Orlando Magic Madness 2020: Only the strong survive

Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis proved to be a perfect pair to lift the Orlando Magic to the 2009 Finals. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis proved to be a perfect pair to lift the Orlando Magic to the 2009 Finals. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

We are getting to the good parts of our Magic Madness tournament as fan favorites and all-time legends are all that is left in our round of 16.

The Orlando Magic have not existed for a long time relative to most sports franchises. Only three teams in the NBA are younger — the Toronto Raptors, Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies and Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets — and so there is not a deep history to dive into.

Still, a lot has happened in the Magic’s 31 years of existence. There have been two championship windows, two Hall of Famers (probably one more) and a whole lot of intrigue between. The Magic have played a major role in NBA history, even without winning a title.

When we started #MagicMadness, it was half popularity contest, half passing the time out of boredom and half actual survey of who are the best players in Magic history. It was mostly the middle option.

The biggest question I have gotten about my little tournament is about seeding. I admit it is completely unscientific and based mostly on my own judgment of Magic history. I divided the players into four eras of Magic basketball with little crossover between players from each era.

That has led to the biggest question: Why is Nick Anderson a 1-seed. That is why. Nick Anderson was part of the expansion era where I kept Anfernee Hardaway in the Shaq Era.

The fact that I named eras after individual players should preview where this tournament is going. The Magic have a very clear and distinct Mt. Rushmore of all-time greatest players — Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway, Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard.

We are very clearly on a collision course for those four — plus Anderson since I seeded things that way — to meet in the final rounds of this tournament.

And that was most evident in the second round.

With many of the interesting matchups in the first round to separate role players complete, the second round was the time to see the best of the Magic’s best begin to separate themselves.

In our voting, only three matchups were within 40 points. And only one matchup was particularly close — an upset of Jonathan Isaac over Aaron Gordon, which we will talk about shortly.

As we get to what is essentially the top 16 players in Magic history, the best clearly separate themselves from the nice but ultimately inconsequential players.

The truth of the matter is: In Magic history, there is a clear line between the really great players and the players that are nice. And that is what we saw in the second round.

We will probably see it again in the Round of 16 now. The very top guys are clear and will advance. The guys just a run below them are getting fewer and farther between. It will be this round and the next round that the real tough choices begin.

We will begin voting at about noon on Monday and do two regions per day as we get closer to the final four!

Shaq Era Region — (1) Shaquille O’Neal vs. (4) Scott Skiles

There is no doubt Shaquille O’Neal is going to win this matchup. Or, rather, he absolutely should. O’Neal averaged 27.2 points and 12.5 rebounds per game in his four seasons in Orlando putting the Magic on the map as a young franchise. He was an unstoppable force of nature.

Scott Skiles was certainly not that. The 6-foot-1 point guard averaged 12.9 points per game and 7.2 assists per game in five seasons with the Magic. He set the NBA single-game record with 30 assists and was the first Magic player to win an award, winning the 1991 Most Improved Player Award.

Scott Skiles was a tough-minded point guard who endeared himself to fans with his grit and effort. Not to mention he actually called out the Magic’s poor rebuild when really no one else would — albeit to disastrous effect for everyone involved.

This match is worth noting only because O’Neal and Skiles actually fought after a practice in O’Neal’s early years with the Magic. Skiles took no slacking off from the gregarious big man in his younger days and stood toe to toe with O’Neal. And survived.

My Pick: Shaquille O’Neal

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Expansion/Rebuild Era Region — (2) Jameer Nelson vs. (14) Jonathan Isaac

The lone major upset in the second round came from 14-seed Jonathan Isaac defeating 6-seed Aaron Gordon. Jonathan Isaac defeated Nikola Vucevic in the first round.

I probably under-seeded Isaac at 14, giving favor to players whose Magic careers were completed over players currently playing. Plus Isaac’s potential is still yet to be realized despite an impressive three years in a Magic uniform.

Still, popularity is definitely going to play a role in this poll. I set no limits or conditions on how people are just supposed to vote. I am just asking everyone to pick their player for any reason or no reason at all. And Isaac is extremely popular.

But so is Jameer Nelson, one of the most important players of the Magic’s second championship window and the second-longest tenured player in team history. He undoubtedly has the numbers — 12.6 points and 5.4 assists per game — and his legacy stack up. We will see what the voters say.

My Pick: Jameer Nelson

Dwight Howard Era Region — (2) Hedo Turkoglu vs. (3) Rashard Lewis

This is probably going to be the best and most painful debate in the entire tournament. These two players were both integral to the 2009 Finals run and made the Orlando Magic unique and historical. The league had never really seen a team employ two 6-foot-10 shooting forwards who could also defend both positions.

Which one was more important? Nobody will ever know. This is going to be about taste and what fans like.

Hedo Turkoglu had the big shots throughout the 2009 playoffs — the winner in Game 4 of the first round and plenty others. He averaged 14.5 points and 3.9 assists per game in his eight seasons with the Magic. His playmaking as a forward was unique throughout the league.

Rashard Lewis had his share of big shots — remember Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals or Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals? Rashard Lewis averaged 16.3 points per game and shot a 54.1-percent effective field goal percentage in his four seasons with Orlando.

Personally, I was always more partial to Lewis. But I expect Hedo Turkoglu will win because he is far more popular with the fan base.

My Pick: Rashard Lewis

T-Mac Era Region — (2) Darrell Armstrong vs. (3) Bo Outlaw

The heart and soul of this franchise are probably Nick Anderson, Darrell Armstrong, Bo Outlaw and Jameer Nelson. Those guys were the heartbeats of the franchise throughout its entire history. It is cruel to pit these two against each other.

No players exemplified an entire team in Magic basketball quite like Bo Outlaw and Darrell Armstrong. It is actually hard to separate the two. They were close friends on and off the court. Even when Armstrong was named to the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame, it felt like a reunion between brothers.

I could go over the stats — Armstrong clearly wins that category — but that would not even begin to describe their impact and importance to the team. Because both these players’ impacts go so far beyond the court.

It is hard not to just go into this wistful thinking. I am sorry I am even making you choose between the two.

My Pick: Darrell Armstrong

Next. What If? Series: 2009 Orlando Magic vs. Denver Nuggets. dark

We will be voting on the first two regions on Monday around noon and the second two regions on Tuesday. Be sure to follow #MagicMadness on Twitter @OMagicDaily for the polls. And be sure to respond with your thoughts on why and who you voted for.