I don't see Orlando being on the same level as Boston or Miami in the East, and a lot of it has to do with having Vince Carter as their go-to scorer. He can do it on certain nights, but I don't think they can depend on him consistently in the playoffs. When he is doing most of the scoring and shooting, it doesn't fit in with the rest of the team and what they're all about.
Defensively, Carter doesn't help them either. The problem is they brought in Carter to replace Hedo Turkoglu, who played a big role for them going to the Finals two seasons ago. They ran many sets with Turkoglu handling the ball in pick-and-roll situations as if he was a point guard. He could post up, he could play both forward positions, he could handle the ball and he was so versatile -- not a great shooter but he made big shots and plays -- and most of all he was a matchup problem for everybody. Carter doesn't create those mismatches, and their other players don't flourish around him the way they did around Turkoglu a couple of years ago.
Now the Magic look to Jameer Nelson as their main playmaker. Not that he isn't good -- he's decent. He plays hard, he's a leader, and he shoots the ball well. But the quickness isn't there. He's your typical heady point guard: gritty, gets it done with the limited advantages he has. But he has to make shots to look good.
Where he doesn't shine is turning the corner to penetrate and kick. Part of it is quickness and part of it is he doesn't want to get in there all the way, because if he leaves his feet he's going to have trouble getting his shot off because he's so small. Once he's in the paint he's not getting to the rim in traffic, so a lot of times he stops at the elbow to pop in a jump shot because if he moves another 4-5 feet inside, he'll find he has nowhere else to go. Defenses try to string him out, jump out on him and then try to recover to their own man.
Where Nelson creates problems is if he manages to split the trap. If you aren't sound defensively or if your big man moves up too early to deal with Nelson's penetration, he'll get between his man and the help defender to turn it into four-on-three.
Dwight Howard is a special center because he's so imposing defensively. Offensively, he doesn't get up many shots, but he gets to the line a lot. He's like Shaquille O'Neal: You have to tie him up or else he'll dunk on you. Many of Howard's free throws have been field-goal opportunities defenses surrendered by fouling him.
I'm not surprised his post game hasn't fully developed. I don't think you'll ever see him turn into Hakeem Olajuwon down there. He is so bulked up in his upper body, and I wonder if that has helped limit his touch. I really do think there's a point where so much weightlifting serves as a detriment to touch. He reminds me of Kevin Willis, who was cut, but had no touch on his shot.
Howard's footwork is very mechanical. You can almost see him going through each move in his mind: "Drop-step here, and what do I do next?" He's unsure of himself and nothing appears instinctive for him except to turn around and hammer down a dunk. He'll go to grab a rebound and flush it, but it's all brute force and muscle moves. There is very little finesse to it.
He struggles as a passer out of the double-team, but then again, I'm not sure it's worth doubling him unless he gets deep into position around the basket, and that's when you foul him to prevent the dunk.
Howard's athleticism is off the charts, and there's a lot of talk about him starting the break with an outlet pass and finishing it with a dunk at the other end. The Magic seem to be more of a controlled break team. The fast-breaking teams that you really notice have a center that begins the break with the long outlet with the play finishing through the wings. It's impressive to see Howard running the floor, but that doesn't turn them into a devastating fast-break team.
Howard is very strong defensively on drives to the basket, and he challenges all kinds of shots as a help-side defender. He's very good defending one-on-one, but he also gets himself into foul trouble by being too aggressive. But they rely on him to do a lot for them defensively around the basket.
To build around Howard, you have to have shooters. But to really be effective, Howard needs to draw the double-team. Because he doesn't scare you with his moves, he needs to have the deep post position where he's catching it with both feet in the paint. That's why they have that controlled break, so he can get down there ahead of the ball and stand under the lip of the rim where they can go right to him without running sets. But that's a difficult thing for him to do repeatedly when he's needed for defensive rebounding.
Rashard Lewis is a hybrid power forward. He provides the deep shooting they need around Howard, and Howard's toughness enables them to live with Lewis being slight for his position. Lewis doesn't rebound at the level of the strong power forwards in the league, and when Howard is in foul trouble, that hurts Lewis -- he isn't nearly as effective when Marcin Gortat comes in to replace Howard, because the defense doesn't have to respect Gortat.
Lewis isn't a ball-handler and he's not much of a post-up player, but he's very good at the catch-and-shoot game, and he has to be respected at the three-point line.
There is talk about shifting Lewis back to the 3, but I don't know if he can guard the athletic small forwards anymore. When he's defending the 4s, Lewis knows where Howard is coming from to help him.
I'd have Quentin Richardson on my team, though he isn't the player he used to be. There is no bull with him: He wants to do it the right way, and he'll call out teammates when he doesn't see them doing the right things. If he's healthy, then he'll help you. He used to post-up more, but he lost a lot of his athleticism and flexibility with the back injuries he's had. Can he give them production night after night?
Mickael Pietrus may be their best small forward. He has athleticism, toughness and length. He's not a great shooter, but he seems to make shots when they're needed, and if you give him time, he can tee it up from the three-point line. He can guard the three smallest positions, which gives them many options.
Chris Duhon has played on some decent teams, and when he was with Kirk Hinrich in Chicago in a two-guard front ? with Hinrich taking on the tougher defensive assignment -- Duhon played well. He can make shots, though he's far from being a good shooter. He's a good backup point guard, and I think he can handle the pressure.
They're hoping to get Jason Williams back in November. He played well for them as a backup last year.
Their overall situation at point guard isn't great, but I guess that depends on how much you think of Jameer.
J.J. Redick has improved his stock. He makes shots, but I'm not ready to anoint him. He puts in the time and effort, and there's no complaint about him not working on his game. He has become more reliable as a producer with the game on the line, and I think they feel comfortable with him. They know his strengths and weaknesses, but if they were to replace him with someone else, then they inherit someone else's unknown weaknesses.
Brandon Bass has gone unused so far in Orlando. He lacks length, but he's tough and athletic. I don't know how he's going to be successful there because he and Howard are going to be fighting for the same touches. That's why Lewis is more suited for the 4, because he can space the floor for Howard.
Ryan Anderson is similar to Lewis in that he could play for a long time in the league. Is he another Matt Bullard? Bullard probably wasn't as athletic as this guy; Anderson is more of a complete player. But then Bullard had the advantage of playing with Hakeem, who got a double-team every time he touched the ball.
I'm a fan of Stan Van Gundy. I like the way he is organized, his team looks ready to compete every night, he makes adjustments when needed, he knows what to do during his timeouts. But for some reason, his team questions him more often than you hear other coaches being questioned. It has nothing to do with coaching ability; I think it's because he never played in the league, and that is a big thing with the modern NBA player.
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