Point guard Jameer Nelson (right) is entering his ninth season with the Magic. (Damian Strohmeyer/SI)
AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT ANALYZES THE MAGIC
This season won't be measured by wins and losses. You want to establish an organizational identity and philosophy. That can be measured in the development of players and how the team competes night in and night out. Look at Monty Williams' team in New Orleans last year. There were times when it looked like the Hornets had a D-League roster and yet they were in nearly every game.
This situation is not unlike the one Sam Presti faced in Seattle when he traded Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen and started over. Essentially, Magic general manager Rob Hennigan has done the same thing after trading Dwight Howard, and if you were to describe the roster, I would call it developmental at best.
With the dearth of talent, they almost had to re-sign point guard Jameer Nelson. From both a leadership and continuity perspective, he was too valuable to let go. You've got enough upheaval as it is, and because of that Nelson was more valuable to the Magic than he would be to anyone else. He is a high-character guy who has been with the team his entire career. They know they can rely on him. They know his leadership strengths, which are a big part of what he brings.
And he's not a bad player. He can make shots and he can score. But he's not a great creator. He's not going to break a defense down or pressure a team by constantly getting into the teeth of a defense and either scoring or creating for others. His strength is taking care of the ball and finding the right guy, but he's not going to make that creative play to get someone open. He probably ranks in the bottom third of starting point guards, but he is a very valuable transitional piece on that team.
Hedo Turkoglu can also be a bridge in terms of being a professional who will set an example for the younger players. On those Howard teams he was the one guy who could break the defense down off the dribble, not only to score but also to get open shots for teammates. He can't do some of those things anymore. He can still play, though. It's just that his greatest strengths have dissipated and he's going to have to adjust.
Arron Afflalo is the kind of player the Magic should covet. He's entering the prime of his career at a time when his game seems to be blossoming. His hallmark was his ability to defend, a strength that allowed him to establish a role in the league. It was also what he was asked to do when he played with Carmelo Anthony in Denver and Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince in Detroit. But last year without Carmelo, Denver needed to balance out the scoring, and Arron proved he was more than up for the challenge. He surprised people. Orlando is going to need him to score 15-20 points to be competitive.
Inconsistency is the trademark of Glen Davis' career. The issue with him is how much he's willing to focus and work at it and also keep his emotions in check. In comparison to the guy he was traded for, Brandon Bass, he's probably a more talented player, more skilled. But with the good comes the bad. He's not a guy you can count on as much. He isn't always a professional. Keeping him engaged is a big concern.
Davis is going to get as many shots as he wants and touches that he would not have gotten in the past. He obviously seemed to flourish late last year when Howard went out because the Magic had to rely on Davis -- he felt important. My fear is if the losses pile up, will that negatively affect his approach? Will he start going through the motions? This may be a great opportunity for him because now he's on a team where they're going to need him to be a go-to guy and to help defend the post and the paint. If he approaches this in a professional manner, it could be the kind of challenge that keeps him engaged.
Gustavo Ayon will become an immediate favorite to Orlando fans because of how hard he plays and his tough demeanor. He'll always stick his nose in the action. Although he has a long way to go offensively, he showed flashes last year where he rebounded and defended at a pretty high level and they're going to need that with the loss of Howard.
Al Harrington will give them a shot in the arm on offense. He'll get 20 points some nights, and maybe 30 or more from time to time if healthy. His lack of defense is a detriment, but Ayon's lack of offense is, too. You can't put the two together and make one player. That's why this team is going to win 20 games and not 60.
The silver lining in a [rebuilding] situation like this is that it allows a player to get minutes, shots and opportunities he wouldn't otherwise get and maybe you see whether there was more to his game than you thought. More often than not, the more time you get, the more your strengths and weaknesses are exposed. So a guy like J.J. Redick won't be able to score by just spotting up and shooting. He's going to have to do other things to get open.
Redick is still young enough [at age 28] that he could improve, but he's never going to become an off-the-dribble guy. Everyone knows that you have to defend him at the three-point line. What guys like Reddick can improve at is putting it down once or twice just to create enough space to get off the shot. You're never going to make Redick an All-NBA defender, but to become a starter he's got to get to where he's not a liability. You won't be able to make him more athletic but you can develop his smarts, his positioning, his intensity and his willingness to play defense.
Jacque Vaughn was a hard-nosed, intelligent player -- he played the game the right way. You never wondered if Jacque knew what he was supposed to do or where he was supposed to be. You know he's worked for one of the best in Gregg Popovich as an assistant coach in San Antonio. As a coach going into this situation, it's all about establishing a winning culture.
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