Commentary

Hollinger's Team Forecast: Orlando Magic

Originally Published: September 30, 2008
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com

Dwight HowardNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesDwight Howard's dominance in the paint helped the Magic's shooters launch a 3-party.
GO TO: 2007-08 Recap     Offseason Moves     Biggest Strength/Weakness     Outlook

2007-08 Recap

The Magic were criticized for nearly everything they did in the summer of 2007, but once the games started there wasn't much to complain about at all. Led by the interior dominance of Dwight Howard and a breakout year from Hedo Turkoglu, the Magic won 52 games and the Southeast Division title before falling to Detroit in the second round of the playoffs.

Coach Stan Van Gundy -- who was hired only after Florida's Billy Donovan backed out of an agreement to coach the Magic -- got the most out of a roster that looked both soft and thin heading into the season, doing his best work with Turkoglu. A bench player under the previous regime, Van Gundy made him the Magic's primary playmaker, often having Turkoglu rather than the point guards orchestrate the offense. The result was a career year and the league's Most Improved Player award.

HOLLINGER'S '07-08 STATS
W-L: 52-30 (Pythagorean W-L: 58-24)
Offensive Efficiency: 109.0 (6th)
Defensive Efficiency: 102.7 (5th)
Pace Factor: 95.6 (10th)
Highest PER: Dwight Howard (22.98)

Howard was dominant in his fourth pro season, breaking the 20-point barrier, sharply cutting his turnovers and making a notably stronger presence at the defensive end. He led the league in rebounding and free-throw attempts and, at just 22 years of age, appears set to be among the league's elite centers for several more years.

The third star in the Magic kingdom was Rashard Lewis, whom Orlando had signed to a ridiculous six-year, $122 million deal in the offseason. He wasn't worth that kind of money, but he did make 40.9 percent of his 3s and defended the power forward position much better than initially expected.

A midseason trade brought in even more shooting when the magic sent Trevor Ariza to the Lakers for Brian Cook and Maurice Evans. I wasn't wild about the trade because of Ariza's talent, which vastly exceeds that of the other two players, but he was a poor fit in an O-town system that relied on everyone to space the floor for Howard. Cook was surprisingly awful in Orlando after three solid years in L.A., but Evans took over as the starting shooting guard and did a solid job for the final two-thirds of the season.

With Howard soaking up double-teams, the other Magic let it rip. Six different Orlando players -- Lewis, Turkoglu, Evans, Cook, Keith Bogans and Jameer Nelson -- took at least two 3-pointers per game, and Orlando as a team was the league's most 3-point-happy offense. Nearly a third of their shots -- 32.2 percent -- were triples, and they made 38.6 percent, the fourth-best percentage.

Most 3-Point Attempts Per Field-Goal Attempt, 2007-08

TEAM 3A/FGA 3-Pt Pct.
Orlando .322 38.6
Golden State .295 34.8
Indiana .289 37.4
Memphis .264 34.9
Phoenix .260 39.3
League average .222 36.2

In fact, Orlando's shooting numbers were dominant in several respects. Thanks to Howard, they had the league's second-highest rate of free throws, which is amazing -- usually a team that shoots a lot of 3s will have very low free-throw totals because they're going to the basket less; Orlando was the rare team that dominated in both categories. The Magic were also third in 2-point shooting percentage, again thanks largely to Howard.

Overall, the Magic were second in the NBA in true shooting percentage -- only Phoenix was better. Their problem was just getting a shot in the first place. The Magic were unbelievably good at converting shots into points, but couldn't create enough of them.

For starters, Orlando was the league's fourth-worst offensive rebounding team -- this may surprise you given Howard's dominance, but the other four guys were all outside the 3-point line most of the time, so only 23.4 percent of their misses ended up in Orlando hands. Additionally, they had a slightly above-average turnover rate. While it wasn't as bad as the swarm of miscues that plagued the Magic during the previous season, this still detracted from the offense.

Because of those weaknesses, the Magic attempted only 0.82 field goals per possession, the second-worst total in basketball. Including free throws by valuing them at 0.44 field-goal attempts moves them up to the fifth-worst total, but that still largely explains why a team that shot so devastatingly well couldn't rank among the league's top five offenses.

At the defensive end, Van Gundy really whipped these guys into shape. Lewis adjusted well to his switch from small forward in Seattle to power forward in Orlando, and he was far less of a liability than expected, while bench players like Bogans and Keyon Dooling were major defensive forces who saw heavy minutes.

Howard, of course, was the linchpin, but he was a one-man army in the paint. In fact, here's a shocking stat: Despite having one of the league's top shot-blockers, Orlando was the league's third-worst shot-blocking club, sending back only 4.9 percent of opponent's attempts. Instead, they excelled the old-fashioned way -- they forced missed shots and Howard grabbed everything that came off the rim. In spite of their weakness on the offensive boards, Orlando ranked sixth in defensive rebounding.

Overall, Orlando ranked fifth in defensive efficiency, which is several spots higher than anyone had envisioned heading into the season. They dialed it up as the year went on, too -- the Magic were 17th at the All-Star break but played suffocating D down the stretch to finish in the top five.

And that might get you thinking -- if they were the No. 6 offense and the No. 5 defense, how did they win only 52 games? Actually, the Magic were quite unfortunate in this respect. They had the point differential of a 58-win team, and their 6.1-win differential between real wins and expected wins was the league's third-largest. It didn't help them any last year, but it's a good omen going forward, as it means the team was really better than its record.


Biggest Strength: Forwards

Yes, Dwight Howard is a beast, but a big part of the Magic's success is the fact that they have surrounded him with two 6-10 forwards who can score from anywhere on the floor. Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis are a matchup nightmare for opponents who have to choose whether to sacrifice inches or get caught with a post player trying to defend the 3-point line; in turn, the threat of their outside shooting gave Howard plenty of space to operate in the paint.

OFFSEASON MOVES
What roster moves did the Magic make over the summer? Were they the right moves? John Hollinger breaks it down. Insider Insider

Turkoglu was the big surprise last season, as his ability to operate as a point forward forced opponents into some unusual defensive arrangements against the pick-and-roll. The increased responsibility also snapped him out of the habit of disappearing for five minutes and then forcing a bad shot when he finally got the ball.

As for Lewis, his ability to defend the power forward spot was a major reason Orlando's defensive numbers were far better than expected. With Tony Battie missing all of last season with a torn rotator cuff, Orlando had to count on Lewis to defend the interior without fouling -- something he rarely did in Seattle.

At the offensive end, Lewis' reward was a series of tasty matchups against power forwards who were reluctant to chase him out to the 3-point line. Many opponents capitulated and just played small against Orlando to match up better defensively, bailing Lewis out of the defensive requirement of his job.

Biggest Weakness: The bench

This is where the losses of Arroyo and Dooling will really hurt, because Orlando's bench is (de)composed almost entirely of replacement-level players. About the only member who could distance himself from that claim is Bogans, a defender and 3-point specialist who has at least been moderately productive since coming to Orlando.

Beyond him, it's all rookies and retreads. In the frontcourt, Battie didn't play last season and is getting very long in the tooth; besides, he was only marginally productive even a season earlier. Foyle is a great guy to have in the locker room but not so great to have on the court, which is why he lost minutes to Polish unknown Marcin Gortat in last season's playoffs. Cook is another possibility, but he was brutal last season after coming over from the Lakers in a trade.

The backcourt has a similar story. Johnson is a known quantity but his play his slipped the past couple years and he'll be a major downgrade from the Arroyo/Dooling combo. On the wings, either Lee or Redick will have to play some minutes, but both are major question marks.

Making this a bigger problem is the likelihood that the bench will have to play more this season. Orlando's "big three" of Howard, Lewis and Turkoglu missed only one game between them last season; the odds of that repeating under the grind of an NBA schedule are slim.


Outlook

While it's tough to argue against the future of a team with Howard in the middle, Orlando's immediate outlook has more negative indicators than positive ones. The two major positives are that Howard is still improving and that the team had the point differential of a 58-win team last season. Those are impressive credentials, but the minuses more than offset them.

For starters, there's the health issue. Other than losing bit player Battie, Orlando glided through last season with nary a splinter; the one minor injury they had was to point guard Nelson, and that was the one position where they had plenty of backup. The Magic are unlikely to have such good fortune for a second consecutive season, and that has to be taken into account.

That dovetails nicely into the second point, which is that the supporting cast is depleted from a season ago and likely will be asked to do more. Swapping Arroyo and Dooling for Johnson is a major downgrade, exchanging Evans for Pietrus may prove to be the same, and either Lee or Redick will have to be a rotation player even though neither seems prepared to do so.

The Magic should still be the class of the Southeast Division, but largely by default -- they might be the only club in the division with a winning record. Because of that, they'll get a top-four seed in the East, and perhaps even a trip to the second round. But don't expect them to get any further in the playoffs than they did last spring.

Prediction: 46-36, 1st in Southeast Division, 4th in Eastern Conference

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.