Last year, the Orlando Magic surprised the doubters with a satisfying 52-30 record which left them at the top of the less-than-stellar Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference. After being slurred by media and fans alike during the offseason of 2007, they delivered, led by the thundering game of center Dwight Howard and the breakout year of swingman Hedo Turkoglu. Finishing third in the East, the Magic went on to defeat the Raptors in 5 games, and proceeded to take on the thoroughly more experienced Detroit Pistons, who were fresh off a victorious struggle with the Sixers. The Pistons took the series fairly easily in 5 games, with some added controversey in game 2 on a questionable Chauncey Billups three pointer. But last year is last year. With Dwight Howard hungrier and improving, and with Turkoglu back to prove that the 07-08 season was no fluke, the Magic look poised to make another playoff run.
Probable Starting Five: PG: Jameer Nelson Jameer Nelson is the co-captain of the Orlando Magic. Once you hear that, you are probably thinking, "Why Jameer Nelson? Why not Hedo Turkoglu? Or even Rashard Lewis?" Yes, it may seem like an odd choice to have Jameer Nelson share this honor with big man Dwight Howard. The 26 year old 6 footer has career averages of 11.7 points, 4.4 dimes and 3 boards a game, nothing incredible. But the Magic must have faith in their young court general, whose averages for rebounds and assists are growing every year, even if his points are declining, making him a reliable choice to feed the big guns in the middle. Nelson can also shoot from long, with a percentage of .416 last year. But with guards Carlos Arroyo and Keyon Dooling gone to greener pastures ($$$), Nelson will have to step up his mediocre game.
SG: Mickael Pietrus In Golden State Pietrus, the 26 year old French two guard didn't get incredibly significant minutes for coach Nellie, averaging 19.9 per. While being on the bench for the Warriors Pietrus had been on par with the rest of the league in his role averaging 7.2 points, 3.7 boards and a steal per game. But with Orlando this upcoming season, Pietrus' minutes will increase dramatically, giving him the opportunity to show the rest of the league what he's got, or at least show the Magic that the good money that they're paying him is worth it. Standing at 6 foot 6, Pietrus will make an impact defensively, with Orlando putting him in the role of guarding the likes of Dwyane Wade, and Joe Johson, as they have confirmed. Orlando was lacking a defensive-minded player last year, and they got it with Pietrus. But whether he's up to the important pressure-filled job or not is a different question.
SF: Hedo Turkoglu Last year, Hidayet Turkoglu (more commonly referred to as Hedo) had a breakout season, to say the least. Averaging 19.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5 assists per game was enough to earn the award for most improved player, and deservedly so, never averaging more than 14.9 points, 4.5 boards and 3.2 dimes per game before last year. The 6 foot 10 swingman, the first Turkish player to reach the NBA, playing the way he played was a great boost for Orlando, adding another superstar-like presence to the starting five to complement Howard and Rashard Lewis. He has the outstanding ability to score from almost everywhere on the floor, be it taking the ball to the hole or shooting the three (shot .400 from long last year, averaging 2 per game), which are assets that make you incredibly hard to guard when you are a bigger player like the 6'10" Turkoglu. But with all of his sensational offense, his work at the other end of the floor is a bit below average. His D is of some concern, though is offense is top rate.
PF: Rashard Lewis Lewis brings to the table another outstanding scoring threat and long range shot for the Magic that forces teams to stay on their toes. In his first year in Orlando in 2007-08, Rashard averaged 18.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, great scoring numbers and mediocre rebounds numbers for a power forward. Also not very typical of a power forward, Lewis can shoot three pointers well; he shot .409 from beyond the arc last year. He also isn't afraid to take it, having had attempted 553 shots from long in the 07-08 campaign. A great shooter from most parts of the floor, he is also an outstanding free throw shooter, although he doesn't get to the charity stripe as often as a lot of other players. The 29 year old drafted out of high school in 1998 is not a perennial all star, though he is a very solid offensive player, even if his defense isn't as outstanding.
C: Dwight Howard Call him a freak of nature. Call him an athletic accident. Call him superman. Call him anything, but the dude can ball. The 6'11" big man is only 22 years old and on top of the NBA, starting in the All Star game in 2007-08 (his second all star appearance) and included in the MVP talks. And you better get used to it. Playing only three years in the NBA so far, his numbers and dominance are increasing every year. Last year, Howard averaged 20.7 points, 2.2 blocks and 14.2 (!) rebounds per game last year, leading the league in boards. He was the youngest player in the NBA to reach 3,000 and 4,000 rebounds and was drafted first overall out of high school (Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy) in 2004, and it has proven to be a smart pick. He is also the youngest player to lead the league in rebounds, to record 20 rebounds in one game, and to average a double-double. And, not that it means anything, he also has the highest field goal percentage in all star game history, shooting .810. His performance in the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest was also incredible, showing that him, being a big men, can jump like the smaller guys. This is a trait that is almost never owned, except for by Howard and Shawn Kemp. Dwight's defense is also top-tier in the NBA. He is great at every aspect of defense, barring the perimeter, and also posses great shot-blocking ability, averaging an almost Mutombo-like 2.2 blocks a game. And that is one of the many stats that are improving each year. Dwight's ability has not been fully realized yet, and it will probably be almost scary when it is.
Key Bench Players Tony Battie, PF-C: The experienced 32 year old 6'11" big man will provide good insurance off the bench for Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard.
J.J. Redick, SG: The 6'4" Redick did not get very significant minutes with Orlando last year, and has yet to prove himself after a great stay at Duke two years ago.
Courtney Lee, SG: Another 6'4" two guard, the rookie left Western Kentucky as the all time leading scorer. He was drafted 22nd overall in the 2008 draft.
Anthony Johnson, PG: The career journeyman won't get significant minutes, but it will be nice for the Magic to have him in their arsenal.
Adonal Foyle, C: The 33 year old 6'10" big is again another older guy who won't play much, but will give the Magic insurance in case of disaster, and to give Howard a rest.
Bottom Line: This year, Orlando is poised to have another great season with the core of Howard, Turkoglu and Lewis. But with the rest of the East improving as much as the Magic, I don't see it much different than last year. With their fairly strong starting five and (potentially very) weak bench, I see the Magic winning 45-55 games and a 3rd or 4th seed, and again I see them getting past the first round to the second and falling. The Orlando Magic are ready, and watch out for Dwight Howard!