You may remember last year our friends over at Hoops Manifesto enpaneled a group of Bloguin writers to determine the top 10 players for each franchise. Shaquille O’Neal topped that list from the panel and I further explained my ballot shortly thereafter.
This year, we were back at it again, ranking the 10 best players in NBA history at each position. We started with the point guards where we named Magic Johnson the greatest point guard in NBA history and moved on to the shooting guards where Michael Jordan got the nod. The panel named Larry Bird the top small forwardandTim Duncan the top power forward. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the top center.
We took it one step further, naming the 10 best players in league history. Predictably Michael Jordan won that vote.
So I thought what about Magic history? I ranked Anfernee Hardaway as the top point guard,Tracy McGrady as the top shooting guard, Hedo Turkoglu the top small forward and Horace Grant the top power forward. Shaquille O’Neal held on to his spot atop the centers list. Does the list of all-time great Magic players change from last year? As you can see, this list is very fluid:
10) Scott Skiles (1989-94, Down 3): 12.9 PPG, 7.2 APG, 48.5% eFG%; 4.5 PPG, 1.5 APG, 50.0% eFG%, 2 Playoff Games.
The more I look at Skiles, the more I realize that Skiles’ legend precedes him more than his actual play. He was good no doubt — likely the best passer in team history as his record-setting performance shows. But he was not spectacular. The 30-assist game was an aberration more than the norm. He could dish it out, but did not do much else. And he was never the starting point guard for a Magic playoff team (ceding the job to Penny Hardaway in the 1994 season).
Maybe my questioning of Skiles being left off the Hoops Manifesto list last year was a little misplaced. Let’s just say, if Hedo Turkoglu turns himself around next year, Skiles is going to the list above.
9) Rashard Lewis (2007-10, Up 2): 16.3 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 54.1% eFG%; 17.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 52.5% eFG%, 48 Playoff Games.
With Rashard Lewis no longer in a Magic uniform, the specter of his contract and failed expectations might dissipate a little. We can now look back at Lewis’ tenure in Orlando in its totality and realize how much he accomplished. I left him off my top 10 last year because we still did not know whether Lewis’ tenure would result in a championship or how to evaluate him.
Well, despite a poor early season effort in Orlando, I still feel obligated to move Lewis up. His time in Orlando in totality was actually quite good (while not living up to his contract). There is no doubting the team’s success and the versatility Lewis gave it.
“In all four of Lewis’ years with the Magic, the Magic reached the 50-win mark,” I wrote in ranking him the second best power forward in team history. “The franchise had done that only twice before then. The threat of Lewis at power forward and a 3-point barrage, made the Magic title contenders. He was mostly a 3-point shooter, but was an underrated defender too. He made those Magic teams work.”
For that Lewis should gain some recognition, even if many would ultimately view his time in Orlando as a disappointment.
8) Jameer Nelson (2004-11, Up 2): 12.5 PPG, 4.9 APG, 51.3% eFG%; 14.9 PPG, 4.4 APG, 52.5% eFG%, 39 Playoff Games.
The often-maligned Jameer Nelson may not be Orlando’s answer at point guard. If Orlando wants to win a title with Dwight Howard, his best friend and draft mate may not be the guy to be there with him when it happens. Still, we should recognize how good Nelson can be. His injury-shortened season in 2009 was as fantastic as it was surprising. And he has shown when he is aggressive, he can be a great scorer at point guard (see the 2010 Playoffs).
He is exactly what the Magic drafted him to be. Yes, Orlando might need him to be more at some point. But there is no doubt that Nelson can be an All Star when he puts his mind to it. He is an improving passer too (last year, he dished out a career best 6.0 assists per game last year. And that was with last year’s team!
I don’t think we have seen Nelson’s best yet as a distributor. He may not be able to match his 2009 season, but he is still very good. Again, sometimes we need to appreciate what we have in Nelson rather than complain about what he isn’t.
7) Darrell Armstrong (1995-2003, Down 1): 11.7 PPG, 5.1 APG, 48.6% eFG%; 12.3 PPG, 4.2 APG, 50.2% eFG%, 12 Playoff Games.
Magic fans appreciate Armstrong a lot more than those outside of Orlando. He was ninth in the poll last year, andI placed him second among Magic point guards. We all know Armstrong provided intangible qualities to the team. I move him down one becuase in Grant’s short time, Horace provided more of an intangible that led to success.
Armstrong was a fan favorite (probably the most popular player in Magic history), but you can’t really find much team success in his time. Maybe he helped some of those teams overachieve.
Armstrong definitely still has a spot in the top 10. No one is going to take that away from him. And, likely, as long as we remember and revere him, we will find a way to squeeze him into the top 10. At some point though, how much Magic fans appreciation his effort and play overshadows what he actually did on the floor.
6) Horace Grant (1994-99, 2001-02, Up 2): 11.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 50.2% FG%; 12.3 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 54.3% FG%, 38 Playoff Games.
I have to admit, I had Rashard Lewis ahead of Horace Grant when I initially made my list of the 10 best power forwards. But as I sat down and wrote about Horace Grant’s impact on the team and what he provided to the 1995 team especially, I came to realize his impact was much greater than his statistics and much greater than Lewis.
Grant was the missing piece for a young team to quickly mature and gel into a championship contender. The Magic’s quick ascendance is not directly attributable to Grant’s influence in the locker room, but it certainly makes logical sense. That is where Grant made his mark and made his name with Orlando.
5) Nick Anderson (1989-99, No Change): 15.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 50.4% eFG%; 13.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 49.9% eFG% 44 Playoff Games.
What needs to be said about Nick Anderson that Magic fans do not already know? He was the original draft pick of the Magic and one of the most treasured players in team history.
“He stuck with the Magic and did whatever his team needed him to do,” I wrote in naming him the second best shooting guard in team history. “In Shaquille O’Neal‘s early days he filled in as the perimeter scorer, dropping 50 points at the Meadowlands the same night O’Neal ripped down the basket. When Anfernee Hardaway arrived, he became the glue guy, playing strong defense and hitting the big three for his team.”
Honestly that says it all about Anderson’s career. He did whatever his team needed him to do. He was a borderline All Star for a few years and a top defender and marksman in others. His versatility was a necessity for the Magic’s first Finals run.
4) Penny Hardaway (1993-99, No Change): 19.0 PPG, 6.3 APG, 50.7% eFG%; 21.8 PPG, 6.5 APG, 51.4% eFG%, 45 Playoff Games.
Much like Tracy McGrady, it is easy to forget how good Penny Hardaway was for Orlando because of the way he left and the injuries that riddled the remainder of his career. Like with McGrady too, it is easy to get nostalgic with Penny trying to remember what he accomplished with the Magic.
“He was not a pass-first guard, but with O’Neal down low and his scoring ability — including a constantly improving jumper — he did not need to be,” I wrote in naming him the team’s top point guard of all time. “Let’s say this, if the Magic had a young Hardaway right now, there would not be any talk of Dwight Howard leaving. Hardaway was the kind of talent who could score when he wanted — remember when he had back-to-back 40 point nights to stave off elimination against the Heat in the 1997 Playoffs?”
That is the kind of player he was. At the time, there may not have been a better shooting guard in the league, save for Michael Jordan. He never became the scoring dynamo McGrady was, injuries began to take their toll after Shaquille O’Neal left. While still in the first tier of “great Magic players,” I do not know if he will ever pass McGrady.
3) Tracy McGrady (2000-04, Down 1): 28.1 PPG, 5.2 APG, 7.0 RPG, 48.4% eFG%; 32.0 PPG, 5.9 APG, 6.5 RPG, 47.1% eFG%, 15 Playoff Games.
As time passes and McGrady’s talents seem to diminish, I think Magic fans can begin to figure out exactly what place McGrady has in team history. He was the team’s greatest pure scorer and the Magic today could sure use McGrady from 2002. For a brief time, McGrady was simply unstoppable and his potential was limited only by what he wanted to do offensively.
“Every time you came to the arena, you knew McGrady was going to put on a scoring show,” I wrote last year. “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.”
It came down simply to that. McGrady did not have the help he deserved in his time with Orlando. His frustrations finally boiled over when the Magic failed to make the playoffs. Then bad luck (or karma) caught up to him and his body gave out in Houston.
2) Shaquille O’Neal (1992-96, Down 1): 27.2 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 2.8 BPG, 58.8% TS%; 25.3 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 58.2% TS%, 36 Playoff Games.
There is not a whole lot more that needs to be said about O’Neal and his time in Orlando that has not already been said. He was a game-changer and franchise-changer. And he came to Orlando while it was still a young franchise.
“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.”
With Howard achieving everything O’Neal has (in some cases more) and adding an offensive game to match his defensive prowess, O’Neal’s spot atop Orlando’s all-time best players is wavering. And no matter what Howard does, we will be talking about his impact on the franchise for decades to come. In that sense, he will replace Shaq. With the emergence of his offensive game to match his defensive impact, it was only a matter of time before Howard challenged and surpassed him as the best player in team history, but also its most influential.
1) Dwight Howard (2004-11, Up 2): 18.2 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 60.5% TS%; 19.9 PPG, 14.4 RPG, 2.8 BPG, 61.9% TS%, 57 Playoff Games.
It may not make sense to rank Howard behind Shaquille O’Neal on one list and yet have him ahead on the overall list. But it also might do so too.
O’Neal was great, no doubt. His statistics pop off the page like no other player in Magic history. He dominated on both ends of the floor and brought the Magic to their first height in franchise history. We do view everything through the prism of O’Neal. But in seven years Dwight Howard may very well change that.
Howard has been in Orlando longer and his decision in 2012 is going to impact the Magic as much as O’Neal. For sure, we will be talking about whatever Howard does next summer for as long, if not longer than O’Neal. He will almost be erasing O’Neal from the Magic fan’s collective psyche.
So in anticipation of this, and to recognize Howard while we want to talk positively about him, Howard should be considered the best player in Magic history. He is not getting there because I just want to appease him into staying (he may still very well leave no matter how much we pander to his sensibilities). No, he climbs up here because of something I said last year:
“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.”
That prediction turned out to be incredibly true as Howard averaged a career-high 22.9 points per game and a near-career-high 14.1 rebounds per game. Howard became a true MVP candidate and a true team leader, dominating on both ends of the floor. He became the player Orlando always dreamed he would be.
He can still improve and that is the truly scary part. Hopefully he will be doing that in Orlando.