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By Chris Cates, TalentedMrRoto.com
October 8, 2006 - 12:01 a.m.

2005-06 OVERVIEW

Dwight Howard is ready to take his game to an elite level.
(Ray Amati/NBAE/Getty Images)

With only one non-rookie addition to the team and no real value leaving, the Orlando Magic find themselves in a rare situation: they return mostly the same team from last season. That may sound insignificant to the casual reader, but it’s very rare these days, and could prove very beneficial this season.

This is a young team that has finished each of the last two seasons at 36-46. Four of the five projected starters are under the age of 25, and the other is 27, and given that all but one of them were here for last year’s disappointment it’s not unreasonable to believe considerable improvements will be made. While they finished the season 10 games under .500, they closed it out on a 10-games-over-.500 clip of 16-6 in their last 22 games.

Last season, team leader Dwight Howard improved on his point and rebound numbers significantly from his rookie season, bumping his boards to an elite level – he finished second only to Kevin Garnett when all was said and done. Jameer Nelson was a fantasy stud down the stretch, and heads into this season with glowing potential. He averaged at least 15 points and five assists in every month after December, and well above that in some cases.

This off-season, Howard said that this Magic team has what it takes to go all the way to the championship. While that’s not very likely at all, this is a team that could make their way into the playoffs for the first time in a while and produce a number of fantasy contributors along the way.

ADDITIONS:
James Augustine, F
Keith Bogans, G/F
Jackie Manuel, G
Kasib Powell, F
J.J. Redick, G

LOSSES:
DeShawn Stevenson, G
Stacey Augmon, G/F
Terence Morris, F
Mario Kasun, C

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:
C – Darko Milicic
PF – Dwight Howard
SF – Hedo Turkoglu
SG – J.J. Redick
PG – Jameer Nelson

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN 2006

This team is going to be exciting to watch. They’re young, they’re talented and yet – for the most part – they’ve gained good experience in their few years together. Led by Jameer Nelson in the backcourt and Dwight Howard in the frontcourt, this is a team that can pound it inside or kill you from the perimeter (J.J. Redick), but the level of success they achieve as a unit will likely come down to how Darko Milicic plays. Darko played well in about 30 games with the team last season and was a shot-blocking monster, and if he can develop into a 12-point, 8-board, 2-block per game center, this will be a front line to be feared.

There’s undeniable talent at the small forward position between Hedo Turkoglu, Grant Hill and Trevor Ariza, and as long as one of the three can emerge to be an effective and regular contributor, this is a very good team across the board. There’s depth present everywhere and there’ll be five capable players on the court at all times.

I’ve heard a lot about how the vertically challenged backcourt of Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick is going to be a problem and how they won’t spend much time together on the court because of the size issues – but I’m not buying it. With the terrific size down low and the complete dominance that is to be expected from Dwight Howard, a couple inches difference in the guard matchups won’t be the end of the world. I would expect the two to receive just as many minutes in tandem as if there were no concerns about their combined heights.

With a team built around two third-year studs that have both taken on the role of team leader, this franchise is in good shape. They’re much closer to the way they finished last season than the way they started it, and with no real losses and a nice acquisition in the form of J.J. Redick, they should excel in all facets of the game this season. Expect to see a good team that pumps out six or seven viable fantasy options and makes large strides on their way to the team’s best season in years; it would only take an improvement of nine games over last year to reach the team’s best mark since the 1995-96 season.

KEY BENCH POSITIONS / POSITION BATTLES

Shooting Guard and Small Forward minutes – As of this moment, Hedo Turkoglu is listed as the starter and Grant Hill the backup at small forward. However, Hill recently started in a scrimmage and looked great, and all word out of Orlando is that the ankle is just fine. Turk’s minutes and points per game have both increased in each of the last four years, while Hill’s have fluctuated like crazy, a healthy Hill still trumps a healthy Turkoglu despite the age. Hill has the injury issues so his production will likely be based on his health – and there’s no surer thing than a lack of health in his case. But at least in the early going, expect Hill to see starters’ minutes from his time between shooting guard and small forward, even if he ends up coming off the bench. I expect J.J. Redick to start at the two, but recent reports suggest Hill could start there. I love the perimeter shooting Redick brings to the table, but with guys like Turkoglu and Nelson already having threes nailed down in the starting lineup, Redick could potentially be brought in off the bench as the sixth man. Also working his way into the mix here is swingman Trevor Ariza. He’s extremely athletic, and at 6-8 he creates matchup problems no matter where he’s playing. He’s the least likely to start of the four, and will likely spend the season as a spark off the bench, but don’t sleep on him. What I think and what I expect here differ: In my opinion, Redick and Hill should be starting, with Turkoglu coming off the bench. However, I expect the Magic to give Turk the nod over Hill at small forward. It likely won’t matter, though, as their minutes will be very similar – expect around 30 per game from each. Don’t let the uncertainty hamper your view of them.

PLAYERS WE LOVE

Dwight Howard – Simply put, Dwight Howard is a monster. He’s already a fantasy stud regardless of any progressions he may make with age or improvements, producing rebound numbers that’ll make you drool and good numbers across the board to boot. He came out this off-season saying that he thought the Magic had what it took to win it all, and you don’t make a statement like that unless you feel you can back it up. Howard has reportedly been working on his outside shooting in his time off, and in only his third year straight out of high school, other improvements are bound to take shape. Among other reasons you want this guy: he’s reportedly bulked up in a big way (270 pounds now as opposed to some reports that he was 240 last season – is that even healthy?), and gained a new perspective on leadership and everything that is basketball with his time as the youngest player in the FIBA World Championships.

Jameer Nelson – I’m with fellow hoops columnist, Brian McKitish, when it comes to Nelson – that is, I love the man. The act of organizing a team bonding week this off-season tells me a lot about his character and leadership skills, and management agrees with me – they’ve given him a vote of confidence as the unquestioned starter at point guard and team leader. His numbers after December of last season were off the charts, and he played extremely well after the departure of Steve Francis. The injuries are a bit of a concern to most, but the way I look at it, they just create an opportunity to get him later in your draft. He’ll play this season with special inserts in both shoes to fend off the foot problems, and that’s enough to take away any worries I had. I love his scoring, I love his assist numbers and I love his shooting percentage…and most of all, I love him on my team this season.

PLAYERS TO AVOID

Grant Hill – He is really the only honest answer here, and I even like him this year. I place him here for two reasons, though, and they’re fairly obvious: age and health. That’s it. Use at your own risk. He’s 34 years old and hasn’t played a full season this millennium, and that just doesn’t sound good. Save a 2004-05 campaign in which he played 67 games, if you add together the number of games Hill played in every season from 2000-01 to 2005-06, it’s still 14 games less than a full season – 68. Ouch. Still, all of this talk about injury has made plenty of doubters, and if you’re a risk/reward type person, there may be potential here. That 67-game season two years ago came with a good deal of fantasy value, and if the reports that he’s again healthy (they say that every off-season, come to think of it) are credible and prove true, the value he gives you in round 12-15 (which is where he’s going right now) is great. Like I said, he’s the closest thing to an “avoid” guy there is on this roster, but there’s reason to like him and it appears that he can be had late in drafts, so just approach him at your own risk knowing the results could be catastrophic if he pulls a Grant Hill on us.

BOTTOM LINE

I like this team. Not as a championship contender like a certain Dwight Howard would have you believe, but I do like this team.

Jameer Nelson is a stud and a guy who you want on your team. He and Howard are the young leaders of this franchise and will turn heads as they go into 2006-07 with high hopes. They’re all young but off-season events like Nelson’s week-long get-together and Howard’s time on the Team USA have made them gel and learn, not to mention improve with age. Darko Milicic and J.J. Redick are big parts of the eventual success of the team, and each brings a different element: blocks and threes. The talent at the small forward position will produce good combined numbers and the depth on this team is going to prove helpful over the course of the season. The Orlando Magic will be one of the better all-around fantasy units in the league, and the overall results should be a fairly large improvement over last season. Expect big things from the Magic this year.

The views expressed by TalentedMrRoto.com represent only the views of the writers; they do not represent the views of the NBA or any NBA team.

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