ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: The Orlando Magic

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Last season: It was a season of transition. The Magic started out near .500 (12-13) but when Glen Davis got injured things fell apart. The Magic won 8 games the rest of the year and by the trade deadline they had fully embraced the rebuild, meaning J.J. Redick was the first out the door in a six-team trade that brought Orlando Tobias Harris. The Magic ended the season with just 20 wins, the worst record in the NBA.

Signature highlight from last season: Not a lot to choose from, but how about some Tobias Harris.

Key player changes: It was a pretty quiet summer. The biggest addition this offseason was Victor Oladipo, who was drafted No. 2 and is expected to be key to whatever is ultimately built in Orlando (that doesn’t mean I think he’s the point guard of the future). They also brought in Jason Maxiell as a free agent. Gone are Al Harrington, Josh McRoberts, Dequan Jones and Beono Udrih.

Keys to the Magic’s season:

Just how good is Tobias Harris? Orlando is all about player development the next few years and there may be no bigger test of that than Harris.

He showed a little promise but could barely get off the bench in Milwaukee, then he comes to Orlando, gets an opportunity and averages 17.3 points a game. He was a revelation. That said, his shooting efficiency numbers were just average (he shot 45.3 percent overall, 31 percent from three with a true shooting percentage of 52.4 percent for Orlando). It begs the question: Is he a legitimate future All-Star player or is he a nice player just putting up numbers on a bad team? Is his ultimate role really gunning sixth man on a contender or something more than that? His game has holes, for example his defense on the perimeter needs work, also he needs to attack more and not settle for jumpers on offense. He’s going to get a lot of minutes this season and we will see how his game develops. We’re going to find out just how good he is the next couple years.

When do Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis get traded? We can probably throw Arron Afflalo on that list, too. The Magic are rebuilding and guys who are not part of the long-term future are going to get shopped around (Nelson has already admitted he knows he’s on the block). Davis could be hard to move with that contract ($6.6 million the season after this one) unless he shows his foot is fully healthy, but we know by the middle of the season there are contenders always looking for big men who can help them out.

Also, how do all the trade rumors that will swirl effect this young team?

Can Jacque Vaughn build a winning culture amid all the losing? It is all about player development with the Magic — how does Victor Oladipo come along? Andrew Nicholson? Nikola Vucevic? Tobias Harris? Mo Harkless? There are interesting pieces.

The key is keeping them working on doing things right amid all the losses that will come — they cannot let losing infect the team culture.

Vaughn seemed to do that last year — Orlando played hard for their coach. Not well, but the effort was there. If felt like a foundation was being laid for the future. Now they need to take a step forward and keep building on that — if the defense or effort slide that will be the problem. They are not going to be good this season but you can see where something good can come in a few years if they keep developing. If the losing infects the culture then Orlando has real issues.

Why you should watch the Magic: They have some interesting young players — Oladipo, Harris, and even Mo Harkless. How they use them, how they develop them are the questions, but these players are intriguing.

By the way, the Magic may not be as bad as we expect. If they can get everyone healthy (we’re looking at you, Glen Davis) their starting five to start the season is Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Tobias Harris, Glen Davis and Nikola Vucevic, with Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson and Mo Harkless off the bench. That’s potentially pretty entertaining.

Prediction: 25-57. Call it rebuilding, call it organizational tanking, call it whatever you want, this team is all in for the upcoming draft. Whether it ends up being Wiggins or Randal or Smart, they are going after some big talent in the top five of the draft board. The Magic have some interesting young pieces to develop, they could be a team on the rise in a couple years, but they need one more big piece and they are going after it through this draft.

Carmelo Anthony on shrinking role with Knicks: ‘I see the writing on the wall… I’m at peace with that’

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Carmelo Anthony scored just nine points on 12 shots in the Knicks loss to the Heat last night — well below his season averages of 22 points on 19 shots per game.

Anthony, via Ian Begley of ESPN:

“I see the writing on the wall. I see what it is,” Anthony said late Wednesday night. “I see what they’re trying to do, and it’s just me accepting that. That’s what puts me at peace. Just knowing and understanding how things work. I’m at peace with that.”

Is Anthony talking about just the Knicks’ final dozen games of this season, when they’re clearly interesting in testing less-proven players? Or is he referring to his entire tenure in New York?

Anthony has said he’d consider waiving his no-trade clause if the Knicks want to rebuild, and they’ll reportedly try again to trade him this offseason. Perhaps, this is Anthony indicating he’s warming up to the idea of allowing a trade.

Anthony’s and Kristaps Porzingis‘ timelines are barely compatible, if at all. It’d make sense for the Knicks to go in a different direction.

Could Anthony be at peace with that?

Dwight Howard’s offensive rebounding defies convention

Al Bello/Getty Images
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Hawks president/coach Mike Budenholzer has the authority to set the Hawks’ priorities.

“Organizationally, fundamentally,” Budenholzer said, “transition D is more important than anything.”

Dwight Howard challenges that daily.

Howard has already built a Hall of Fame résumé:

  • Eight-time All-NBA center, including five-time first teamer
  • Three-time Defensive Player of the Year
  • Five-time rebounding champ

But the big man is doing something he’s never done before: Grab 15.2% of available offensive rebounds.

And he’s doing it at age 31 in a league that has increasingly deemphasized offensive rebounding. The NBA will set a record this season for lowest offensive-rebounding percentage for the fourth straight year.

Teams have just figured getting back on defense trumps crashing the offensive glass, the strategy emanating most prominently from the Spurs. Budenholzer, a former San Antonio assistant coach, brought the plan straight to Atlanta. The Hawks ranked 28th, last and last in offensive-rebounding in his first three seasons — in part for philosophical reasons, in part because they’ve lacked the personnel to do better. They’ve also been a below-average defensive-rebounding team each season under Budenholzer.

Then Howard signed and forced Budenholzer to adjust.

Atlanta has become an above-average offensive-rebounding team and far better with Howard on the court – a helpful crutch with ace 3-point shooters Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague traded. The Hawks are ceding more transition opportunities, though they remain very good at defending those.

It’s an obvious tradeoff, says Stan Van Gundy. The Pistons coach who coached Howard with the Magic sees the center in the rare class of players who deserve full autonomy to chase offensive rebounds.

“You don’t limit those guys,” Van Gundy said.

Howard has made the most of his freedom to chase rebounds. His 15.2 offensive-rebounding percentage ranks second to only Kenneth Faried among qualified players.

And, again, Howard is 31. Offensive rebounding tends to be a young man’s game.

Here’s top 10 in offensive rebounding this season, plotted by age:

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Player Team Age Offensive-rebounding percentage
Kenneth Faried DEN 27 16.1
Dwight Howard ATL 31 15.4
Andre Drummond DET 23 15.2
JaVale McGee GSW 29 15
Tarik Black LAL 25 14.8
Tristan Thompson CLE 25 14
Rudy Gobert UTA 24 13.9
Enes Kanter OKC 24 13.9
Kyle O'Quinn NYK 26 13.9
Willy Hernangomez NYK 22 13.8

Howard’s previous career-high offensive-rebounding percentage was 13.8.

The only other players to set career-high offensive-rebounding rates north of 15% after their age-30 season: Dennis Rodman (20.8% at age 33 with the 1994-95 Spurs) and Alan Henderson (15.6% at age 32 with the 2004-05 Mavericks). Both Rodman (Cooke County Junior College and Southeastern Oklahoma State) and Henderson (Indiana) played four years of college basketball, giving them less wear and tear on their bodies and fewer opportunities to post career highs at a young age.

Howard jumped to the NBA straight from high school.

Yet, he’s having a resurgent year in his 13th season. How is he doing it?

“One, I’m not super old,” Howard said earlier this season. “Two, my body feels great. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff to take care of my body.”

Known for eating legendary amounts of candy earlier in his career, perhaps Howard has made a breakthrough. His defensive-rebounding percentage (31.8) is the second-best of his career and ranks fourth in the NBA. That has helped him anchor the league’s fourth-best defense.

Howard has been subject to widespread criticism, and last season with the Rockets was a low point. This year, Howard has recommitted to the basics: Rebounding, defending, scoring inside.

“He’s got a big personality, but I think we all knew that,” Budenholzer said. “But it’s all in the right place. He wants good things, and I’ve really enjoyed coaching him.”

So much so that Budenholzer has compromised a core basketball tenet for Howard.

And it has proved a worthwhile decision.

JaVale McGee misses open dunk (video)

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Shaquille O’Neal said he’d stop talking about JaVale McGee, who has featured prominently on Shaqtin A Fool.

This missed dunk, a low point in the Warriors’ otherwise-impressive win over the Spurs, will test Shaq’s sincerity.

Grizzlies’ James Ennis fouls out then hits half-court shot (video)

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Against the Pacers last night, James Ennis missed all three of his 3-point attempts… that counted. And he makes this one after fouling out?

Mike Conley more than picked up the slack to lead the Grizzlies to victory.