15.9 minutes of play. If that production managed to remain relative with increased playing time, it would be perfectly reasonable to think Vucevic could potentially being a double-double caliber player in around 30 minutes a game.
7. Hedo Turkoglu
Just four short years ago, Hedo Turkoglu would have been much higher on this list. Unfortunately since that time he's become a shell of the consummate floor general and crafty finisher he once was.
His shooting percentage was absolutely horrid last season, mustering a poor 42% effort from the field and 35% from deep. His three point percentage was actually the lowest it had been since he was a rookie in Sacramento during the 2000-01' season.
Perhaps the worst part of all is the ghastly $23.8 million dollars the Magic owe him over the next two seasons. And with all of that said, you might find yourself wondering why he's even on this list. Truth is Turkoglu simply must play better this season simply for the sake of his paycheck alone. With Howard no longer in Orlando, Turkoglu is going to be the next scapegoat if he does not step up his game and it won't be pretty.
We can only hope that Turkoglu still has a little left in the tank, because it's honestly just hard to watch him now and think back to the player we all witness during the Magic's run to the 2009 NBA Finals.
6. Gustavo Ayon
“Who?..” Yeah, I can't blame you for that one. Gustavo Ayon was acquired in a trade with the New Orleans Hornets for Ryan Anderson, the NBA's most improved player. This trade was more or less a clear cut signal that the Magic are fully committing to the rebuilding process.
Regardless, the 27-year-old Mexican center is a solid player. He averaged a respectable 5.9 points and 4.9 rebounds in 20.4 minutes per game last season. Ayon is also a huge bang for the buck, as he should be a high upside contributor immediately while only costing $3 million over the next two years.
Ayon is an offensive oriented player who boasts great foot work in the low post and has the ability to finish with either hands around the basket. His key role for the Magic should more or less be as a low post scorer and someone who could potentially help draw some defensive attention for Orlando's outside scoring threats.
The upside is certainly there, it's just always a tough call when predicting how quickly pro's from other countries will adjust to the NBA.
5. Andrew Nicholson
Yes, he is a rookie. Yes, it will take time for his game to translate. And yes, it's always advisable to temper expectations with first year players. That said, meet this years dark horse for the Rookie of the Year award.
During the summer league Nicholson appeared slightly apprehensive with the ball in his hands and that's only to be expected. However with the preseason now under way, Nicholson's confidence and aggression seems to be growing by the day.
Nicholson is that rare breed of an extremely versatile, “stretch” power forward. He not only has a wide array of post moves at his disposal, but has the ability to face up and work out of a triple threat stance. At 6'9, he has a solid frame for crashing the glass and shoots the ball with a high release, which should help his shot translate to the increased pressure he'll be facing at the next level.
Not to mention he's in the very enviable position of working out his rookie growing pains with a franchise that focused solely on the future. It also helps that he'll be under the tutelage of Al Harrington for the time being. Someone who should be able to really help mold his play style as they share similar skill sets.
4. Al Harrington
Al Harrington rejuvenated his career as a sixth man with the Denver Nuggets last season. In 27 minutes a game, this wily veteran posted 14.2 points and 6.1 rebounds and showed that he still has what it takes to put a team on his shoulders offensively when his shots falling.
Although his 33% field goal percentage from deep leaves a bit to be desired, he's going to be the best offensive talent on this team for the time being. Whether or not his point production will increase in Orlando's underwhelming offensive scheme is yet to be determined. Regardless, he'll certainly have a positive impact on the Magic's developing players and provide some much needed veteran leadership in the locker room.
3. Arron Afflalo
Arron Afflalo could easily be ranked number one on this list, as he's truly the only notable two way weapon that the Magic currently have. Since his early days with the Detroit Pistons, Afflalo has always been renown for his on ball defense and his tireless work ethic. Although throughout his tenure with the Denver Nuggets he began to shake his label as only a defensive specialist as he continued to broaden his overall game and offensive arsenal, adding a sweet stroke from deep in the corners and a solid first step with the ball in his hands.
This season Afflalo will be tasked with shutting down opposing superstars, whether they be point guards or shooting guards. He will also be a huge asset as an offensive presence moving off the ball seeing as excels running the baseline and using back door screens to find his sweet spots.
With a solid 47% field goal percentage and a career high in points scored last season, Affalo should see a huge leap in production as a focal point of the Magic's offense. Don't be surprised if he manages to eclipse 20 points per game on a nightly basis and makes some serious noise for this years most improved player.
2. Jameer Nelson
For better or worse, Jameer Nelson is going to Orlando's floor general for the next three years. At 30 years of age, Nelson is only just now entering his basketball prime. With Howard finally out of town, he should thrive in a system where he'll finally be allowed to indulge his shoot first mentality.
And although Nelson's dwindling production over the last few years would typically be cause for concern, his play during this years postseason showed he's still very capable of elevating his game to the next level. The fact his production increased from 11.9 points and 5.7 assists during the regular season to the tune of 15.6 points and 6.6 assists during the playoffs indicates he's still got what it takes to be effective when he's given the opportunity to be aggressive.
Going forward Nelson is going to be the the face and focal point of the Magic's offense, a role for which his skill set is tailor made. The the extra attempts per game should help him develop a nice rhythm early in the season and it won't hurt having a former point guard in Jacque Vaughn for a head coach.
1. Glen Davis
Although it's debatable whether or not Glen “Big Baby” Davis is the most important player for the Orlando Magic this season, it's pretty clear however that he'll be their biggest X-factor. After a flat out jaw dropping performance against the Indiana Pacers in last years playoffs, this hefty man will have even heftier expectations.
Davis posted a staggering stat line of 19 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks through their first round exit, only to follow it up with an impressive 14.5 points and 8.5 rebounds so far this preseason.
Marcin Gortat exploded onto the scene with the Phoenix Suns last season after leaving Dwight Howard's shadow. And with Howard no longer in town, Davis is giving us every reason to believe that he could keep that trend going and continue to produce at an all-star caliber level.