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.
So I thought what about Magic history? I ranked Anfernee Hardaway as the top point guard. Here are the 10 best shooting guards in Magic history:
10) DeShawn Stevenson (2004-06): 9.9 PPG, 31.7% 3FG%, 44.7% eFG%.
When the Magic acquired Stevenson, he was still a mystery. A young player with a lot of talent who came straight out of high school and might have been a little over his head in Jerry Sloan’s system. He came to Orlando and began establishing the identity that eventually made him an important part of Dallas’ championship run in 2011.
With the Magic he was still learning how to shoot. He never really had the benefit of playing next to Tracy McGrady. Dwight Howard was still maturing too. So Stevenson found his niche as a pretty solid defender. His jump shot was slowly getting better and it helped him net a big deal with Washington that Orlando simply could not match. If I remember correctly, the Magic wanted to match it but just could not find the cap space to justify bringing him back.
Stevenson’s time in Orlando might be more of a what-if question for Magic fans. Would Stevenson have gotten so weird without hanging out in Gilbert Arenas in Washington? Would he have continued to develop his 3-point shot under Stan Van Gundy or discarded like Trevor Ariza was (only to develop that shot elsewhere)? Hard to tell. Stevenson has made a name for himself elsewhere as a solid player, a foundation that was really built in Orlando.
9) J.J. Redick (2006-Present): 7.7 PPG, 39.4% 3FG%, 52.7% eFG%; 6.3 PPG, 35.8% 3FG%, 47.5% eFG%, 39 Playoff Games.
When the Magic drafted Redick, it brought up questions. There were going to be questions for whoever drafted the Duke sharpshooter. His reputation proceeded and enveloped him. His career started in earnest as Brian Hill just could not find a use for him. But his hard work and shooting soon found a place on the team. He made some waves in the 2009 Playoffs and finally proved himself ready.
Now he is a fan favorite and one of the hardest working guys on the team. Is he good enough to be a starter? That is a post for another day. But one thing we know about Redick after five seasons in Orlando is that he is going to constantly be working to improve, he will make 3-pointers if he is given space to shoot and he is going to play his role defensively.
I do not believe there is anyone on the Magic that Stan Van Gundy trusts more than Redick besides Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson. That is high praise for Redick. He has proven himself to be much more than a spot-up shooter, which is what many people thought he would become when Orlando drafted him.
8) Mickael Pietrus (2008-10): 6.9 PPG, 37.3% 3FG%, 52.7% eFG%; 9.7 PPG, 41.4% 3FG%, 59.3% eFG%, 38 Playoff Games.
Pietrus had an affinity for showing up for big games. His emergence in the 2009 Playoffs was as important to the Magic’s surprising run to the Finals than anything else. He did his best to slow down LeBron James and did a decent job slowing him down. But not only that, he hit 3-pointers at an incredibly efficient rate. A nearly 60 percent effective field goal percentage in his 38 playoff games shows that Pietrus was always ready for the big moment.
Injuries and (let’s say) an attention deficit kept him from being all he could be. In 2009 and 2010, he started the season in the starting lineup, but he just never produced at the expected level. He soon settled into a role off the bench and that seemed to suit him fine. Everyone knew that when a big game came around, he would be ready to play and perform.
7) Courtney Lee (2008-09): 8.4 PPG, 40.4% 3FG%, 52.6% eFG%; 8.0 PPG, 27.3% 3FG%, 47.4% eFG%, 21 Playoff Games.
It is amazing what one year did for Lee in Orlando. He endeared himself to Magic fans by slowly working his way into the lineup and then continuing to play well into the Playoffs. He was playing well beyond his years. But that is partly why Orlando drafted him in 2008. The team saw a senior guard who could easily fit into a role with the Magic and contribute quickly. That is exactly what Lee did.
He was perfect as the fifth option on that Finals team. He did not need the ball to be effective and improved his 3-point shooting as the season went on. More importantly he was an above average defender and that was more what the Magic needed as they came down the stretch.
It says something that Magic fans still say they regret trading Lee for a guy that appears very highly on this list and a guy that should appear on the power forward list. He did a lot of the little things great teams need — as a rookie.
6) Cuttino Mobley (2004-05): 16.0 PPG, 46.4% 3FG%, 53.0% eFG%.
Cuttino Mobley was an extremely underrated player. He was the perfect foil to Steve Francis and helped Francis sort of stay in line because of their close friendship. Mobley was a hard-working defender and deadly sharpshooter who was as important a get in McGrady deal as Francis was (Kelvin Cato is another issue completely). Perhaps Jon Weisbrod was not as patient with Mobley as he should have been or perhaps he was too enamored with the aging Doug Christie (who toyed with Orlando and then eventually just quit on the team).
Mobley’s numbers speak for themselves. He was a solid secondary scorer and a great shooter in his 23 games in Orlando before the team shipped him to the West Coast. Maybe there were some concerns over his heart condition that eventually ended his career. But he never showed that on the court.
You can really look to Mobley’s impact by examining the impact it took on Francis and the Magic after his trade. Orlando was 18-14 before the Mobley trade, the team went 18-32 the rest of the way to finish 36-46. Francis was never the same too. And it was clear from his demeanor on the court and attitude off it. Never has a half season of play made such a big impact on a team.
5) Vince Carter (2009-10): 16.3 PPG, 36.3% 3FG%, 49.3% eFG%; 15.5 PPG, 23.5% 3FG%, 43.5% eFG%, 14 Playoff Games.
Carter was a grave disappointment for the Magic after they acquired him from the Nets in the summer following the 2009 Finals appearance. Carter was supposed to be the answer for the problem that dogged Orlando in the Finals (and dogs them to this day and really since trading Tracy McGrady). He was supposed to be a perimeter attacker who could score at will.
For whatever reason he was not that. His year and a half in Orlando were statistically the worst of his career. He just never meshed with the Magic and the players on the team. Nobody could probably figure out exactly what the problem was. Maybe Carter felt constrained by the pressure of being on a championship team (finally) or by being at home. It just did not work.
His numbers would have been decent for a player that did not have all those expectations heaped on him. He did not shoot incredibly efficiently in his year in Orlando and his postseason players made him a person of some ridicule among Magic fans. He was not what we were promised.
4) Reggie Theus (1989-90): 18.9 PPG, 5.4 APG, 45.0% eFG%.
Theus was the Magic’s first real superstar. Believe it or not, he was the “big name” Orlando grabbed from the Expansion Draft two-time All Star in Chicago in the early 1980s. He played like it as the team’s top scorer that expansion year, his only season in Orlando. The Magic were a high-scoring team that year and Theus might have been the most accomplished player on that young team.
3) Otis Smith (1989-92): 11.4 PPG, 45.2% FG%, 45.9% eFG%.
Forget about Otis Smith the general manager for a while. Let’s remember Smith the player. The Magic got him in the expansion draft from the Warriors (insert your joke here) and he became one of the team’s biggest offensive weapons rather quickly. In that first year, he made Magic legend when his runner helped the expansion Magic defeat the Bulls for the first time at Orlando Arena.
He averaged nearly 14 points per game in his first two years in Orlando before injuries began to take their toll and end his career. He did participate in the Slam Dunk Contest after all. His executive decisions aside, he was a very underrated player in his time with the Magic. And his executive exploits are probably making us forget about his exploits as a player.
2) Nick Anderson (1989-99): 15.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 50.4% eFG%; 13.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 49.9% eFG% 44 Playoff Games.
Anderson’s numbers are a measure of his longevity with the Magic more than anything else. He still holds the team record in numerous categories including points, field goals and games played. Dwight Howard is trying hard to erase many of those records but Anderson is firmly implanted in just about every great Magic moment.
He was the author of The Steal, arguably the greatest play in Magic history. And yes, he was Nick the Brick as the nation seems to remember him. That memory inflames and saddens Magic fans more than anything else. But we remember the good about Anderson.
The bouncing young guard out of Illinois who became the first draft pick of the Magic — the first player who could say “I started my career in Orlando.” That became important. He stuck with the Magic and did whatever his team needed him to do. 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.
Anderson’s versatility became his calling card. He never played to an All-Star level but he did whatever the Magic needed him to do. Even after his career ended, he wanted desperately to come back. And when he finally did, it just felt right.
1) Tracy McGrady (2000-04): 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.
A lot of people would consider Tracy McGrady a small forward. That might be his more natural position. But John Gabriel envisioned McGrady playing alongside Grant Hill in the lineup and McGrady found a home at shooting guard in Orlando. And he truly blossomed.
His bitter exit left a sour taste in Magic fans’ mouth, but he was one of the most gifted and brilliant players the Magic had ever seen. There is simply no other way to describe his offensive brilliance. He would high-step his way across the mid-court line and he knew, the crowd knew and the defense knew he would just pull up and take the three. There was nothing anybody could do about it. Playing defense must have been simply impossible when he was on the Magic. He was just that dominant.
He nearly won MVP on a team that finished seventh in the Eastern Conference. At the end, he was simply frustrated Orlando could not put a roster around him that could showcase his talent deeper in the Playoffs. He was not a natural leader and that did him in at the end too with Darrell Armstrong’s departure. He was everything we wanted him to be and yet not everything we wanted him to be.
McGrady had an incredibly heavy burden to bear while in a Magic uniform. One that no player should have to carry with the kind of roster around him. He never buckled under the pressure, but he needed more help than he got.
We will still have the memories though. Memories of him keeping a team that had no business in the Playoffs in games. Memories of a silky smooth jumper that never seemed to miss. Memories of the best offensive talent in Magic history.