STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Magicís 59-32 record in the 2009-10 season helped them win the Southeast Division for the third consecutive season and secure the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Orlando swept its way through the first two rounds and had home-court advantage in the conference semifinals, but fell in six games to a hot Boston Celtics team.
Despite the earlier-than-planned exit, the Magic did not make any drastic changes to their roster in the offseason. Starting small forward Matt Barnes departed for the Lakers, but the team should not miss a beat with Mickael Pietrus in his place. The Magic matched J.J. Redickís offer sheet from the Bulls, keeping one of the squadís more promising players in Orlando, and also added Quentin Richardson, whose ability to hit the outside shot should fit in well with the teamís perimeter-oriented offense. They picked up Chris Duhon and re-signed Jason Williams to back up starting point guard Jameer Nelson. The team did add some big bodies as well, both through the draft - Daniel Orton and Stanley Robinson - and via free agency - Malik Allen - but none of those players is expected to play a significant role initially. The teamís core of Nelson, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis and superstar Dwight Howard all return to lead the team again this season.
The Magic have owned the Southeast Division in recent years, but a certain fellow Florida team will give them all, and maybe more, than they can handle in the 2010-11 season. The additions of LeBron James and Chris Bosh to a Miami squad that already featured Dwyane Wade have made the Heat the preseason favorite to win not only the division, but also the league title. The Magic have a deep squad that will get them back to the playoffs, but just how far they go will depend on Nelsonís health, Carterís and Lewisí consistency, and Howardís offensive growth. If all those things occur, the Magic could give their Heat a run for their money both in the division race and in the playoffs.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Despite not making any major offseason additions or subtractions, the Magicís rotation will be a bit different this season. Dwight Howard will play about 35 minutes per game, depending on his foul situation, and Marcin Gortat will pick up any of the minutes at center when Howard is on the bench. Some of Matt Barnesí minutes will go to Mickael Pietrus, who should play about 25 minutes per game, but some will also go to Rashard Lewis, who the Magic plan to use at small forward a bit this year when they want a bigger lineup on the court. Lewis will play about 30-35 minutes a game, but since he will see some time on the wing, Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass both have a chance to see more time at power forward. The Magic really like both players, but the duo will only play about 20 minutes per game combined. Their minutes will depend on who matches up better with the opposing team on a given night. Quentin Richardson will play about 20 minutes per night, primarily at small forward, but he could see some time at shooting guard, too. Malik Allen, Daniel Orton and Stanley Robinson will pick up the scraps, but at least two of those players can count on being inactive each night. Jameer Nelson will play about 25-30 minutes per game at the point, and new addition Chris Duhon will see the remaining 15-20 minutes when Nelson is on the bench. Jason Williams was the backup point guard a year ago, but he was brought back primarily as insurance for the injury-prone Nelson and is dealing with knee soreness. He will not see much playing time unless Nelson goes down. The shooting guard position could be the teamís most volatile in terms of playing time. Vince Carter is getting up there in age, so it would not be surprising to see his minutes decrease into the 25-30 minute range this season. J.J. Redick has shown that he is a capable of a bigger role, so he will likely play about 20-25 minutes per game like he did last season. Players such as Redick, Duhon and Anderson fit well in the rotation, so look for the Magicís starters to get enough rest to remain healthy throughout the season.
Dwight Howard: Though Howard led the league in both rebounds and blocks again last season, his averages in both categories actually dipped slightly. Howardís scoring average fell by over two points as well, a product of both his fewest minutes and shots per game since his rookie season. Despite the drop-off, Howard remains a dominant force on the glass and on the defensive end. If he can improve his offensive game just a bit, and stay out of foul trouble, he should reach the 20 points per game mark again. Howard will put up big numbers in multiple categories, but his poor free-throw percentage and the amount of shots he takes from the charity stripe put a big damper on his fantasy value.
Marcin Gortat: Gortat could probably start on a lot of teams, but he does not see much playing time in Orlando behind the leagueís top center. However, he is a valuable part of the Magicís rotation given Howardís foul issues. Though Gortat is important to the Magic, donít count on him helping your fantasy team.
Rashard Lewis: Lewis is the Magicís highest-paid player, but his production since joining the team does not reflect his giant contract. His numbers last season declined for the third straight year - his 14.1 points per game was his lowest average since the 2000-01 season and his 168 three-point buckets were his fewest since joining the team three years ago. In an effort to increase his production on the offensive end, the Magic will use Lewis a bit at small forward this season. Though he already spends a lot of his time on the perimeter, the move should allow Lewis to take advantage of his 6-10 height against smaller defenders. Lewisí days as a fantasy force are behind him, but he will be well worth a mid- to late-round pick if he can hit a few more threes and get his scoring average back over 15 points per game.
Mickael Pietrus: Pietrus has been a valuable reserve over the last two seasons, but he will join the Magicís starting lineup this year following the departure of Matt Barnes. Pietrus will be the last option on offense in the Magicís starting five, but his numbers should increase with additional playing time. He hit a career-high 116 three-pointers last season and has averaged just over one turnover per game in his career, so he will have some value as long as he can average double figures in the scoring department.
Quentin Richardson: After starting 75 games with the Heat last season, Richardson will transition to a backup role in Orlando. Though he will come off the bench, Richardson should not see too much of a decline in his playing time. He should still hit around 100 three-pointers, but donít expect him to do much in the other categories.
Ryan Anderson: Rashard Lewis is not the only 6-10 player on the Magicís roster who prefers to play away from the basket. Andersonís size indicates Ďpower forward,í but he plays more like a guard. He hit 78 three-pointers last season and shot an efficient 86.6 percent from the free throw line. Those numbers alone give him some fantasy value, and the chance to see more tick when Lewis moves to the wing makes him a nice upside pick late in your draft.
Brandon Bass: Bass played in just 50 games last season, but an impressive preseason has him in position to see increased playing time. He should be more productive this year, but donít expect him to put up numbers that benefit your fantasy team.
Malik Allen: The Magic will be Allenís fifth team in four seasons. His size and experience will be beneficial to the Magic, but donít count on him seeing more than a couple minutes per game.
Daniel Orton: The Magicís first-round selection this season, Orton is still just 20 years old. He has a way to go before making an impact, and the Magic can afford to be patient with him, so donít count on Orton making a fantasy impact this season.
Stanley Robinson: Robinson developed into a nice all-around player in his final year at Connecticut, but he will be much more of a project this season than a contributor.
Jameer Nelson: Nelson has played in fewer than 70 games three straight seasons (and four of the last five), so the Magic signed Chris Duhon this offseason as extra insurance. After an impressive but injury-prone 2008-09 season in which Nelson finally played like the point guard the Magic thought he could be, he made just 44.9 percent of his shots last season and averaged 12.6 points per game. Those numbers, his inability to stay healthy, and Duhonís presence on the roster put Nelson far down in the point guard rankings. Donít count on him opening the season as a starter on your fantasy team.
Vince Carter: Carter was supposed to provide a scoring punch from the wing to open things up for Dwight Howard inside, but he averaged a career-low 16.6 points per game during his first season in Orlando. His other numbers also took a hit thanks to a steep decline in shots and minutes. Carter has not missed more than seven games in any of the previous six seasons, but he clearly is not getting any younger and may lose even more playing time this season to J.J. Redick. He has some mid- to late-round value, but donít count on him for 20 points per game any longer.
J.J. Redick: The Bulls signed Redick to a three-year, $20 million offer sheet during the offseason, but the Magic decided he was too valuable a piece to lose and matched the contract, keeping Redick in Orlando. Redick made tremendous strides last season and averaged 9.6 points per game, hitting 111 three-pointers in the process. A big contract and an aging Vince Carter have Redick in line to see an even bigger role this season. He wonít provide much in non-shooting categories, but he should average double figures for the first time in his five seasons and will be a cheap source of threes. He is worth a shot in the later rounds.
Chris Duhon: Jameer Nelsonís injury issues necessitated an upgrade at the backup point guard position, so the Magic decided to sign the former Knicks starter to a four-year deal. Duhon is not much of a scorer, but he is a good passer and rarely turns the ball over, two strong qualities for a backup. The Magic went after Duhon in 2008, so itís clear he is a guy they like. Duhon will see a decent amount of playing time even when Nelson is healthy, but he could potentially turn into a nice addition to your fantasy team if/when Nelson suffers his inevitable injury. There probably wonít be room for Duhon on your opening night roster, but keep an eye on him and donít hesitate to pick him up if/when Nelson gets hurt.
Jason Williams: Williams played well off the bench last season, but the Magic decided to give the backup point guard spot to the younger, healthier Chris Duhon. Williams will miss the first few weeks of the season while recovering from minor surgery and wonít be much of a factor when he returns to the team.
J.J. Redick: The Magic did not match the Bullsí offer sheet to Redick just to spite them - itís clear he has become an important player on the team. Vince Carter is getting older, so the Magic will likely keep him fresh by limiting his playing time throughout the season, and though Carter has remained relatively healthy, with age comes a greater chance of injury. If Carter is forced to miss any time, Redick would immediately become one of the top scorers in the Magic's rotation. He will have some value as it is based on his three-point marksmanship, but he could really turn into a steal if he is needed in a bigger role.
Jameer Nelson: Casual fantasy owners assume Nelson is a good fantasy player because he plays on a good team and dumps the ball into Dwight Howard. However, Nelson has averaged just 4.7 assists per game in his career, and Howard actually takes assists away from him because he gets fouled so often. Nelson has had trouble staying healthy, he does not hit many threes and is not a big-time scorer even when he is on the court. Chris Duhonís presence could limit Nelsonís playing time even further, so donít take a chance on Nelson until the later rounds.