This ain't the Orlando Tragic of yester year. With their superstar center / superman dunker, things are looking good in Orlando for the Magic faithful. We checked in with our man Ben Q. Rock from the excellent SBN Orlando Magic blog Third Quarter Collapse to see what's up with one of the few Leastern Conference teams that's more than legit.
Head on over to Third Quarter Collapse for a preview for tonight's game in the magical kingdom and make the jump to see Ben Q Rock drop some magic.
Ben (Third Quarter Collapse): Before I answer the questions, I just want to express my fear of (and adoration for) Monta Ellis. Dude's single-handedly elevating my fantasy teams, and will probably single-handedly destroy the Magic tonight. You guys scarcely need to be reminded of how great this kid is, but just know that other people are noticing, too. And I will never get over the fact that we passed on Monta to draft Travis Diener in 2005. Wow.
Okay, I got that out of my system. Let's roll.
Golden State of Mind: Although Magic center Dwight Howard has some rough edges, he has cemented himself as a legit superstar in the league this season and is a serious contender for league MVP. He isn't the first HUGE center the Magic have been blessed to draft #1 overall though. How would you compare a young Shaquille O'Neal on the Magic to Dwight Howard? Do you see Howard having as much success (i.e. rings) as Shaq when it's all said and done?
Ben (Third Quarter Collapse): Dwight compares favorably with young Shaq. When Shaq was 22, as Dwight is now, he averaged just a shade under 30 points per game, 11 boards, and 2 blocks. Dwight, at the same age, averages about 22 points, 15 boards, and 2 blocks. Certainly Shaq's offensive game was more polished than Dwight's is, but Shaq also got more touches. It's been so long since Shaq's early years here that I'm having trouble picturing what Dwight would look like in that Magic lineup alongside Penny Hardaway, Nick Anderson, Horace Grant, and Dennis Scott. However, I imagine if one didn't pay attention to the uniform number, it'd be hard to tell the difference. That's saying something.
Championships are a hard thing to predict, but Dwight's so young and so good, it's hard to imagine that he won't retire without at least one. Hopefully, it will be in Orlando -- and he's said he wants to play here "forever". We'll see. He probably has another 8 years at this level (or better!), then another 5 years of solid, still-productive play left after that. 13 years. At least. I like the odds.
Golden State of Mind: The Magic management had a ton of critics for the 6 year $118 million dollar deal they handed swingman Rashard Lewis this offseason, which made him one of the highest paid players in the league. In year 1 of this deal has Lewis provided the Magic with enough bang for the buck? How do you think this signing will work out in the long run for this franchise?
Ben (Third Quarter Collapse): Some people who maybe don't follow the team as closely as Magic fans do look at Lewis' scoring decline -- he's down to 18.4 from 22.4 last season -- and proclaim him a bust. That's just not the case, though. We're not paying him solely to score; we're paying him to draw defenses away from Dwight Howard, and he's doing that beautifully. And his three-point percentage has increased in each month this season, which makes him even more dangerous. If he's hot come playoff-time, we're going to go a long way.
I agree with Carter Blanchard's assessment of Lewis at FreeDarko a few months ago. As Blanchard put it: "Rashard Lewis might never deserve his $110 million, but when all's said and done, he'll have been worth it." In other words, he's overpaid from a statistical perspective, but not from a basketball-philosophy one.
Again, it's hard to forecast championships, but I like our chances with Rashard and Dwight winning one within the next six years. A lot of that hinges on adding a final piece. Of course, giving Lewis max money really screwed-up our cap room, so it's going to be up to Otis Smith to a) draft well and b) spend the mid-level exception wisely for this team to improve. Unfortunately for us, drafting isn't Otis' strong suit.
Golden State of Mind: Hedo Turkoglu is having a career year with the Magic putting up a very impressive all around statline that approaches 20 ppg, 6 rpg, and 5 apg plus a steal. Where did this come from? Is it gold or fools gold? How many more years do you think Hedo can maintain this high level of play?
Ben (Third Quarter Collapse): The increased production is due in large part to Stan Van Gundy properly using Turkoglu's skills. He's 6'10" and has a great handle, yet most of his other coaches wanted him to be a spot-up shooter. This year, he's creating his own shot, occasionally running the offense, and taking our biggest shots in crunch time. He does most of his damage on the pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard, with whom he has a great rapport.
Turk is in his prime and will turn 29 in a little under two weeks. Barring injury or the return of the "Turk-O-Flu" (a mysterious, flulike illness that bothered him for the entire 2006/2007 season), we have another 3 or 4 years of Good Turk. Let's hope Otis is able to find the cash to re-sign him; he can opt-out after next season, and may want a raise.
Golden State of Mind: How much credit does new Magic head coach and Bay Area native Stan Van Gundy deserve for the Magic's impressive record this season? Does anyone in Orlando wish Billy Donovan stuck with the team instead of heading back to Gainesville?
Ben (Third Quarter Collapse): Van Gundy deserves a ton of credit for building a system based on the talent he has; that is, he hasn't imposed his style on the players, as Brian Hill did last season (with poor results). Van Gundy is already the best coach in Magic history and he's getting more out of this team than anyone could have possibly imagined. Additionally, he has a great personality. I loved that he called-out Dwight Howard after Dwight complained about not getting his offensive stats during a loss against Cleveland. The ensuing media coverage was overblown, but the fact that Van Gundy dared call-out the franchise cornerstone is refreshing; it's nice to have an assertive coach. The players seem to respond well to Van Gundy and there's no indication that they've quit on him.
If there's one complaint I have, it's that the team's defense has gotten progressively worse each month. Defense was a hallmark of the Van Gundy-coached Heat teams from a few years ago. However, the defense has picked up this month, but that has as much to do with the caliber our opponents (the Knicks, the Raptors minus Bosh, the Wizards minus Butler and Arenas) as it does with our effort.
Nobody I know even talks about Billy Donovan anymore. Actually, I'm glad he had a change of heart. He's happier at Florida, we're happier having a proven coach with NBA experience at the helm. Only the most die-hard Florida fan would think that the Magic would be better off with Donovan, and even then that same Florida fan would rather have Donovan coaching the Gators than coaching the Magic.
The Magic look like they're headed to the 2nd round of the Leastern Conference playoffs this spring at the very least. Ben Q Rock's just the man to cover what should be a magical run for Mr. Stick Dunk and company. Definitely make Third Quarter Collapse a regular stop.
Should be fun Saturday night game in Orlando. Hopefully we'll be doing that Tootsee Roll like the 69 Boyz after a nice W!
Gotta give them props for all those now retro striped Magic jerseys.