So Who are the Magic’s Top 10?

If you have been following me around since our big move to Bloguin, you will have noticed my contributions to a little project run by Hoops Manifesto. Jeff Fox has rounded up several of Bloguin’s NBA bloggers to come up with the top 10 players for each franchise. There have been some great debates so far too.

Like is Kobe the top Laker? Did LeBron’s decision to go to South Beach affect his standing among the all-time Cavaliers? And who exactly is the best Clipper of all time? These are all incredibly important questions.

So who exactly is the greatest Magic player of all time? We all have our thoughts as Magic fans, but it is interesting to see who a national panel of blogs would pick. Click on the link above and see the reasoning from the Bloguin panel. But this being a Magic blog, I have my own top 10. So without further delay, here are my top 10 Magic players (the top five was the ballot I submitted to Jeff at Hoops Manifesto).

Enjoy, and happy debating!

How Did These Guys Make It?

Grant Hill: He made the Hoops Manifesto list at No. 10. I am hoping this is the same reason he made the All-Star Game twice as a member of the Magic despite not playing very many games. Really Hill is just a bundle of missed opportunities and disappointment. Top 10 player in Magic history? I don’t think he met the minimum games requirement.

Rashard Lewis: Rashard finished seventh, a clear beneficiary of the team’s recent Finals run and the panels (me included) tendency to rank current players higher than the older guys. Lewis is going to be haunted by the contract he signed unfairly, but he has hardly been an All Star in Orlando.

Top 10

10. Jameer Nelson: The last two seasons have been redemption for Nelson and he has shot up the list of point guards in Magic history. Nelson came in sixth in the Hoops Manifesto, likely our panel’s favoritism toward more recent and current players. Nelson has been good, but he has only been very good for two years. But he could be in for another great season this year.

9. Dennis Scott: Again, how did 3-D not make the Hoops Manifesto list? Scott was Shaq’s rapping partner and one of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history. Scott averaged more than 10 points per game in his entire career in Orlando, nearly won the All Star Weekend 3-Point Shootout on more than a few occasions and had a career-best 19.9 points per game in 1992 (the year before Shaq’s arrival). Scott was a fan favorite and a great personality for the team.

8. Horace Grant: If you read this blog, you have probably heard me refer to my Horace Grant Theory. In short, the theory is Horace Grant and his veteran, championship experience put the Magic over the top and got them to playing a championship level. Grant was instrumental in Orlando’s second round victory over Chicago in 1995 and had a very solid career in the Magic Kingdom. His numbers tailed off in the five years he was in Orlando, compared to when he ran with Chicago, but his veteran poise and defense created the glory days of the 1990s.

7. Scott Skiles: How in the world did the Hoops Manifesto panel leave off Scott Skiles? He set the NBA single game record with 30 assists back in 1990. He had a three-year span where he averaged 17.2 points/8.4 assists, 14.1/7.3 and 15.4/9.4 from 1990-93. He had to give way for Penny Hardaway’s growth, but Skiles was one of the spark plugs for the early Magic. It is no surprise this tough-minded, team-oriented player became a successful head coach.

6. Darrell Armstrong: Outside of Orlando there is not much appreciation for Darrell. He finished ninth in the Hoops Manifesto poll, but Magic fans have an appreciation that goes far deeper than what you can read on the back of his playing card. Armstrong was the heart and soul of the franchise pretty much from 1997 until he left the team in 2003. He was never really a borderline All Star, but he always filled his role as a leader in the locker room and a hustler on the floor. He raised everyone’s energy and play on the court. It is no surprise many Magic fans want his jersey retired.

Click after the jump to see the ordering of my top five!

5. Nick Anderson: “The original Magic player (as the team’s first draft pick) is known throughout the nation as “Nick the Brick.” But you will hardly ever hear any Magic fan speak badly about Nick Anderson. Sure he missed four free throws in Game One of the 1995 NBA Finals that would have inked that win and possibly completely changed that series around (not to mention, Anderson could not hit a free throw after that).

“But most Magic fans remember him for “The Steal.” Game One, 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Michael Jordan and his Bulls were in town looking to steal a game from the top-seeded Magic. In a very tight game, Jordan had his pocket picked by Nick Anderson. It is probably the greatest moment in team history. Anderson still holds the team record for points thanks to his 10-year career with Orlando.”

He was ranked fifth in the Hoops Manifesto poll, showing others recognized his accomplishments with the team.

4. Penny Hardaway: “Penny was an incredible talent who was stripped of his explosiveness because of injuries, a bad attitude and Shaq’s departure. It is easy to forget just how good this guy was. Remember, Orlando actually chose Penny over O’Neal in the summer of 1996 when O’Neal left for Los Angeles.

“Insane right? But Hardaway was that good as arguably the best shooting guard behind Jordan. He could do everything anyone could ask of him. The only problem was he never did it with a smile on his face once the Magic became his team. Orlando fans will probably remember him most for failing to deliver once Shaq left and leading a player revolt against Brian Hill. At least Hill got his revenge when he cut him from the team in 2005 after the Steve Francis trade.”

Penny came in fourth in the Hoops Manifesto poll. Again, it is easy to forget how dynamic Hardaway was as the bad feelings of his departure and his post-Shaq play have muddled our memories of him. Hardaway, before injuries ravaged his knees, ankles and legs, was a perennial All-NBA player. We will never know how good he could have been.

3. Dwight Howard: “Howard has done some incredible things in Orlando in six seasons. He has led the team to the NBA Finals and two Eastern Conference Finals berths in addition to three straight division titles. These are not small feats in Orlando. Howard has seemingly replaced the massive hole left by O’Neal’s departure more than a dozen years ago and made Orlando basketball like it was in the mid-1990s. An incredible feat for a guy whose offensive game has not developed as quickly as some critics would like.

“The fact of the matter is, this guy completely changes the game on defense every time he is on the floor. And he is only 24. Scary.”

Jeff is pretty incredulous that Howard is not No. 1 — he came in No. 2 in the poll — to which I say: patience. Howard will be the best player in team history when all is said and done with his career. I expect him to get a title by the time he leaves Orlando (read: retires).

So what is keeping Howard from claiming the No. 2 or the No. 1 spot (in my mind at least). Howard has shown he can dominate games defensively like no player in recent NBA history. But he still lacks the ability to dominate offensively on a nightly basis. It might be nitpicking at this point. But Howard does need to become the team’s primary offensive option. And it could happen this year. Really my No. 1, 2 and 3 players are all neck and neck since they define the three distinct eras of Magic basketball.

2. Tracy McGrady: “McGrady also left Orlando on unpleasant terms, but what he did in Orlando was simply amazing. Every time you came to the arena, you knew McGrady was going to put on a scoring show. You could watch him high-step his way from the free throw line past mid-court to the 3-point line and know the entire way he was going to pull up and shoot. His opponents certainly knew that and it simply did not matter. He was going to shoot, and he was going to make it.

“T-Mac did not have the help he deserved in Orlando, but the Magic are not likely to see another scorer of his caliber for some time.”

This is my big controversial pick (he finished third in the Hoops Manifesto poll), and like I said, I fully expect Howard to take at least this spot from McGrady when everything is said and done. But let’s take a step back from McGrady quitting on the team in 2004 and think back to everything McGrady accomplished.

T-Mac was, as described above a scoring machine. And I don’t think we appreciate that as much because of the way he left Orlando. Even in the year he supposedly gave up on his team and struggled as “team captain” to keep the Magic from a 21-61 season, McGrady averaged a league-best 28.0 points per game (although it was his worst shooting season in his four-year career in Orlando). It is quite likely the Magic will never see as pure an offensive talent in the franchise’s history. He nearly won the MVP in 2003 on a team that was the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Really? That is unheard of!

It is too bad Grant Hill was injured and Orlando could never get a supporting cast around McGrady to really showcase his talent. You can understand his frustration over the whole situation, although it is hard to sympathize with the way he handled his exit.

1. Shaquille O’Neal: “Sure, Shaq has gone out of his way multiple times to let Orlando know what a “dried-up pond” it is and has probably forever tainted his image in Orlando because of it. But none of that — including decimating the franchise for nearly a dozen years after his departure — has quieted talk of what he has meant to the franchise or talks about some day retiring the No. 32 in the Amway Center rafters.

“Believe me, Magic fans have debated this issue constantly. That is a testament to how good Shaq was in his first four seasons, helping put Orlando on the NBA map with a trip to the 1995 NBA Finals and showing Orlando what it meant to have a professional basketball team.”

No player probably brings up more debate among Magic fans than Shaquille O’Neal. But most Magic fans can agree, Shaq is the best player in the team’s history. He was close to as dominant on defense as Dwight Howard (considering also, the 1990s was a much more physical brand of basketball) and far more dominant on offense. There is a reason why every team at the 1992 Draft Lottery had a jersey underneath their podiums with Shaq’s name written all over it.

O’Neal topped the Hoop Manifesto list for good reason. Shaq put Orlando on the map and made it a basketball city (even if it was only for four years).

What do you think? Let me know your top 10 on Twitter @omagicdaily or on the comments below!

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