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 and moved on to the shooting guards where Michael Jordan got the nod. The panel named Larry Bird the top small forward and Tim Duncan the top power forward.
So I thought what about Magic history? I ranked Anfernee Hardaway as the top point guard,Tracy McGrady as the top shooting guard and Hedo Turkoglu the top small forward. Here are the 10 best power forwards in Magic history:
10) Brandon Bass (2009-11): 9.1 PPG, 51.4% FG%; 4.8 PPG, 45.1% FG%, 13 Playoff Games.
It has taken Bass a while to find his place in the Magic’s lineup. He does not quite fit into Stan Van Gundy‘s profile of a power forward. But Bass’ ability to step out and hit jumpers plus his defensive potential are signs that he could be very valuable moving forward. We just don’t quite know what Bass’ ceiling is yet. Is what we have all he is going to be? If so, he still has a lot to improve upon defensively. That ultimately might decide where Bass ends up in his career.
9) Ben Wallace (1999-2000): 4.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 50.3% FG%.
Wallace is one of the greatest mysteries in Magic history. He was brought in as an unheralded, defensive-minded forward for the Heart and Hustle year. Magic fans saw somethingi n him as they took to his grit and toughness. He was not quite what he would become in Detroit, not yet. But the Magic opted to include him in the fateful sign-and-trade for Grant Hill. Wallace became a defensive linchpin for a championship team and five straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances. It was hard to foresee what he would have become if he stayed in Orlando… but we always have what if?
8) Derek Strong (1996-2000): 8.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 43.2% FG%; 10.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 52.4% FG%, 6 Playoff Games.
Strong was another solid, but unspectacular player for the Magic for a long time. You could count on him for some hard work on the boards, about eight points per game off the bench and pretty solid defense. He was quiet and always willing to fill a role. Much like a bunch of the players on this roster, he was good, not fantastic. And he had his best years in a Magic uniform.
7) Ryan Anderson (2009-11): 9.1 PPG, 38.4% 3FG%, 54.9% eFG%; 3.4 PPG, 29.4% 3FG%, 37.3% eFG%, 15 Playoff Games.
To some extent the Magic are still figuring out what they have in Ryan Anderson. He is a great shooter and a sneaky rebounder. He has a lot of value for sure as a young player and one of the few friendly contracts on the Magic. Nobody is just quite sure whether this is all Anderson can give the Magic or whether there is more in the tank.
He is your prototypical stetch-4. Tall and improving everywhere except at his 3-point shooting. That is already pretty good. And that has what pushed Anderson pretty high up the Magic’s depth chart. If he keeps shooting at the high rate he does, and coaches continue to favor the entire swath of advanced statistics Anderson succeeds at, Anderson will have a spot with the Magic. So long as he keeps firing away and making shots.
6) Drew Gooden (2003-04): 12.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 45.5% FG%; 14.0 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 40.0% FG%, 7 Playoff Games.
When the Magic acquired Drew Gooden in the middle of the 2002-03 season — trading away Mike Miller — it seemed like the Magic were making a move for the future and finally surrounding Tracy McGrady with a halfway decent player. Gooden was the fourth pick in the 2002 Draft after an accomplished college career at Kansas and seemed to have at least some of the skills Orlando needed.
His just being a competent post player — sorry Andrew Declercq, Shawn Kemp and Steven Hunter — helped Orlando push Detroit to seven games in that fateful first round series.
However, it became apparent in his only full season in Orlando that he struggled to accept his role and was not always… well, “there.” Gooden was a serviceable shooter and rebounder. But nowhere near the post presence Orlando so desperately needed. He seemed to fall in love with his jumper too many times (why did he take 42 3-pointers in 2004?) and when Orlando added Juwan Howard to paly alongside him, Gooden could not find his footing again.
5) Pat Garrity (1999-2008): 7.4 PPG, 39.8% 3FG%, 50.6% eFG%; 6.5 PPG, 37.5% 3FG%, 47.1% eFG% 17 Playoff Games.
It might be hard to believe, but nobody played more seasons in a Magic uniform than Pat Garrity, except for Nick Anderson. Just think about that for a moment. Garrity was not spectacular at any aspect except for his dead-eye 3-point shooting. He was the Magic’s original stretch-4.
Garrity was never quite the same after an ACL injury knocked him out for most of the 2003-04 season. What he was before then was a shooter in its purest form. At 6-foot-10, the league had seen very few players that tall be able to shoot. He really could not do much beside that, but made the most of what he did have to offer — Samuel Dalembert can attest to that.
4) Terry Catledge (1989-93): 15.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 47.9% eFG%.
OK, Catledge may have been an undersized power forward, but he certainly split time at both forward positions. More of a scorer and bulldozer than his frontcourt partner Reynolds at times, Catledge was the Magic’s leading scorer during its inaugural season.
Like many of the players on that inaugural team, he needed the opportunity to show what he could do and the expansion Magic gave him that. The 1989-90 season, where he averaged 19.4 points per game, was by far his best. His first three seasons with the Magic were his best in terms of PER throughout his career by a wide margin, pouring in a 15.0 in 1990, 14.5 in 1991 and 15.2 in 1992. Those are not fantastic numbers — in fact they are right at the average for PER.
Catledge was obviously playing a little out of place in those early Magic years. He should not have been the first option for any team or its leading scorer. But that is what the Magic needed for him to do. And, for a brief while, “Cat Man” did what he had to.
3) Bo Outlaw (1997-2001, 2005-08): 6.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 58.5% FG%; 6.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 61.1% FG%, 8 Playoff Games.
Few players have the love and adoration in Magic lore like Bo Outlaw.
He statistically was not much of a player. A footnote in the annals of any team’s history. But it was his energy and hustle that made him endure and last with the Magic and with the fans. It only felt right that he would retire with Orlando and come back as a community ambassador. The Magic just cannot get rid of Bo Outlaw. And that is an awesome thing.
Outlaw was pure hustle all the time. He knew he was not much of a scorer, just a decent rebounder and an above-average defender. He accepted the limitations he had as a player and still found a way to stick in the league for a long time. He did that because he just had a desire to make himself useful.
The one thing that probably resonated most about Outlaw was that he always seemed to enjoy the game more than anybody else. He always seemed to have a grin plastered across his face. It was certainly one of the best smiles in basketball, since so few people in that era seemed to enjoy the game with the same childlike excitement of Outlaw and the Heart and Hustle crew.
It is hard to quantify exactly what Outlaw gave the Magic for all those years. But whatever it was, we sure enjoyed it.
2) Rashard Lewis (2007-10): 16.3 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 54.1% eFG%; 17.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 52.5% eFG%, 48 Playoff Games.
Rashard Lewis transformed the Magic when he signed a maximum contract in the summer of 2007. No one was quite sure what Otis Smith saw in him that would invite such a large contract. He certainly was not a max player when he signed it and many speculated that Smith was guilty of bidding against himself. But Stan Van Gundy had an idea on how to use the sweet-shooting forward in an unusual way.
With the budding Dwight Howard in the post and Hedo Turkoglu waiting for a coach to use his talents the exact way he likes it, Lewis slid into Van Gundy’s vision as a floor-spreading power forward. His contract always haunted his play. He is not a max player, but you could not argue with the results.
In all four of Lewis’ years with the Magic, the Magic reached the 50-win mark. 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.
Perhaps his contract became his undoing as he was unable to mesh with Vince Carter and his shooting seemed to betray him for the first time in his career. But it is hard to argue that his arrival (along with Dwight’s maturation) led to the Magic’s ascendance and trip to the 2009 Finals. Without doubt, he was the difference in the Eastern Conference Finals that year. His game-winning shot in Game One in Cleveland set the tone for the series. His go-ahead shot in Game Four seemed to show how poorly Cleveland matched up with him.
Lewis made the Magic unique and was a big reason for the team’s transcendance these last few years.
1) Horace Grant (1994-99, 2001-2002): 11.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 50.2% FG%; 12.3 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 54.3% FG%, 38 Playoff Games.
If you have followed me blogging the last few years, you have probably heard me make passing references to my “Horace Grant Theory.” I have not taken the time to really explain it (maybe once or twice), but I can get into the basics of it now.
Look at Horace Grant’s stats from the time he was with the Magic. They do not quite pop off the page. Yet, Grant was as important a part of the Magic’s sudden emergence in 1995 as Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. Those two superstars handled the scoring, but it was Grant doing the nitty-gritty stuff and staying in their ear, helping the entire team believe a championship was possible.
That is exactly why the Magic signed Grant before the 1994-95 season and that is exactly what he delivered.
Grant was a perfect complement to Shaquille O’Neal. He was a great defender and rebounder and someone who could step out and hit the jumper, helping space the floor for O’Neal. His shot was at the top of the key and he made it with amazing efficiency.
What we don’t really know is how much Grant’s influence affected that title team off the floor and in the locker room. His experience winning three championships with the Bulls seemed invaluable as the team had some adversity to work through in the 1995 Playoffs.
Everyone forgets now that the Magic needed a come-from-behind victory in Chicago to clinch the Eastern Conference Semifinals in Game Six (if you rewatch that game, you might begin to think Michael Jordan was becoming Michael Jordan and Game Seven would have been very difficult). You also forget how the eighth-seeded Celtics took a game in Orlando, forcing the Magic to win two in a row to close the Boston Garden.
I get the feeling Grant’s influence was key to the team fighting through those instances and winning the Eastern Conference Finals. Unfortunately, there may not have been ever getting over the disappointment of that Game One loss to the Rockets.
Even against the Bulls in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals, you wonder a bit. How much did an apparent injury to Horace Grant affect the team against those 72-win Bulls. Maybe that series would have been closer if Grant were healthy? Any way you look at it, Horace’s impact on that first championship run was pretty clear.