This article is part of our NBA Team Previews series.
By Kevin O'Brien
STATE OF THE FRANCHISEThroughout the majority of last season, the talk around the league centered on a potential blockbuster Cavs vs. Lakers NBA Finals. Excuse the Magic for not listening. The Magic took out 2008 champion Boston in the second round before facing the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Six games later, Orlando was heading to the Finals, and any hope of a LeBron/Kobe matchup for the title was dead. Orlando could not complete its impressive run, losing 4-1 to the Lakers, but it served notice to the rest of the league that there was a new power in the Eastern Conference.
Following the season, Hedo Turkoglu signed with Toronto, creating an opening in Orlando's starting lineup. Orlando filled that hole in a big way, acquiring Vince Carter from the Nets for three players - including the promising Courtney Lee. Orlando will also feature several new faces at other positions this season. In order to add depth at the forward spots, Orlando signed Brandon Bass and Matt Barnes, and also added Ryan Anderson in the Carter trade. In the backcourt, the Magic acquired Jason Williams to be the backup point guard. Adding those players to a roster already featuring Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Jameer Nelson should give Orlando one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference during the 2009-2010 season.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTIONOrlando's roster features a starting five that should play significant minutes; but that talented group should also allow head coach Stan Van Gundy to give his regulars some rest in the fourth quarter. Dwight Howard will play a little over 35 minutes a game at the center position, with Marcin Gortat getting the majority of the time when Howard is on the bench. Rashard Lewis will play roughly 35-40 minutes per night, starting the game at power forward and shifting to small forward when Brandon Bass enters the game. Bass played nearly 20 minutes per game for the Mavericks last season and will probably play about that much in his first season with the Magic as well. Ryan Anderson will factor into the mix and will probably see about 10-15 minutes of action per night. Mickael Pietrus will start at small forward and play between 20-25 minutes per game, with Lewis and Matt Barnes seeing most of the action there when Pietrus is on the bench. At shooting guard, it's basically Vince Carter and J.J. Redick. Carter will probably play about 35 minutes per game, with Redick and Barnes coming off the bench to spell him. Barnes will probably see about 15 minutes per game in order to give the starters some rest, with Redick playing about 10 minutes as well. Jameer Nelson has yet to average more than 31 minutes per game in any season during his career, but he will probably set a career-high and play about 35 per game as long as he can stay healthy. Jason Williams and Anthony Johnson will split the playing time behind Nelson, with the hotter player likely to see more minutes in a given game.
CenterDwight Howard: Howard's offensive numbers actually dipped slightly last season, but he also averaged a steal per game for the first time in his career and averaged a league-high 2.9 blocks per game, easily the highest average of his career. Howard's offensive game improved towards the end of last season, and he even shot an improved 63.6 percent from the free throw line in the playoffs. If Howard can shoot around that number (or better) from the stripe and continue to evolve his post moves, he could finally become a top fantasy star this season.
Marcin Gortat: Gortat signed with Dallas as a restricted free agent this summer, only to see the Magic match his rather large deal from the Mavericks. Back with the Magic, Gortat will be the team's backup center to Dwight Howard. The team obviously views him as a key part of the team with its willingness to match the Mavericks' 5-year, $34 million offer sheet, but he will continue to come off the bench for the foreseeable future. In that role, Gortat's fantasy value will be limited.
Adonal Foyle: Foyle re-signed with the Magic this offseason and will be the team's third center on the roster. Foyle did not play much last season and probably will often be one of Orlando's three inactive players as well. His days of being anything close to a fantasy contributor are long gone.
ForwardRashard Lewis: In his second year with the Magic, Lewis had his lowest scoring average since the 2001-2002 season. His struggles from the field were the main reason, but Lewis also ceded a lot of shots to Hedo Turkoglu whenever Turkoglu took charge of the offense late in games. With Turkoglu in Toronto and Brandon Bass on the roster, Lewis will probably see more time at the small forward position in 2009 even though he will likely start the game down low. Lewis will be more of a scorer in that role, but keep in mind Vince Carter will take at least as many shots as Turkoglu did and probably more, so expect roughly the same production from Lewis as last year.
Mickael Pietrus: Pietrus is slated to begin the season as Orlando's starting small forward. He played a complimentary role in his first season with the Magic but will likely see his minutes expand due to the departure of Hedo Turkoglu. Pietrus is a threat from downtown and is a good perimeter defender, two things that Orlando does not have much of. Don't be surprised if Brandon Bass moves into the starting lineup at some point during the season, moving Rashard Lewis to the three, but consider Pietrus the team's top small forward for the time being.
Brandon Bass: Bass is a promising young player who came over from the Mavericks this past offseason. Orlando is pretty thin at the power forward position, literally and figuratively; so Bass will be counted on to provide some muscle down low. Bass will be a big part of Orlando's plans this season but will likely come off the bench initially. If Bass proves to be an effective complement to Dwight Howard during the season, don't be surprised if the Magic shift Rashard Lewis to small forward and move Bass into the starting lineup.
Matt Barnes: The Magic intended to add more shooters to the roster this summer, so Barnes should be a welcome addition to team. Barnes started 40 games for Phoenix last year and had the best season of his career, but it's very unlikely that he'll see as much playing time as he did last season. Barnes will be a key player off the bench for the Magic, but don't expect him to match last season's level of production.
Ryan Anderson: Anderson was a throw-in to the Carter deal, but he's not your typical trade filler. Anderson, who will be entering just his second season, has a nice shooting touch for a big man and has already started 30 games in his career. He probably won't see the playing time with the Magic that he did with the Nets last season, but he could help the club replace some of the production lost with the departure of Hedo Turkoglu.
GuardVince Carter: The Magic made a big splash in the offseason when they acquired Carter from the Nets for Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee and Tony Battie. Carter immediately became the team's best perimeter player and will add a new dimension to the Orlando offense this season. Carter is a career 23.5 point-per-game scorer who also does not mind rebounding or passing off to his teammates. He will likely see the majority of the minutes at the shooting guard position, and along with Dwight Howard, will be one of Orlando's primary offensive weapons. With such a talented team around him, expect a big year from Carter.
Jameer Nelson: Nelson was having the best season of his career until a shoulder injury in early February knocked him out for rest of the regular season. An All-Star for the first time, Nelson was on pace to set career highs in all three shooting percentages percentages, points per game and steals. Now healthy, Nelson will resume his role as Orlando's starting point guard. Nelson won't face any serious competition for his job and should see the most playing time of his career this season. He looks primed for a big season.
J.J. Redick: Redick is coming off the most-productive season of his career. He saw action in 64 games and even started five of those. Redick will be the best shooter on Orlando's roster this season, so expect him to get some playing time in most games. Redick can hit some threes and will always have an above-average free throw percentage, but he won't provide much in the other fantasy categories.
Anthony Johnson: Johnson proved to be a capable backup last season, starting 12 games when Jameer Nelson was injured. Johnson and Jason Williams will battle for the primary backup point guard position during training camp, with the winner having some fantasy value due to Nelson's injury history.
Jason Williams: Williams did not play for any team last season, but the Magic felt they could use his play-making abilities on their squad this year and picked him up in the offseason. Williams' days as a regular contributor are over, but he will have some fantasy value if he can beat out Anthony Johnson for the backup point guard job.
Sleeper:Brandon Bass: The Magic's top four players (Dwight Howard, Rashard LewisVince Carter and Jameer Nelson) will all have big seasons, but the team will be looking for a fifth to be a regular contributor. Although Bass will begin the season coming off the bench, the Magic signed him for a reason. They realize that another bruising player next to Dwight Howard could really give them a scary frontcourt. Bass has a good offensive game and plays physically, so he could eventually get big minutes on this very good Orlando team. Bass probably won't average huge offensive numbers with so many other scorers around, but expect him to outperform his draft slot this season.
Bust:Dwight Howard: The term 'bust' is be a little hard to attach to anyone on the Orlando roster. Four of the team's starters are among the best at their positions and are fairly consistent, injuries not withstanding. The 5th-10th players on the roster are all fairly set in their roles and aren't likely to be high fantasy picks in any event. It would be easy to label Matt Barnes or Ryan Anderson a bust since they'll probably see significantly less playing time than they did last season, but there probably aren't many fantasy owners hoping those two players will take them to a championship. Therefore, Orlando's 'bust' will probably be their best player, Dwight Howard. Fantasy owners love Howard for his high rebound and block averages, but the average fan probably doesn't realize that Howard is average or below average in most of the other categories. It's been said before - unless Howard improves his free throw percentage and cuts down his turnovers, he probably won't live up to his high fantasy draft selection.
Article first appeared on 9/25/09