Updated: Oct. 27, 2006, 12:00 PM ET

SPECIAL PREVIEW EDITION
Magic ready for big stage?

Magic

Team Page | Schedule | Roster | Hollinger Stats

Where will the Orlando Magic finish in the Southeast Division and the Eastern Conference? Get 10 takes from ESPN's NBA experts.

ANALYST COMMENT
Greg
Anthony

ESPN.com
You've got to love young talent led by Dwight Howard. One of the big questions is about their most experienced player, Grant Hill. This team has the potential to compete for a playoff spot, but ultimately the question is if Hill can play the entire season. And it remains to be seen if the young players are ready for higher expectations.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 11
Chris
Broussard

ESPN Mag
The beginning of something special in the land of Disney. Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard will draw comparisons to a young Stockton-and-Malone, and Darko Milicic will find his niche. If Grant Hill can stay healthy all season, the Magic could be even more special.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 8
Ric
Bucher

ESPN Mag
They've improved enough to take Indy or Milwaukee's playoff spot, but let's not lose our minds. There are still plenty of concerns this season, such as Darko's dedication, Hill's health and D-Howard's chutzpah.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 7
Chad
Ford

ESPN.com
Best young team in basketball, with Howard and Milicic up front and Nelson anchoring the backcourt. If Hill is healthy, they'll be the proverbial team no one wants to play in the first round.
DIVISION RANK: 2 | CONFERENCE RANK: 7
John
Hollinger

ESPN.com
One of the league's rising powers thanks to the frontcourt of Dwight Howard and Darko Milicic plus underrated point guard Jameer Nelson, but these guys are at least a year away unless Grant Hill shocks the masses and stays healthy.
DIVISION RANK: 2 | CONFERENCE RANK: 7
Scoop
Jackson

ESPN.com
If Tony Battie can go from averaging 5.6 rebounds a game to 8.9 or 9.8, the Magic will be the surprise team in the East, maybe placing better than eighth. So don't be surprised.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 8
Tim
Legler

ESPN.com
Nelson and Howard haven't scratched the surface of their potential, and Milicic will have an impact. If Grant Hill can stay healthy (stop laughing) to provide stability and leadership, the Magic will play meaningful games in April.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 9
Jim
O'Brien

ESPN.com
They shuffled their roster and finished strong last season. They have good chemistry but must learn to win on the road (only 10 wins last season). Howard is maturing and is a bona fide force, and Nelson makes them click.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 8
Chris
Sheridan

ESPN.com
I'm on board with calling Howard and Milicic the frontcourt of the future, though I don't think they'll yet make it to .500 in Grant Hill's last season in central Florida. But if you want a dark-horse pick for the playoffs, we'll take 'em.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 10
Marc
Stein
ESPN.com
With Dwight and Darko up front, Grant Hill starting the season healthy and its main rival for the No. 8 spot (Milwaukee) down two frontcourt starters already, Orlando has no excuses if it can't build on that 16-6 finish.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 8
 
Average ranks

DIVISION: 2.8 | Standings
CONFERENCE: 8.3 | Standings


Jameer Campaign
Nelson
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
I knew Khalid El-Amin, sir, and you are no Khalid El-Amin. Jameer Nelson has NBA staying power, and his pre-eminence in the Orlando backcourt is now clear since Steve Francis left town.


Lineup Breakdown

STARTERS ANALYSIS
Jameer Nelson
Point Guard
6-0 | 190
Wants to lead; 16 and 6 as starter make him easy to follow.
Grant Hill
Shooting Guard
6-8 | 225
Top gun is now 34-year-old wingman. Every team should have one.
Hedo Turkoglu
Small Forward
6-10 | 220
14.9 ppg was career high, but he can't keep foes from going off
Dwight Howard
Power Forward
6-11 | 240
Double-double man keeps getting smarter and bigger.
Darko Milicic
Center
7-0 | 250
Into the light: averaged 16 and 9 in FIBA World Championship.
Bench: Full-house backcourt: Carlos Arroyo revs it, rook J.J. Redick shoots it and Keyon Dooling does both. Up front? Well, Tony Battie's, uh, tall.

ESPN The Magazine's NBA Preview hits newsstands October 25.



Hollinger's Player Spotlight
Trevor Ariza
Player efficiency rating
projection: 14.37
vs. NBA avg.: -0.63
Magic profiles

Scouting report: Ariza is 6-8 and athletic, and he's only 21, so there's obviously some potential here. He's especially dangerous in the open court where he can fly in for dunks, but he also likes to drive to the basket in the half court. The weak link is that he's a terrible shooter, and he also undermines his high free-throw rate with his 65.8 percent career free-throw shooting.

Ariza's quickness and leaping ability are best showcased on the boards, where he's an outstanding rebounder despite a thin 200-pound frame. He's also great in passing lanes, averaging about a steal every 20 minutes for his career. Ariza has the tools to be a fantastic defender but right now he's still a bit of a work in progress. However, both the Knicks and Magic were vastly better defensively when he was on the court, and it's not hard to imagine him taking over as the team's stopper in the next year or two.

2006-07 outlook: Ariza re-signed with Orlando over the summer after he got surprisingly little attention from other clubs. Technically he's the No. 3 small forward on the depth chart, but with Grant Hill's injury-proneness he's likely to be No. 2 before long. His other route to playing time is by beating out Keith Bogans for the defensive stopper role, but he may be a year away from doing that. The projections foresee solid improvement by Ariza at the offensive end, but much will depend on whether he can find any consistency from the perimeter.


Jam Recipe
Howard
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
Dwight Howard throws down one of his 214 dunks last year, tops in the league. He made 53.1 percent of his shots, though his free-throw percentage dipped to 59.1 percent.


SportsNation Speaks
The Magic's kingdom is ripe with anticipation these days. SportsNation considered a few pairings that would make Orlando bloom.

Which pair should start?
35.5% Keith Bogans and Tony Battie
30.4% J.J. Redick and Darko Milicic
13.9% Keyon Dooling and Darko Milicic
13.3% Keith Bogans and Darko Milicic
4.1% J.J. Redick and Tony Battie
2.9% Keyon Dooling and Tony Battie

Vote: Magic in 2006-07



Ask A Blogger
Magic

What would it take for you to get a tattoo of the Magic's logo on your chest?

When I heard the perpetually benched Darko Milicic had been traded to my Magic, I had one question: Where can I get his jersey?

He didn't set the world on fire the last two months of last season, but he showed flashes of what I expect: blocks, help for Dwight Howard on the boards and a good shooting touch for a big man.

I'm wishing upon the star on Orlando's jerseys for the D-boys to hold down the lane, Grant Hill to stay healthy (he's due right?) and the Magic to make a cameo appearance in the playoffs.

Andrew Hershberger | andrewtaylorrecommends.blogspot.com



Coach's Corner

BRIAN HILL COACHING FILE
Experience: 8 years
Record: 258-273
Playoffs: 18-18
NBA titles: 0
Coach's profile

Brian Hill has a team in no man's land -- not ready for title contention due to its youth but loaded with talent and capable of a playoff appearance.

The Magic's great finish last year is a sign that this team can go on long win streaks. But to repeat that throughout the season requires an extra level of commitment, focus and leadership. Hill needs to get this team to grow up and pay attention to details.

David Thorpe, ESPN.com NBA analyst



Hollinger's Team Strength
Young talent. Orlando's players may not be household names yet, but they're very good and continue to get better. The centerpiece is the 20-year-old Howard, who finished second in the NBA in rebounding and is an awesome finisher, particularly on dunks.

Much of the Magic's hopes for this season hinge on how rapidly he can improve, especially as a post scorer. Right now his game isn't refined enough for him to be a first option offensively, limiting the team's ability to play inside-out.

Milicic has been in the league for three years, but he's only six months older than Howard because he arrived so young. He progressed in leaps and bounds over the final two months while getting his first regular doses of playing time, and his career shot-blocking rate is among the league's best.

Milicic didn't play a lot of minutes per night because he tended to run out of gas, but with some conditioning work, the 7-footer could become an elite center.

Then there's Nelson, a point guard whose performance a year ago has gone underappreciated. His average of 14.6 points per game doesn't seem overly impressive until you check out the minutes per game: 28.8. He averaged more than 20 points per 40 minutes, in other words, and he did it while converting a high percentage (48.3 percent from the field, 42.4 percent on 3-pointers).

After two pro seasons, the 6-0 former NCAA player of the year seems poised to have a three- to five-year run as a borderline All-Star at the point.

Throw in Ariza (21 years old) and Redick (22), and the Magic have a potential long-term starting quintet whose average age is 21.8, making them a good bet to challenge for an Eastern Conference crown by the end of the decade.

More Hollinger Magic analysis Insider



Fantasy Fix
Howard
Howard

Sleeper: Everyone raves about the potential of Dwight Howard. Not bad considering that Howard averaged nearly 16 points per game and finished second in the NBA in rebounding average.

So how is he a sleeper? Howard did all that despite averaging just under 11 shots per game and shooting under 60 percent from the charity stripe. He simply has to get more looks and could be among the NBA's elite within the next two seasons if he progresses quickly.

Bust: Keyon Dooling should not excite any fantasy owners, regardless of how much playing time he receives. He's not a great shooter, and even when he does score well, he offers nothing else of note. He doesn't shoot the 3, and he's not much of a distributor or rebounder.

Keith Lipscomb | Fantasy Hoops Index

 

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