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 (although I have the feeling when we get around to top 10 centers in Magic history he and Dwight will be closer than ever) from the panel and I further explained my ballot shortly thereafter.
This year, we are 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. So what about Magic history? Here are the 10 best point guards in Magic history:
10) Brian Shaw (1994-98): 6.7 PPG, 4.6 APG, 42.7% eFG%; 5.4 PPG, 3.3 APG, 43.8% eFG%, 36 Playoff Games.
Shaw was a steady presence for the Magic during the 1995 run to the Finals. He scored 6.6 points per game in 16.9 minutes per game off the bench during that postseason run. And that was the steady performance he gave throughout his time in Orlando. Without Hardaway in front of him though, he continued to be solid but unimpressive. That is exactly what he did in his three years in Orlando.
9) Troy Hudson (2000-02): 8.4 PPG, 2.7 APG, 44.1% eFG%; 8.5 PPG, 1.9 APG, 34.8% eFG%, 8 Playoff Games.
Hudson was like a light version of the ball-hawking point guards that proliferated the NBA in the early 2000s. He came off the bench as a scoring punch behind Darrell Armstrong in the two years in Orlando. He was good at putting the ball in the basket (although not efficiently). He did something right though. He netted one rap album and $26 million over the next six years from the Timberwolves. That included an immediate 238 percent pay increase as a free agent in 2002. Yeah, Hudson did well for himself, which is about all he could do in a Magic uniform.
8) Carlos Arroyo (2006-08): 7.9 PPG, 3.1 APG, 47.3% eFG%; 8.3 PPG, 1.4 APG, 38.9% eFG%, 7 Playoff Games.
When the Magic traded for Carlos Arroyo in 2006, people went nuts. The next two games sold out immediately and suddenly the stadium was full of Puerto Rican flags. The Orlando community really embraced Arroyo when he arrived. His play on the court was inconsistent at best, alternating between exciting flair and frustrating mundaneness. Hard to believe he was challenging Jameer Nelson for the starter’s job at one point. The bottom line was Arroyo was not quite good enough to stick with the Magic and his inconsistency had a lot to do with that.
7) Sam Vincent (1989-92): 10.1 PPG, 4.6 APG, 44.4% eFG%.
If you want to get technical, Sam Vincent is the original Magic player. He was the first pick in the Expansion Draft back in 1989 and spent his final three years playing for Orlando. In that time, he was a part-time starter in those first three years and put up unspectacular numbers. His assist rate was high, posting 29.8 percent in 1990 and 1991 for the Magic. He did a lot with the minutes he got.
6) Rafer Alston (2009): 12.0 PPG, 5.1 APG, 46.6% eFG%; 12.2 PPG, 4.1 APG, 44.4% eFG%, 23 Playoff Games.
It might be kind of wrong to put a point guard who played in only 29 total regular season games with the Magic in the franchise’s top 10 point guards. It was pretty clear though after Jameer Nelson went down with a torn labrum in February of 2009 that Orlando would need help at the point to keep its burgeoning title hopes alive. Anthony Johnson just was not going to cut it.
Otis Smith worked his Magic and executed a season-saving deal to bring Rafer Alston in. Alston was not going to provide the same scoring punch that Nelson did that season, but he was a solid distributor who would hit big shots when the team needed it.
Alston could have been better in a lot of ways and his weaknesses likely would have been more exposed had the Magic retained him for more than that half season. But he played some of his best basketball in the 2009 Playoffs and fit in perfectly for what the Magic needed at the time. it is not every point guard that gets the Magic to the Finals. Alston deserves credit for doing that.
5) Steve Francis (2004-06): 19.4 PPG, 6.5 APG, 44.1% eFG%.
Wow, did not realize Francis scored that many points in a Magic uniform. Francis was a huge disappointment in a Magic uniform. He jsut never found his footing and was hardly the All Star he was in Houston. Not that he was much of an All Star in Houston. He was a ball-dominating point guard that was typical in the early 2000s.
Supremely talented at one point, he came to Orlando reluctantly after the trade from Houston. Francis came to represent the failures of Jon Weisbrod’s troubled tenure as general manager. He just did not ever fit what Johnny Davis, Chris Jent or Brian Hill wanted to do as head coach. They tried to make him a pass-first guy and he just was not. And he never got his offensive game back in Orlando.
The Magic were lucky to pawn him off to Isiah Thomas and the Knicks when they did. It cannot feel good to say that about the centerpiece of a major trade. But that might as well be the truth. Francis put up numbers, but had nothing to show for it in a season and a half as the team’s point guard. He was hardly the leader Weisbrod envisioned when he accepted that fateful deal with Houston.
4) Scott Skiles (1989-1994): 12.9 PPG, 7.2 APG, 48.5% eFG%; 4.5 PPG, 1.5 APG, 50.0% eFG%, 2 Playoff Games.
Skiles will always have his epic 30 assist game which still stands as the single game record. When we think about point guards — true point guards — Skiles might be who we think of. He was an assist guy, tough-minded defensively and someone who was part of the original team. That stuff matters when looking back on him historically. Really he was the guy that laid the foundation for what the Magic would become, since he was not part of any of the team’s great Playoff runs.
His stats were very underwhelming though and his legend probably preceeds him more than his accomplishments. He won the 1991 Most Improved Player Award and finished second in the league in assists per game with 9.4 in 1993. Skiles has taken all the qualities that made him a solid player and turned it into a decent coaching career. That is some sign of a great floor leader, right?
3) Jameer Nelson (2004-Present): 12.5 PPG, 4.9 APG, 51.3% eFG%; 14.9 PPG, 4.4 APG, 52.5% eFG%, 39 Playoff Games.
I think we are still waiting for Nelson to be everything we want him to be rather than appreciating him for what he is. When the Magic drafted him they knew he was a scorer and not a passing guy. He has built himself into a solid player, but maybe not the point guard the team needs now that the team is as close as ever to the NBA championship.
Nelson’s leadership took some hits when he decided to rush back from a torn labrum to play in the 2009 Finals. Depending on how you view that, he was either working hard to be there for his teammates or trying selfishly to get some glory in winning a title. But what should not be forgotten is how great he was in that 2009 season.
Before the injury, he averaged 16.7 points per game and 5.4 assists per game while shooting 50.3 percent from the floor and 45.3 percent from 3-point range. Yeah he had a pretty good year and very much earned the trip to the All-Star Game he did not get to participate in.
Nelson has not matched those levels, but has built on it a little bit too. His assist numbers were the highest of his career last year and in the 2010 Playoffs he carried the Magic at times in averaging 19.0 points per game.
Nelson is always going to be questioned until the Magic win that title in this current iteration of the team. But in the pantheon of Magic point guards, he is definitely near the top for the work he has done so far in his career. Even if it is not enough to get the Magic where their potential could have gotten them.
2) Darrell Armstrong (1995-2003): 11.7 PPG, 5.1 APG, 48.6% eFG%; 12.3 PPG, 4.2 APG, 50.2% eFG%, 12 Playoff Games.
Like Skiles, a lot of what Armstrong did was intangible. He was the face of the team and probably the team’s most beloved player. His stats hardly tell the story of his impact on the team and on the culture of being a Magic fan.
Armstrong should be the definition of a team-first guy. Whether he was diving on the floor for loose balls or providing a spark on offense or defense, when his team needed something, Armstrong gave it. You do not really even have to mention much more than his name to understand what Armstrong meant to the franchise.
It is no surprise to us that he has become a coach (now on a championship staff). His play always seemed to help the teams he was on overachieve. The worst part was Orlando was never good enough to get him out of the first round. But it is hard to find a bad memory of Armstrong. He was the perfect team leader.
1) Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway (1993-99): 19.0 PPG, 6.3 APG, 50.7% eFG%; 21.8 PPG, 6.5 APG, 51.4% eFG%, 45 Playoff Games.
It is really easy to forget how good and revolutionary Hardaway was when he was in Orlando. The Magic traded top overall pick Chris Webber for him and prepared for Hardaway to lead a revolution with Shaquille O’Neal. Penny was super athletic, a great ball handler and fit in right away with the Magic, taking the starting job from Scott Skiles upon setting foot in Orlando. That is why Hardaway is the top point guard in Magic history.
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. 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 made Hardaway a superstar in the league and he was pretty good for a while even after Shaq left. He made four All Star teams and three All-NBA teams including two first teams. He was a supreme talent until his body began betraying him. Perhaps two years later, he would have been able to come back, but microfracture surgery was something that ended a career when Hardaway underwent the procedure.
Again, Hardaway was not a pass-first point guard. But he was a playmaker and creator. That was exactly what Orlando needed when he was playing.