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 by the panel.
10) Corey Maggette (1999-2000): 8.4 PPG, 47.8% FG%.
Maggette held a lot of promise when the Magic drafted him to join the Heart and Hustle team. He was a dynamic scorer with growing range who showed a lot of potential. Maggette was the kind of exciting player the Magic believed they might be able to build around — or at least have as a secondary option — with the free agency bonanze of that summer oncoming.
Ultimately, Maggette was a casualty of the Magic’s attempt to clear salary cap room to sign Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady and Tim Duncan. Maggette has gone on to a very successful career as a secondary scorer. Scoring was what Maggette has done best.
9) Trevor Ariza (2006-07): 7.2 PPG, 51.0% eFG%; 2.8 PPG, 31.3% eFG%, 4 Playoff Games.
Ariza won a championship in Orlando… only he was playing for the Lakers. Whoops.
Ariza was not the player he was in Los Angeles and everyone forgot that as he was draining 3-pointers and locking down Hedo Turkoglu in the 2009 Finals. Ariza’s skills were developed in Orlando and he showed a lot of potential. He just never fit into Stan Van Gundy‘s plans. He did not hit a single 3-pointer in his nearly two years in Orlando. Who saw that coming?
8) Matt Harpring (1998-2000): 7.9 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 46.9% eFG%; 8.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 48.1% eFG%, 4 Playoff Games.
Harpring did not really get the opportunity to star with the Magic. When Orlando drafted him everyone continually reminded us that he had a football family upbringing and it showed in how he played. He was occassionally reckless diving for loose balls and injuries kept him from realizing any of his potential.
Harpring was just tough and it resonated with Magic fans. He just had bad luck. In another life, he would have been the kind of successful player that would still be in the league today. Even with his injuries he officially retired only last year.
7) Jerry Reynolds (1989-92): 12.7 PPG, 41.8% eFG%.
Reynolds was one of the original Magic members and the team’s first player from LSU (for some reason the early Magic have an affinity for Tigers). He was an inefficient shooter and a decent scorer. The only three times he scored more than 10 points per game in his career were the three years he spent in Orlando. His career was rather unspectacular.
Still he had some staying power on the Magic and one of the best nicknames in team history — “Ice.” He also has a rather… personal mention (or maybe it was not so personal) in Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball. It is in a footnote. If you read the book, you can probably think of which one I am talking about.
6) Matt Barnes (2009-10): 8.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 54.6% eFG%; 6.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 48.0% eFG%, 14 Playoff Games.
It is extremely difficult to win the hearts and minds of a fan base in one year’s time. It became evident quite quickly that Barnes was the kind of player the Magic had not seen… well, ever. Barnes was tough and did not mind showing it. Toward the end of the season, the “Matt Barnes Will Kill You” t-shirts made the rounds and became a cult classic.
His statistics really did not display the impact he had in one short year. He played with the kind of emotional edge that so few players master. And he was in the right role to do it becuase Mickael Pietrus or Vince Carter were right there to take his place if he went too far over the edge — it was not like Steve Francis, whose cracks sent the whole team in a downward spiral.
Barnes was not retained and Magic fans seemingly regretted his absence throughout the 2010-11 season. Orlando often times needed his edginess last season, even if it sometimes grated against the other members on the team. We do not know exactly why the Magic let Barnes go and what he could have done in 2011. His impact was pretty immeasurable.
5) Donald Royal (1992-96): 7.8 PPG, 48.9% FG%; 3.0 PPG, 40.7% FG%, 28 Playoff Games.
Royal was a consummate professional in his time with the Magic. The Sixth Man during the 1995 Finals Run and an important defensive cog. He was a glue guy in every sense of that word, doing what was necessary for a team full of stars. Unlike many of the superstars on that team, he was not a shooter. He made his living on mid-range jumpers and slashing to the basket.
But throughout the Magic’s initial ascendance, Royal was an integral part of the team. He was just solid all around, but not spectacular anywhere.
4) Mike Miller (2000-03): 14.1 PPG, 38.0% 3FG%, 50.6% eFG%; 8.4 PPG, 30.8% 3FG%, 43.5% eFG%, 8 Playoff Games.
Miller became a much better shooter and all-around player after he left Orlando. It seemed even though Miller put up pretty modest numbers (compare him to Dennis Scott and it is surprising), Magic fans were regretting the trade that sent him out and brought Drew Gooden and Gordan Giricek in. Tracy McGrady may have since he and Miller were very close friends on those teams.
It is hard to put a finger on Miller’s impact. His rookie season was a revelation as he became the first Rookie of the Year since Shaquille O’Neal and is the last player to win the award in a Magic uniform. He was critical in getting the Magic back to the Playoffs that year despite averaging a modest 11.9 points per game. He got better as his career in Orlando went on, bumping up to over 15 points per game in his two remaining years.
Miller was good, but nowhere near the superb shooter he later became.
3) Grant Hill (2000-07): 16.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 50.0% FG%, 50.2% eFG%; 15.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 50.0% FG%, 50.0% eFG%, 4 Playoff Games.
Grant Hill is infamous in a Magic uniform. No getting around it, Hill’s tenure in Orlando was extremely disappointing. Four games in, the ankle injuries struck and Hill was never the same. He never played 70 games in any season in an Orlando uniform as the ankle injuries — and even a sports hernia — continued to knock him out of the lineup.
He was never the seemingly sure-fire hall of famer that graced the court in Detroit and made people believe he was the heir to Michael Jordan’s throne. He was so popular that even with playing four games in 2000-01, he was voted onto the All-Star team. The same happened in 2004-05 when he averaged 19.5 points per game and played in a Magic-high 67 games. Hill was supremely popular around the NBA.
And even though he never contributed much in a Magic uniform, although he played well under the circumstances when he was actually on the floor, you could never fault his professionalism. He ruined his career (and threatened his life) trying to come back and hold up to the obligation that came from his maximum contract. That weighed heavily on Hill throughout his time in Orlando.
Regret was what Hill’s tenure seemed to be all about.
2) Dennis Scott (1990-97): 14.8 PPG, 40.3% 3FG%, 50.7% eFG%; 12.2 PPG, 36.4% 3FG%, 50.2% eFG%, 41 Playoff Games.
Dennis Scott has a firm place in Magic lore. 3-D torched the nets for the better part of eight years in Orlando, firmly entrenching himself as perhaps the team’s greatest 3-point shooter. He would just go up, shoot it and you knew it was going in.
That must have been how the Atlanta Hawks felt when he broke the league record with 11 3-pointers in one game in 1997. He obviously did not do that every night, but he was a dead-on marksman in his time with Orlando, making more than 1.5 per game in his entire career with Orlando, topping off at 3.3 per game in 1996. And he still shot 44.0 percent from long range that year.
Scott was a gregarious guy and that is why he has translated so well to his job on NBATV. His fun-loving nature helped him click with Shaquille O’Neal the moment he got to Orlando and the two were nearly inseparable — even appearing on O’Neal’s rap album together.
He could very easily be the top guy on this list. But the fact was, Scott was a one-dimensional player. He was a pure 3-point shooter and that was about all he could do. His weight sometimes got the better of him and ultimately led to his career ending a few years after Orlando traded him to Dallas. Still, Scott is remembered fondly and one of the true greats in Magic history.
1) Hedo Turkoglu (2004-09, 2010-11): 15.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 50.2% eFG%; 15.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 46.9% eFG%, 44 Playoff Games.
Hedo Turkoglu‘s career has been a strange one. He has at times flourished at time frustrated. At times tantalized, at times puzzled. Both the coach’s best friend as a 6-foot-10 ball handler with superb passing skills and his worst nightmare as a 3-point chucking inefficient shooter.
When the Magic signed him in 2004 to a five-year deal for the mid-level exception, nobody knew quite how to use Turkoglu. His potential and talent kept him in the league, but always in a reserve role. He slowly made his way into a starter as Grant Hill‘s injuries required Hill to move to the bench more. It became clearer as the team cahnged after Tracy McGrady‘s trade that Turkoglu was an important variable to the Magic puzzle.
His broken arm in 2005 likely cost Orlando a trip to the playoffs in Dwight Howard‘s rookie season and his simply magnificent play in the 2009 Playoffs may have very well been the spark that got the team to its second NBA Finals appearance.
It is a positive for Turkoglu’s career that we remember the good much more than the bad. We remember Turkoglu sinking the game-winning shot in Game Four of the 2009 First Round in Philadelphia. We don’t remember his 2-for-12 effort in Game Three, a game orlando seemingly desperately needed to regain control of the series. Those poor shooting efforts seemed commonplace throughout his tenure.
But Turkoglu’s moments of greatness and quirky attitude and demeanor on and off the court endeared him to Magic fans. When Orlando let him leave after the 2009 Finals season, fans were upset. When the team re-aquired him in 2010, fans were elated and he received a loud ovation in his first home game at Amway Center. He resonated with people despite his inconsistency.
Turkoglu’s place near the top of this list certainly is shaky. His stint last year showed he was not quite the player that left. At time he was brilliant, dishing out 17 assists in one game and a triple double in another, but his 11.4 points per game average in 2011 was hardly what we remembered.
But it would not be Hedo Turkoglu if it made any sense at all.