This article is part of our NBA Team Previews series.
By Kevin O'Brien
STATE OF THE FRANCHISEThe pieces fell into place last season for head coach Stan Van Gundy as the Magic finished with a 52-30 record - good for third place in the Eastern Conference. The Magic was impressive in an opening round series win over Toronto, but they faced a more experienced Detroit team in the second round and were knocked out by the Pistons for the second consecutive season.
Despite the disappointing early-round exit, the Magic only made a few small changes to their roster. Carlos Arroyo and Keyon Dooling moved on to Israel and the Nets, respectively, while Mickael Pietrus, Anthony Johnson, Courtney Lee, and Michael Wilks were added to stabilize the backcourt.
With the core of the team returning, next season looks to be a promising one in Orlando. Dwight Howard has grown into one of the top big man in the league and will only continue to improve as his offensive arsenal evolves. Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu combine with Howard to give Orlando one of the top frontcourts in the entire league. Though Miami has to be better and the Wizards should have Gilbert Arenas back in December, Orlando should still have little trouble taking the Southeast Division again. If Jameer Nelson can grow into a consistent point guard and one of the shooting guards can seize the starting role, don't be surprised to see Orlando challenge Detroit and Boston for the Eastern Conference crown.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTIONThis roster is loaded with players who can play multiple positions, and many players on the roster could be moved around early in the season until Van Gundy develops a consistent rotation. Regardless of the lineup, Dwight Howard will still play between 35-40 minutes per game, mainly at the center position. Tony Battie hasn't played in over a year but will still probably play about 15 minutes per game. Adonal Foyle and Marcin Gortat will split up the remaining time in the post.
Rashard Lewis and Hedo Tukoglu will start at the forward positions and each will play about 40 minutes per game this season. Brian Cook will be the first forward off the bench and could see an increase to about 15 minutes per game.
Jameer Nelson will again be the starting point guard, and should play around 30 minutes each game. Anthony Johnson will probably play about 15 minutes per game as the backup point guard; but if Nelson falters again like he did last season, Johnson could steal some of the starter's minuets away. Mike Wilks will likely only see garbage time minutes as the third option.
The shooting guard position will be the most volatile for the Magic this season. Mickael Pietrus will likely start at the beginning of the season and should see around 25 minutes per game, but Keith Bogans was one of Orlando's most-important players last season and could jump into the starting lineup. Bogans will see about 25 minutes per game, either off the bench or as a starter later in the year. Rookie Courtney Lee is a scorer, but like fellow shooting guard J.J. Redick, he will have to prove he can play defense before seeing consistent time in the rotation.
CenterDwight Howard: Howard set career highs in points, rebounds, blocks, and minutes per game last season. He's one of the top big men in the league, but his low free throw percentage and penchant for turning the ball over still keep him from achieving fantasy stardom. Regardless of his flaws, fantasy owners can still bank on a double-double and a couple of blocks every night from the big man, who has yet to miss a game in his four-year career. You know what you'll get with Howard, but don't expect your team to win the free-throw percentage category every week.
Tony Battie: Battie missed the entire 2007-2008 season due with a torn rotator cuff. A two-year starter, Battie will likely be shifted to the bench following last season's emergence of Hedo Turkoglu. Battie is a nice complementary player for the Magic, but he won't do much for your fantasy team.
Adonal Foyle: Foyle will again be a veteran presence off the bench for the Magic. He'll come in and do the dirty work, but could lose some playing time to both the returning Battie and the younger Gortat.
Marcin Gortat: Gortat saw action in nearly every playoff game last year, a sign that he could be in line for more time on the floor this season. The other backup centers are better defensively and have more experience, but Gortat could see more playing time if his athleticism wins out.
ForwardRashard Lewis: Lewis had a relatively successful first season with the Magic, but he wasn't the go-to scorer the Magic expected him to be, finishing third on the team in points per game and shooting his worst percentage from the field in four seasons. With a different team around him, Lewis' rebounding numbers also suffered -- his double-digit rebound games dropped from 13 in 06-07, to two last season. Still, Lewis was one of last year's better fantasy performers, mainly due to his finishing third in the league in three-point shots made. With opposing teams paying more attention to Hedo Turkoglu this season, look for Lewis' scoring average to increase again. If Lewis can be more aggressive on the boards and shoot a little better from the field, his overall numbers will be markedly better this season.
Hedo Turkoglu: With several younger players on the roster and the addition of Rashard Lewis, Turkoglu stood to be the odd man out in the fight for playing time last season. Wrong. Turkoglu responded by posting career highs in nearly every offensive category and becoming the team's go-to scorer in the clutch. He also played in all 82 games for the first time in his career. Turkoglu was one of last season's best fantasy players, but be careful about drafting him too high in your draft. With teams putting more focus on him this season, don't be surprised to see Rashard Lewis get a few more shots while Turkoglu's numbers take a slight hit.
Brian Cook: Cook is Orlando's most-athletic big man off the bench and shoots well from downtown. Still, with Orlando's best players manning the three front court positions, don't expect Cook to be a consistent fantasy performer this season.
GuardJameer Nelson: Nelson's numbers declined for the second straight season, and at times he was even removed from the starting lineup in favor of Carlos Arroyo. With Arroyo moving on this past off-season, Nelson is being given another chance to run the club. There are enough weapons around him to be successful, but Nelson must improve his shooting percentage and his decision making before he can be considered among the better point guards in the league. Nelson has a big opportunity and could prove to be an effective fantasy performer if he succeeds, but don't be surprised to see Stan Van Gundy go with the veteran Johnson if Nelson's struggles continue.
Mickael Pietrus: Pietrus signed with the Magic this off-season after spending the first five seasons of his career with Golden State. His playing time diminished last season, so it's not surprising that he moved on to a new opportunity. Pietrus will begin the season as the starting shooting guard, but he'll still be fighting for minutes with Keith Bogans and several younger players. Pietrus put up decent numbers two seasons ago with the Warriors and has the potential to average double-digits in points; but as Orlando's fifth offensive option, he likely won't be more than a role player.
J.J. Redick: Redick just can't seem to find a way off Orlando's bench, mainly because Van Gundy has said that Redick won't see playing time until his defense improves. Orlando's other shooting guards are better defensively than Redick, so don't expect him to play much.
Courtney Lee: Lee was a consistent scorer his senior season at Western Kentucky. He was a first-round pick, but it remains to be seen if he can get his shot off against players at the top level. Lee's career path and size are similar to that of Detroit's Rodney Stuckey, who found himself receiving extended playing time at the end of last season. There are a lot of combo guard-forwards on this roster, but if Lee can develop the way Stuckey did last year, he could force his way into the rotation by the second half of the season.
Anthony Johnson: After spending last season with Atlanta and Sacramento, the veteran point guard is back for his second stint with the Magic. He was signed to be the backup to Nelson, but the Magic have high expectations this season and don't be surprised to see Stan Van Gundy turn to Johnson if Jameer Nelson struggles.
Keith Bogans: Bogans was the starting shooting guard for the first half of last season and despite a January move to the bench, Bogans still saw regular playing time as Orlando's best perimeter defender and played in all 82 games. He also proved to be an effective outide shooter, knocking down 148 shots from behind the arc. Bogans will begin this season backing up Mickael Pietrus, but expect him to see consistent playing time and even start a few games for Magic this year. Bogans won't put up huge numbers, but he doesn't turn the ball over and should be a good source of threes again this season.
Mike Wilks: Wilks will be the team's third point guard. He has been around the league a while but really hasn't contributed too much up to this point in his career. With other experienced and more talented players ahead of him, Wilks isn't likely to see much time on the floor.
Sleeper:Rashard Lewis: Lewis was last season's big off-season prize, and though he was good, he was rarely great. Still, Lewis was one of the league's best outside shooters and is just a season removed from averaging 22 points per game with Seattle. Teams will need to clog the middle to stop Howard and will no doubt pay more attention to Hedo Turkoglu. As a result, Lewis stands to benefit from the extra attention paid to his fellow frontcourt mates. If he can prove to be a go-to scorer in crunch time, expect Lewis' confidence to increase; and with it, his numbers. Lewis will probably go a little lower in most drafts due to last year's sub-par numbers, but he will more than outperform his draft slot if he can get back to scoring over 20 points per game.
Bust:Mickael Pietrus: Pietrus will be Orlando's starting shooting guard at the beginning of the season, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll see starter's minutes. Keith Bogans will see plenty of playing time off the bench and rookie Courtney Lee could also push for playing time with an impressive training camp. Hedo Turkoglu will also play some at shooting guard when the Magic go with a bigger lineup on the floor. Pietrus hasn't been much more than a role player in his career; and despite the starting opportunity, he probably won't be much more than that this season either.
Article first appeared on 9/25/08