Top 15 Orlando Magic rookies
1. Shaquille O’Neal
23.4 PPG, 13.9 RPG, 3.5 BPG, 81 games, 81 starts, 37.9 MPG, 56.2% FG%
Shaquille O’Neal not only had the best rookie season in Magic history, but one of the best rookie seasons in NBA history.
Shaquille O’Neal had a chip on his shoulder entering his first season with Orlando as he was selected first overall in the draft, but rival Christian Laettner was selected to play for Team USA on the Dream Team.
He wanted to prove he was the best basketball player entering the league, and he did. He is the first player in NBA history to be awarded the Player of the Week in his first week.
O’Neal was dominant on both sides of the floor immediately. The Magic went from the ninth-worst defense to the 12th-best because of O’Neal’s presence below the rim.
He averaged the second-most blocks per game behind Hakeem Olajuwon while averaging the second-most rebounds per game. There is not much more he could do on the basketball court.
Since 1970, Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson are the only rookies in NBA history who have averaged a double-double while placing in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding.
This is elite company, and he was exactly that in his first season. In his fourth game, he corralled 20 rebounds. Four months later he scored 40 points.
Not only was he arguably the best defender, but he averaged the 8th most points per game on his way to an All-Star selection. He was the first rookie to do so since Michael Jordan in 1985.
Orlando was building something special and O’Neal was the main event. The team ultimately went 41-41 and lost a tiebreaker to the Indiana Pacers to qualify for the playoffs. But the Magic were finally competitive and finally had a superstar for their young franchise.
Teams started to realize that one of the only ways to stop him was to foul him. He shot 8.9 free throws per game which was the third most in the NBA.
The roster construction of Scott Skiles, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott spread the floor so that Shaquille O’Neal could dominate inside and teams had to guard these perimeter shooters. It was the beginnings of the modern NBA offense.
O’Neal expedited the Magic’s ascension as a new franchise ready to compete in the NBA. O’Neal was the most commanding rookie in Orlando history and his legacy will continue to be remembered.
He easily won the Rookie of the Year by all but two votes and was even seventh in MVP voting.
Shaq entered the league in a big-man dominated game and quickly made his presence felt. Magic fans have been blessed with a slew of impressive rookies, but none can compare to the rookie All-Star Shaquille O’Neal.