Orlando Magic Madness 2020: Down to the Final Eight

Anfernee Hardaway created his own Orlando Magic legacy after Shaquille O'Neal left. (Photo by TONY RANZE/AFP via Getty Images)
Anfernee Hardaway created his own Orlando Magic legacy after Shaquille O'Neal left. (Photo by TONY RANZE/AFP via Getty Images) /

We are down to the final eight in our #MagicMadness tournament of Orlando Magic greats. Now we really begin to have the big debates in Magic history.

Orlando Magic history has a clear pecking order. That much has become clear.

After some interesting first-round matchups between middling players that endeared themselves to fans or were just there and di not have much attached to them or even current players going up against historical players, things became pretty boring in our Magic Madness tournament.

There are blowouts and easy decisions when we get to the elite among Magic fans. There is a bigger debate about whether the Magic should retire jerseys as opposed to whose jersey they should retire. That might be the best way to put things.

In Magic history, there is little doubt who the best players are. And with just 31 years under their belt, there are precious few of those elite players to choose from.

Entering this project the final four were fairly clear and set (minus one, because of the way I seeded the tournament). Getting to this point was always going to be fairly easy and academic.

Even at this point in the round of eight, the debates are going to be fairly clear. No matter how much I tried to rig the competition to create interesting arguments.

Let’s show some numbers:

In the Round of 16, the closest vote was between Jameer Nelson and Jonathan Isaac at 63.4-36.4 percent in the voting. Jonathan Isaac is extremely popular as Magic fans are surely giddy about his future. But in any historical context, Jameer Nelson is clearly the most important player. A blowout of a 27-point spread was more than expected.

Blowouts like this have been fairly common throughout the tournament. Since the first round, only one vote has been within 10 points (Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac) and only four total have been within 40 points!

This is all to say, I think Magic fans know who they like and they know who the best players in the Magic’s short history. It is pretty clear the pecking order.

And so now we start to get to the nitty-gritty. The results might still be pretty obvious about who will advance. But the decisions and debates will become much harder. It will be a preview for a Final Four that will surely make people wrestle with their feelings about Magic history.

As always, voting will take place on Twitter @OMagicDaily starting Friday at noon. Please leave your reasons for voting for inclusion in future posts, especially now that we are getting to the end of the tournament!

Here is a preview of the Regional Final matchups:

Shaq Era Region: (1) Shaquille O’Neal vs. (2) Anfernee Hardaway

This is perhaps one of the bigger debates in Orlando Magic history. Perhaps even a debate that tore the team apart at the time they were together when Shaquille O’Neal eventually left the team in 1996. Discontent over the shoe brand battle between Anfernee Hardaway (Nike) and Shaquille O’Neal (Reebok) was very real.

Everyone definitely had their favorites at the time. They probably still have their favorites now.

The reality is both needed each other. As everyone said at the time of the 1993 NBA Draft, every good center needs a good point guard. Kareem needed Magic and so on and so on. Anfernee Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal were about as good a compliments as O’Neal had throughout his storied career.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Sure, Kobe Bryant was a better scorer. And yes, Dwyane Wade was also a dynamic scorer. But nobody really had the passing smarts and shooting ability that Hardaway had. They were a perfect pairing.

O’Neal was obviously a force that changed the NBA in so many ways. In his four seasons with the Magic, he scored 27.2 points to go with 12.5 rebounds per game. Instantly, O’Neal made the Magic contenders, winning Rookie of the Year in 1993 and helping the Magic tie for eighth with their first .500 record.

When Hardaway arrived a year later, the Magic had the most promising young team in the league. They would make their first playoff spot and then run to the NBA Finals in 1995.

Hardaway averaged 19.0 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game and 6.3 assists per game. Hardaway, at 6-foot-7, was a dynamic point guard that few teams really knew how to handle. Between O’Neal on the block and Hardaway on the perimeter, the Magic were a matchup nightmare.

Both Hardaway and O’Neal were All-NBA players together in 1994 and 1995. They are both on the Mt. Rushmore of Magic history and only face each other here because of my decision to seed teams based on franchise era.

O’Neal went on to have a strong career post-Orlando but only because Hardaway dealt with knee and ankle injuries after O’Neal left. Hardaway still put up impressive numbers when he was healthy. There was a lot we will never know with these two.

My Pick: Shaquille O’Neal

Dwight Howard Era Region: (1) Dwight Howard vs. (2) Hedo Turkoglu

Everything on the 2009 Finals team revolved around Dwight Howard.

The whole offensive system was built to run Dwight Howard in the post and surround him with shooters to dish out to when opponents inevitably tried to double down and crash the lane to stop Howard from overpowering their defense. There were few centers in the league at the time who could measure up to Howard.

Howard’s post-game was not always that great. But he was a brilliant roller in pick and rolls too. Howard demanded attention as he crashed down the lane and that opened everything up from beyond the arc. The Magic changed the game with Howard dominating everything in his path.

Howard was a monster for the Magic, guiding them farther than they had ever been before. Howard averaged 18.4 points and 13.0 rebounds per game in eight seasons with the Magic. He was a three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Orlando was a different team because of Howard. It was also different because of the size matchups they provided. Teams had no clue how to handle the Magic on a nightly basis. Especially when the team put the ball in Hedo Turkoglu’s hands.

The 6-foot-9 forward played point guard for the Magic for most of the team’s 2009 Finals run. He was the primary playmaker for the key moments of that run. And teams were never really prepared for a forward running the point like he did.

Hedo Turkoglu was up and down in his career with the Magic. He averaged 14.5 points and 3.9 assists per game in eight seasons in Orlando. He peaked in 2008 averaging 19.5 points. 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game.

In 2009, Turkoglu averaged 16.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. During the playoffs that year, Turkoglu averaged 15.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game.

And a whole lot more memories to go with it.

My Pick: Dwight Howard

T-Mac Era Region: (1) Tracy McGrady vs. (2) Darrell Armstrong

Tracy McGrady’s star in Orlando was like a supernova. It shined really bright for a quick time and then it seemed to go out. Or maybe collapse in on itself, leaving the Magic in something of a deep hole.

Either way, the ride was a lot of fun until the inevitable fall. An incredible high that held the Magic over through some lean and uncertain years where the franchise’s very future in Orlando was at stake. It kept the Magic national relevant.

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Tracy McGrady was undoubtedly the best scorer in Magic history, winning the scoring title in 2003 and 2004.

He averaged 28.1 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game and 5.2 assists per game. Looking at some of the teams McGrady carried to the playoffs, that is an even more impressive feat.

The Magic did McGrady very few favors in his career as he failed to get out of the first round in three playoff appearances with the Magic.

One of those teammates certainly did his part and remains one of the most beloved and important players in franchise history.

Darrell Armstrong was the heart of the popular Heart and Hustle team and was someone nobody ever questioned on the court. He was going 100-percent and setting a tone for the team. Tracy McGrady might have been the high scorer when Darrell Armstrong was exiting his prime. But Armstrong was the guy that kept everyone in line and working together.

It is probably no coincidence that things fell apart when the Magic let Armstrong go in free agency, fully trusted McGrady to be the leader and did not bring in an adequate veteran to fill that hole in the locker room.

Armstrong’s impact goes beyond his numbers — 11.7 points per game and 5.1 assists per game with a peak in the 2000 Heart & Hustle season, averaging 16.2 points and 6.1 assists per game. He took charges and dove on the floor, often playing with reckless abandon.

Armstrong is a special player in Magic history. This will be a battle of head or heart.

My Pick: Tracy McGrady

Expansion/Rebuild Era Region: (1) Nick Anderson vs. (2) Jameer Nelson

No two players represent the Orlando Magic’s soul more than Nick Anderson and Jameer Nelson.

The two longest-tenured players in Magic history are forever welcomed in the Amway Center (or whatever arena the franchise plays in Orlando). And it is hard to say a bad word about either of them — even though they are responsible for fairly large gaffes in their NBA Finals appearances.

For the most part, Magic fans will not even mention it. I am sorry I brought it up. Because the good memories and the impact they had over the course of their decade with the team far outweigh everything else.

Nick Anderson was the team’s original draft pick from the 1989 Draft. He likes to joke that when he was selected by Orlando he did not even know where the city was or that they had a team (they were an expansion franchise). Now, it is hard to imagine Anderson without the Magic.

In 10 seasons with Orlando, he averaged 15.4 points per game on a 50.4-percent effective field goal percentage. He is one of three players to score 50 points in a game in Magic history. Of course, even that got overshadowed when Shaquille O’Neal ripped the basket down toward the end of the game.

Anderson started his career as a defender and post-up guard. He developed a 3-point shot to fit around O’Neal. And Anderson just kept finding a way to fit in. Welcoming him back as a community ambassador was long overdue and just a welcome sight.

In many ways, Anderson is the Orlando Magic.

Nelson could also probably make a claim to that too. In his 10 seasons in Orlando, he averaged 12.6 points and 5.4 assists per game, peaking in 2009 with an All-Star appearance and 16.7 points and 5.4 assists per game before an injury ended his season prematurely.

Nelson was a rock for the Magic as they rose to prominence in the late 2000s and became a key figure as the team stormed through the first two rounds of the 2010 Playoffs, perhaps the best team in Magic history.

Nelson made up for his lack of size with heart. He competed every night — even after Dwight Howard left — and was a true leader, keeping everything loose in the locker room and backing up his play on the court by managing the game and hitting his share of big shots.

I am sorry someone has to lose this matchup as both are so vital to understanding who Magic fans are and what makes them love this team.

My Pick: Nick Anderson

Next. Orlando Magic should retire jerseys. dark

Voting starts Friday around noon on Twitter @OMagicDaily. I hope everyone is enjoying #MagicMadness.