The biggest thing is that they're now the hunted rather than the hunter. Last year they caught some people off guard. They got off to a good start and played well on the road, they felt good about themselves and their coach. This year the expectations are going to be higher.
They're going to be lacking in certain spots without Keyon Dooling and Maurice Evans. Dooling was important in the playoffs and other times during the season because they were playing three point guards between him, Jameer Nelson and Carlos Arroyo, who is also gone. Dooling gave them length and size as a wiry, tough guy. Evans could guard, chase through screens and make corner threes, which are big because of the way they spread the floor. It looks as if they reacted to their playoff loss against the Pistons by bringing in Anthony Johnson as a backup point. Chauncey Billups and Rodney Stuckey won't be able to bully him the way they went at Nelson.
Acquiring Michael Pietrus gives them a long, athletic guy to run and stay with the Rip Hamilton types. Pietrus is a good pickup who can make the corner threes, and he's a little bit longer and taller than Evans. But we haven't seen Pietrus on a consistent basis. GM Otis Smith used to be with Golden State so he must have a good feel for Pietrus, but he was the kind of player who would tease you. You would have thought Don Nelson would play him more often, but obviously something wasn't quite right there.
Rashard Lewis changed the way teams had to play Orlando. Except for a few teams such as the Celtics and Pistons, defenses couldn't single-cover Dwight Howard. But obviously you couldn't help off Lewis, and he created mismatches on the perimeter as a power forward. The league is going in that direction -- smaller -- and against the traditional teams who have paint players at power forward, Lewis creates problems with his shooting and ability to put it on the floor. And when you try to go small against him, then he can post you up. When he's making shots, he's a hard matchup. Defensively, against traditional post-up scorers, he's not great. He'll work to play defense on the catch, trying to deflect the ball out of the post, but after that he doesn't get a lot done.
Going into last year, the perception was that Lewis would be their No. 2 player. But then Hedo Turkoglu emerged, and that's going to be an issue because Turkoglu can opt out this summer. He's going to want more money -- shouldn't he get as much as Lewis? -- and it's not going to be there even though Turkoglu helped get them to the second round.
You always knew Turkoglu could shoot. He was especially good as a spot-up shooter, as a trailer in the open floor or as a pick-and-pop guy. Last year he became more aggressive at getting to the free-throw line and that made him really hard to guard. You have to really work on him because he has size and the ability to turn the corner. Of course, he's vulnerable defensively, but he came through as their guy to make big shots at the end of the game.
It looked like Dwight Howard had worked in the summer and improved his jump shot early last year. But as the year went on, he went back to being more of a 10-foot-and-in guy. I don't know if it was coach Stan Van Gundy wanting him to stay in the paint, or if Stan didn't have enough confidence in his scoring ability outside his normal spots. I still don't know if his skills have grown enough as a passer out of the paint. He also needs to get better from the line.
To beat Orlando, you need to guard Howard one-on-one, which enables you to match up with their shooters. Until he proves he can kill you with it, teams are going to give him the 15-foot jumper.
They also need consistency at point guard. Everything you read and hear is that Nelson is a great leader and his guys like him. But he turns the ball over a lot, which is a big issue for all coaches and Van Gundy in particular. Nelson also gives up a lot defensively when he plays bigger guards. They have two of the best shooters at the forward spots in Lewis and Turkoglu, and they have Howard inside; now it's up to the point guard to make the decisions and get the ball to the right person at the right time. And they need him to be a better defender as well. He's a tough on-the-ball defender, but when he has to guard in screens or in pick-and-roll or in post-ups, he's giving up a lot. Some of those situations made Dooling and Arroyo valuable coming off the bench.
Courtney Lee looks like a good draft pick for them. He has nice size, he can shoot off screens and he might play a lot of minutes. The problem with J.J. Redick is that he's just not a good defender at all, so he has to make threes to equalize the ones he's giving up at the other end.
Keith Bogans was underrated for them last year as a tough defender and a three-point shooter.
When Tony Battie comes in as a power forward -- his natural position -- they have to change how they play. He's a good shooter but he doesn't go out to the three-point line like Lewis. He's not a true center but that's where he's going to have to play. When they bring in forward Brian Cook with his three-point shooting, they don't have to change their style.
Their division is going to be improved, and the East overall is going to be tougher. If Turkoglu or Lewis goes down for significant time, this team is going to have some issues.
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