NBA Blog Preview: Orlando Magic

The 2010-11 season is right around the corner. No, it is like literally right around the corner. Training camps are open, preseason games have started and we can finally stop conjecturing and start making sense of this summer of upheaval. The new season will be much different than the old. So let’s start thinking 2011 and all the hope and promise that comes with it.

Jeff Clark of CelticsBlog.com has organized the NBA Blog Preview, consisting of all the best basketball blogs across the Internet, to help everyone get ready. Today, it is the Magic’s turn…

Orlando Magic
Last Year’s Record: 59-23 (lost in Eastern Conference Finals)
Key Losses: Matt Barnes
Key Additions: Quentin Richardson, Chris Duhon

1. What Significant Moves Were Made During the Offseason

Orlando made its big moves last offseason in bringing in Vince Carter, Ryan Anderson, Matt Barnes and Brandon Bass. This season is all about fostering the cohesiveness that made last year’s team successful and building off of it. There was a lot of restlessness in Orlando for the team’s relative inactivity (and everyone in the Southeast Division was relatively inactive compared to Miami) this offseason. The moves that were made were more tweaks and minor adjustments rather than wholesale changes.

Quentin Richardson will compete for the spot in the starting lineup vacated by Matt Barnes. Richardson does not have the outward rugged demeanor of Barnes, but he is only a step below Barnes as a defender. The big upgrade is on the 3-point line. Barnes was exposed for his poor 3-point shooting throughout the Eastern Conference Finals. Orlando will not have that worry this year thanks to Richardson. He undoubtedly makes Orlando a better team offensively now that the team can surround Howard with four shooters.

Chris Duhon should also provide a boost off the bench. Last year, the Magic used Jason Williams as their backup point guard. He was very serviceable and had some big games, including starting for Jameer Nelson early in the season. But when it came to the postseason, Williams virtually disappeared as Nelson flourished and the team was noticeably worse when he stepped in. Williams is now the third point guard as Stan Van Gundy hopes Duhon can become a more consistent option at the point.

What Duhon lacks in 3-point shooting ability, he makes up for in his ability to read the pick and roll, Orlando’s bread-and-butter play, and penetrate and get to the basket. His 3-point shot should also improve with the presence of Dwight Howard and the other shooters in the lineup. He should get more open looks, in other words. Duhon likely will not have any spectacular games, but he will be a very solid player and consistently give Orlando a good option at point guard. His experience as a starter should also ease the load on Nelson, who is susceptible to injury.

2. What are the Team’s Biggest Strengths?

There is obviously one thing Orlando has that most other teams would give up almost all of their appendages for: Dwight Howard.

Howard is the basis on which this whole team turns. He single-handedly changes games defensively and makes even the most mediocre defenders look really good. It is hard to erase his effect on a game — and harder still not to notice. His presence is by far Orlando’s biggest strength and other teams have to do everything they can to eliminate his presence.

As good as Howard is on defense, everyone is waiting for him to become a dominant post player. He is slowly but surely getting there and that could spell a lot of trouble for teams in the NBA. The paint is his domain and opponents venture in there at their own risk.

What he does makes his teammates better. His post up play frees up space for shooters — and Orlando has tons of them. His shot-blocking covers up the mistakes of his teammates on defense. There are so few true centers remaining in the NBA and Howard is by far the best of them. The scary part is he will only be turning 25 in December. Yikes.

Everything Orlando does right centers around Howard. Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy have built a team and created a scheme to best take advantage of his skills. The defensive strategy is to play good defense, but funnel things in toward where Howard is roaming. The offensive strategy is to feed the ball in the post and work the ball outside to the 3-point line and then around the horn for an open shot or driving lane. Every defense has to know where Howard is though lest they become a victim of his next poster.

3. What are the Team’s Biggest Weaknesses?

Orlando’s big weakness continues to be its ability to create points from the perimeter. Everything is nice and efficient if Orlando can get around pick and rolls and get the ball inside to Dwight Howard. But what happens if a team can defend Howard one on one or switch screens and keep guys like Jameer Nelson or Vince Carter out of the paint?

What the Magic really lack is a guy who can get you 20 points a night no matter what and score the game-winning basket for you. They lack a go-to perimeter scorer. Carter was supposed to be that guy when Orlando brought him in last summer. But, for whatever reason, he struggled to integrate into his new team and took a backseat to the more established players on the roster. That will not do this year.

The Magic were exposed in the Eastern Conference Finals when Howard, who played really well in that series, was bottled up and no one could get an open three. The Magic needed a way to generate points and simply could not. Luckily the defense is able to hold the tide on most nights until the offense comes around. But in that Boston series, the offense never really came around.

One thing Orlando does extraordinarily well is move the ball. This might be akin to calling the team to be a little more selfish. Carter, and to a certain extent Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis, need to attack the basket a little more looking to score and pass. Outside of the pick and roll, the Magic do not really look to attack from the perimeter often. That is where Carter needs to become the player he has been his entire career and bolster Orlando’s perimeter scoring.

The Magic are more likely going to remain a very balanced scoring team (there are four guys on the roster who can get you 20 on any given night, plus one or two more who will have a 20-point game here and there). But when it comes to crunch time and you cannot rely on Howard to make free throws, someone has to step up and generate offense in an isolation set.

4. What are the Goals for this Team?

The goal for Orlando is quite simple: an NBA championship. This team expects nothing less from this season. Orlando has been close to the top of the mountain the last two seasons and patience will start wearing thin — especially since the team is moving into the new building — if the Magic cannot at least get back to the Finals this year. The window is open, but it closes fast and (unfortunately) people are already beginning to fear Dwight Howard’s impending free agency.

A championship fixes any lingering doubts about the makeup of the roster, the lineup, the Rashard Lewis experiment, Jameer Nelson at point guard and, perhaps, Dwight Howard’s future. There is a lot bubbling underneath the surface in Orlando. Another disheartening playoff loss could lead to a quick rebuild in Orlando.

5. Can the Magic Play Big?

Ask any Magic fan one thing they would like to see Stan Van Gundy do more of and surely it will be: play Brandon Bass more. So far in the preseason, Van Gundy has not been shy about moving Rashard Lewis to the three and trying various lineups with Brandon Bass at the four. Bass was a fan darling because of the potential of having a bruising power forward to help Dwight Howard out down low. But that never materialized.

Bass was often out of position on defense and Stan Van Gundy never really trusted him. It did not help he did not fit the team’s 4-out/1-in style and could not hit a 3-pointer. So Bass remained buried on the bench for much of the 2009-10 season.

He is vowing to be different and ready this year to fill his role and provide Orlando some muscle underneath the basket in support of Howard and Marcin Gortat. And, to Stan Van Gundy’s credit, he is willing to give him a shot. Whether that shot lasts beyond the preseason is another question.

With Van Gundy vowing to play Rashard Lewis more at the 3, it seems inevitable that Bass will play more. For Bass to do this successful, he has got to rotate better on defense and be there to help clean up rebounds when Dwight Howard goes for blocks. He will also have to become more efficient in the post.

The roar for Bass to get more playing time will ebb and flow with how well the Magic play. It is a lineup Orlando should go with every once in a while and depending on matchups. But Bass should get his chance this year.

Predicted Record: 59-23

Be sure to check out the previews over at Magic Basketball and Orlando Pinstriped Post.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily

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