STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Expectations are completely different this year in Orlando after a tumultuous offseason during which the franchise traded its centerpiece, Dwight Howard, reigning Most Improved Player Ryan Anderson, replaced coach Stan Van Gundy with Jacque Vaughn, and retooled the front office. The result is a roster full of new faces, inexperience, and without star-power. Orlando seems to be taking the Sam Presti approach to rebuilding, and is looking ahead to the lottery. The roster lacks a true best player and opens camp with injuries and rotation uncertainties. The squad is deepest and most versatile at forward and wing, but thinnest at center, where it looks to Gustavo Ayon and Nikola Vucevic to fill Dwight Howard’s mammoth void. The team will also bring its youth along faster—Vucevic, Moe Harkless, Justin Harper, Andrew Nicholson, and Kyle O’Quinn—a concept atypical of Van Gundy’s teams. Orlando moves even further in a new direction with Vaughn, whose offense will be predicated around dribble penetration and ball movement instead of the inside-out perimeter offense previous Orlando teams employed. Magic fans: expect a long first year of rebuilding.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
All the new faces, injuries, and unproven youth bring uncertainty to Orlando’s rotation as training camp commences. There will be plenty of fluidity in Vaughn’s rotation early in the season, beginning at center, where Vucevic and Ayon are competing for the starting gig. At the moment, the bigger, more versatile Vucevic is the favorite, but Ayon has impressed with his defense and energy. Whoever wins the job still won’t be depended upon for 35 minutes a night; the timeshare will be more evenly distributed. Also, look for rookie Kyle O’Quinn to get opportunities at center, and for Glen Davis to slide to the 5 in some lineups. In the meantime, Davis will open the season as Orlando’s starting power forward and has come into camp expecting to play 35-40 minutes a night, which is a safe bet at the moment with Al Harrington out.
Behind him, Orlando will get some of their younger guys playing time, most notably Andrew Nicholson and Justin Harper. Josh McRoberts provides Orlando energy and insurance at power forward if the young guys struggle, but won’t consistently be in the rotation. Incumbent Hedo Turkoglu will start at small forward and will see similar to the 31 minutes he averaged last year, and perhaps more until Harrington and Moe Harkless get healthy.
Newly acquired Arron Afflalo will start at the shooting guard spot, and he and Jameer Nelson are guaranteed to spend 35-40 minutes a game on the hardwood. Afflalo’s backup, J.J. Redick, should also see close to starter's minutes, and the team will employ lineups featuring both shooting guards together. Ish Smith was the leading candidate to backup Nelson, but a shoulder injury has him sidelined until November. Consequently, E’Twaun Moore will get 10-12 minutes a night backing up Nelson, and his play will determine how much time Smith sees when he returns from injury.
Nikola Vucevic: Vucevic is the favorite to win the starting center spot. He is good sized at 7’0, 240 lbs., and possesses a nice shooting touch. He is still raw, and needs to display more development before anyone should expect consistent box score production. He appeared in 51 games last year for Philadelphia, averaging 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds, but was lauded by Doug Collins for his intelligence and rebounding efforts.
Gustavo Ayon: Ayon might win the starting center spot, but still isn’t a threat to be a major factor in the offense. Ayon averaged 5.9 points and 4.9 rebounds as a rookie in New Orleans last season, and has impressed Jacque Vaughn with his defensive presence. He’s not going to have any play drawn up for him, but he could post decent rebounding figures if he wins the starting job.
Kyle O’Quinn: O’Quinn will get opportunities as the Magic look to expedite the youth movement. The second-round pick averaged 8.8 points and 6.2 rebounds in Summer League, and will get chances at the backup 5 role. He is undersized, but makes up for it with his hustle.
Hedo Turkoglu: Turkoglu, 31, has steadily declined in production over the last few years, culminating in 10.9 points per game last season. Turkoglu hasn’t actually put up good numbers since 2008-09, but Jacque Vaughn will be expecting him to make plays in the dribble-penetration offense, and Turk reportedly showed up to camp in great shape. The most important thing for Turkoglu, though, will be his shooting, which was unusually abysmal last season.
Glen Davis: Davis will play power forward and center this year, but will begin as Orlando’s starting 4. Davis will be Orlando’s lone offensive post presence, and Vaughn thinks “he’ll want to handle a heavier load for sure,” so expect Davis to be a focal point. Big Baby was drastically better as a starter than reserve last season (averaging 19.0 points and 9.2 rebounds in the playoffs), and should be a steady contributor for Orlando at either position, particularly offensively.
Al Harrington: The veteran small forward will be out till mid-December after complications from arthroscopic knee surgery. At full strength, though, Harrington can still catch fire, although not as frequently anymore. Still, he was great for Denver last year, providing 14.2 points in 27.5 minutes. Once he returns, he’s a threat to average double-digits.
Moe Harkless: Harkless was a key piece in the Howard trade, and clearly the organization has high hopes for the former Johnnie. Harkless is a solid 6’9 with good athleticism, but is still incredibly raw with only 32 games of college experience. His absence until mid-November will delay his development, and he needs to improve his outside shooting. Orlando expects him to be a contributor off the bench.
Andrew Nicholson: Nicholson impressed in Summer League with his low post and rebounding prowess. He is 6’9 with a 7’4 wingspan and decent athleticism, but has a lot to learn defensively. Orlando will look to get the former Bonnie and 19th overall pick some playing time, especially without Harkless and Harrington.
Josh McRoberts: McRoberts, a journeyman, is a tough, athletic option to keep on the pine. He is a veteran who doesn’t stand down to anyone, and reportedly has the highest vertical jump on the team. He will compete for backup power forward minutes.
Christian Eyenga: Eyenga has spent his first two seasons at the end of the Cavaliers' and Lakers’ benches. He has good size and athleticism, but has a long way to go in development. If he makes the team, he’ll be outside the rotation.
Justin Harper: Harper barely got on the court his rookie year, and has a lot to prove in training camp. Orlando drafted him for his shooting ability at 6’9, but he has yet to display it. He added muscle this offseason to improve defensively, but he will need to shoot well in preseason to secure a spot.
DeQuan Jones: Jones was invited to camp after impressing scouts in the Summer League with remarkable displays of above-the-rim athleticism. At 6’8, 221 lbs., he is good sized, but is still a long shot to make the team.
Jameer Nelson: Nelson provided refreshing stability to the franchise this summer by re-signing for three years. He enters 2012-13 as the undisputed leader, and will be expected to play a bigger role this year as a scorer and crunch-time option. Nelson hasn’t put up good offensive numbers recently (11.9 points on 42.7% shooting last season), but should feel much more liberated on the court under Vaughn. Nelson’s never averaged more than 16.7 points per game, but could top that this year.
Arron Afflalo: Afflalo was the centerpiece of Orlando’s package for Dwight Howard. He averaged 15.2 points per game last season, the best of his career, and his scoring average has increased each year. This will be the first time Afflalo is expected to be a team’s go-to player, but he can contribute in a lot of other ways as well. He still excels as a defensive stopper, but his reliable outside shot and penetrating ability provide him with a solid offensive game. Vaughn’s offense should fit Afflalo well.
J.J. Redick: Redick has developed into one of the better sixth-men in the NBA. He averaged 11.6 points in 27.2 minutes last year and shot almost 42 percent from downtown. He has improved his game to complement his shooting, and can now put the ball on the floor and make plays for others. Most significantly, Redick is entering a contract year and will be seeking starter’s pay. Look for Redick and Afflalo to see time together, particularly late in games, due to Afflalo’s ability to guard small forwards and Redick’s shooting, especially from the line.
E’Twaun Moore: Moore will start the season as the default backup point, but he will receive competition once Ish Smith returns. At 6’4, he is a good defender who spent time guarding Dwyane Wade in the Finals. He will get every opportunity to win the backup point job for the season.
Ishmael Smith: Smith lost the chance to compete for the backup point guard role after injuring his shoulder, but is expected back by mid-November. When he returns, he’ll have the chance to challenge Moore for the gig, and his quickness makes him more of an offensive threat. He needs to improve his shooting, though, to earn minutes.
Quentin Richardson: Richardson provides Orlando with toughness and leadership. He is one of Orlando’s most experienced players and is thoroughly respected by his teammates. His contributions will come mostly off the court, as a mentor to Moe Harkless and others.
Armon Johnson: Johnson split time with the Blazers and Nets in 2012, and will compete for a roster spot in training camp. He is a long athlete with a nice stroke, but is a long shot to make the roster.
J.J. Redick: Redick looks primed for his best season as a pro, and is potentially one of the most productive sixth-men in the Association. He has become a more aggressive offensive player, and now willingly drives by defenders attempting to run him off threes. Besides Dwight Howard, Redick was the team’s most consistent player last year, and has plenty of motivation between a contract year and the acquisition of Arron Afflalo.
Hedo Turkoglu: Turkoglu has been bad-to-mediocre for the last three seasons now, and there shouldn’t be expectations for much else. Technically he’s still a 6’10 player with an ability to create off the dribble, but his abilities have been eroding ever since he won Most Improved Player in 2009. Don’t expect Turkoglu to light it up from outside anymore either, after a career-worst shooting year in 2011-12.