Wednesday, October 6, 2010 11:33 am
By Frank HanrahanCSNwashington.com
Will this be the year that the Orlando Magic get over that hump and win an NBA title? With the Three Kings holding court in Miami, that hump just got a whole lot steeper. But with center Dwight Howard anchoring the team, the Magic will certainly be a contender in the Eastern Conference.
After reaching the Finals in 2009 and falling short to the Lakers, the Magic let all-everything swingman Hedo Turkoglu go via free agency and traded for Vince Carter who came up shy in last year's playoffs. The Magic will need either Carter or Rashard Lewis to really step up and become that second big-time scorer to take the pressure off Howard in the middle.
Howard is one of the most dominating players in the league but he faded in the playoff series against Boston as the Celtics actually out muscled the chiseled Howard down low. For the season, Howard averaged 18 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks per game, but he has to be more assertive in the playoffs to start being mentioned as one of the elite players in the NBA.
The scary thing for opponents is that Howard is just 24 years old, so he can still obviously get better -- and he can start by working on his shot. As evidenced by his 59 percent free throw shooting percentage last season, Howard struggles with that element of his game. Most of his points come from five feet and in. It's not that he needs to step out and shoot jumpers but it never hurts to add different elements to your game to step up to that next level -- and for Howard that would mean improving his touch.
Vince Carter was supposed to help the Magic get that Larry O'Brien Trophy last season but the 12th year pro averaged just 16 points a game for the season and just 15.5 points a game in the playoffs -- far off his career marks -- as Orlando lost to Boston in the conference finals. Carter still has some bounce in his game, but as he gets older he settles more for jump shots, and defensively he is nothing special. Carter enters the final year of his contract, so this could be it for him with the Magic, barring an unexpected return to the younger version of himself.
After sitting out the first ten games for testing positive for steroids, Rashard Lewis never found his form last year. Lewis, who hit big shots in the 2009 playoff run, averaged a paltry 12.9 points a game in the post-season. If the 6'-10" forward can regain the form that got him a max deal several years ago with Orlando, the Magic will be a tough out.
Undersized Jameer Nelson returns as the team's point guard. When Carter's and Lewis's production went down in the playoffs, Nelson elevated his scoring to 19 points a game. He is a fluid point guard who works especially well with Howard on the pick and roll. Chris Duhon comes over in free agency to back up Nelson at the point guard position.
Orlando loves to dribble-drive-kick out to shoot three pointers, something we'll see a lot of with swing players J.J. Redick, Michael Pietrus and Quentin Richardson in the fold for the upcoming season. The only notable player who left was Matt Barnes, who took less money to go to the Lakers.
Stan Van Gundy returns as coach and with a new wardrobe. The league is not letting coaches wear mock turtlenecks on the sidelines, which has been Van Gundy's go-to look in the past. Van Gundy knows the success of his team falls squarely on the big shoulders of Dwight Howard. As Howard goes, so go the Magic.
Expect Orlando to cruise to a 50-plus wins season and be right there with Miami for the top spot in not only the Southeast Division but in the Eastern Conference. It isn't a question of whether the Magic get to the playoffs, but how far will they go?