Orlando’s first round exit has the Magic fan’s self-esteem pretty low. The Dwight Howard trade rumors remain rampant and the franchise’s future remains unsettled. This is a team that still has championship aspirations and championship expectations, even if the talent level on the roster, last year’s results and the experts say they do not.
The Magic are caught between the struggle to keep the championship window open and having it slam shut in their face.
Put aside the trade rumors and focus on the roster the Magic has currently for the moment. It is hard to do sometimes. Much like last year, there is a good team somewhere in the Magic’s current roster. The question is whether that team will every consistently show itself.
Hedo Turkoglu has exemplified this maddening inconsistency as well as anyone on the roster.
On one night, Turkoglu looked completely shut down and somewhat timid offensively against Kevin Durant and the Thunder, scoring eight points on 3-for-10 shooting. Only two of those shots came at the rim and five from beyond the arc. The next night against a much weaker Rockets team, Turkoglu drew comparisons to the guy that led the Magic to the 2009 Finals. He scored 23 points on 10-for-14 shooting, adding six rebounds and four assists for good measure. Turkoglu recorded 3-for-4 shooting at the rim, 2-for-2 shooting from 3-9 feet and 3-for-4 shooting on 3-pointers.
Monday saw a much different and aggressive Hedo Turkoglu. The kind of versatile player the Magic expect and remember from those Finals runs.
“There’s no reason he can’t play like that,” Stan Van Gundy said after Monday’s game. “I think sometimes, and I talked to him about this as soon as the lockout was over, I think some guys just sort of decide to take on a different role. Like now, OK, I’m a role player and he is not attacking as much.
“I told Turk this, one of the points John [Hollinger] made, his efficiency last year, if you’re looking at his field goal percentage and his assists, all of those things, there’s really not much difference from when we went to the Finals. The difference is, he wasn’t trying to do as much. He was just sort of passive. Part of it is an energy thing, but part of it is a mentality that You’re a great player, make plays. I thought he did that tonight. And we need him to do that on a consistent basis.”
Van Gundy had mentioned a few times that he has been disappointed with Turkoglu’s energy on some days and that it has been inconsistent recently. It is not a question of effort though. Turkoglu is trying to become that consistent player the Magic relied on three seasons ago.
Earlier this offseason, I highlighted Hedo Turkoglu and how the Magic need him to make that bounce back to his 2009 level of aggression. His numbers are surprisingly similar to that 2009 season — he averaged 16.8 points per game and posted a 22.5 percent assist rate in 2009. You can see from the way the Magic played against the Rockets what a dynamic Turkoglu could do.
J.J. Redick said Turkoglu is a dynamic player and that when he is shooting the ball well he becomes incredibly difficult to defend because of his height and passing ability. Jason Richardson and Glen Davis echoed those sentiments.
“He’s that guy for us,” Davis said. “He’s that guy who can create his own shot. He’s that guy when we need a bucket, we can go to him. He’s that guy when the clock is down and we need a big bucket.
“As a team, we got to get him more involved, getting him in pick and rolls and doing what he does best. Dwight [Howard is] our first option. Turk is our second option. J-Rich is our third option. Jameer [Nelson] is our fourth option. Ryan [Anderson] is our fifth option. And that’s how it needs to go. Everybody needs to know their role and come out there and do what they do best.”
Consistency is going to have to be something Turkoglu continues to work on and improve. It is clear that for the Magic to realize their potential it will have to come with Turkoglu playing aggressive and at his near best. The near best we saw in those deep Playoff runs in 2008 and 2009.
And that is something the Magic are harping on and continuing to work on.
This is where adding a guy like Glen Davis can help. I mentioned earlier in training camp how impressive it was that Davis was trying to take control of the team and use his experience with the Celtics to the team’s advantage. Davis is still a young player, so he will not have a complete leadership role like veterans Dwight Howard or Jameer Nelson have on the team.
Getting to consistency is all part of that championship attitude Van Gundy is trying to rebuild in Turkoglu and in the franchise.
The Magic are in a bit of an identity crisis as they grasp for straws to regain some championship swagger. It starts on defense — Orlando’s defense has not been as dominant as in years past under Van Gundy in the early going.
Davis came from that winning culture that Orlando is hoping to spark again.
“We want this to be a family atmosphere,” Davis said after last week’s game against the Heat. “We want to have no weak links, we want to be a strong chain. Instead of talking, we have got to be about it. We’ve got to walk the way.
“We’re going to get this defensive thing on a roll because that’s going to win. We can shoot as many threes as we want. They’re going to go in, they’re going to go out. Soemtimes we’re going to make it, sometimes we’re not. But on the defensive end, we’ve got to bring it every day. We can’t compete with the Bostons and the Miamis and those teams we need to beat to go to the championship.”
Little signs of aggression will get the Magic heading back in that direction again.