2014-15 Position-by-Position Breakdown: Center
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By John Denton
Sept. 2, 2014
ORLANDO -- The passing of Labor Day is significant in the sports world as it signals pennant races heating up in baseball, college football getting underway, the NFL being just days away from starting and NBA players are starting to trickle back to their teams for informal workouts.
In less than a month NBA teams will be conducting media days and beginning training camps in preparation for the 2014-15 season. Anticipation for the upcoming season in Orlando is particularly high what with the new-look Magic teeming with several new players and other intriguing building-block pieces already in place.
An Orlando squad built around the tremendous promise of young players Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn, Maurice Harkless and rookies Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton is hoping to make significant strides this season. The Magic also added veterans Channing Frye, Ben Gordon, Willie Green and Luke Ridnour in the offseason in hopes of providing the young players with positive examples throughout the locker room.
Over the course of the next three weeks, as players get back in the Magic headquarters at the Amway Center to work on their games on a voluntary basis, we here at OrlandoMagic.com will break down the strengths and weaknesses of the roster position-by-position. We’ll go from the center position to the two forward slots to the two guard positions.
The Magic figure to be a deep and athletic team this season and there should be plenty of competition at each spot when training camp opens in Orlando on Sept. 30.
Today, we break down the Magic’s center position:
PROJECTED STARTER: Nikola Vucevic (2013-14 stats: 57 games, 14.2 ppg., 11 rpg., 1.8 apg., 50.7 FG percentage, 76.6 FT percentage).
PROJECTED RESERVES: Kyle O’Quinn (2013-14 stats: 69 games, 6.2 ppg., 5.3 rpg., 1.28 bpg., 50.1 FG percentage, 68.7 FT percentage); Dewayne Dedmon (2013-14 stats: 31 games, 3.1 ppg., 4.1 rpg., 0.71 bpg., 45.8 FG percentage, 65.6 FT percentage).
OVERVIEW: The Magic figure to be in good shape at the center position with Vucevic – one of the game’s top young big men – in the middle. The issue, however, is keeping the 7-footer healthy and on the floor. Vucevic missed 25 games last season because of concussion, ankle and Achilles issues and the Magic need him in the lineup to balance out the offense and serve as a presence in the middle of the defense. Vucevic made a big jump last season with his low-post game and the hope is that with more strength and more work this offseason that he can become an even more dominant player in the middle. O’Quinn played exceptionally well as a starter late last season and won tremendous favor with head coach Jacque Vaughn because of his willingness to do the dirty work on the inside. O’Quinn has dedicated much of his summer to working to become a more fluid offensive player and he should make strides this season as a scorer. O’Quinn’s true value to the team is his ability to swat shots and rebound and he’ll continue to do so this season while splitting time at center and power forward. Dedmon is an intriguing prospect for the Magic because of his ability to defend in the post and block shots from the weak side. Already freakishly athletic, Dedmon worked hard all summer to add bulk and muscle – things that should make him an even better defender in the post.
STRENGTHS: Vucevic is an exceptional rebounder, grabbing 20 boards twice, 15 rebounds nine times and at least 10 rebounds 40 times last season. He has a tremendous knack for knowing where the ball is going to come off the rim on the offensive end and he rebounds outside of his area well. Vucevic also keeps defenses honest with his ability to score from both the low lost and on mid-range jump shots. O’Quinn’s shot-block numbers were exceptional in the minutes he played late last season and he is also one of the team’s best passers from the high post.
WEAKNESSES: Vucevic has to stay healthy this season and avoid the ankle injuries that bothered him repeatedly last season. Opposing players have been far too willing to drive down the lane without fear of contact in the past, so the Magic need Vucevic, O’Quinn and Dedmon to be more willing to play physical basketball this season. Vucevic will never be a great shot-blocker, but he is a smart player who defends the pick-and-roll well on the perimeter. If Vucevic and O’Quinn can play with more aggression and physicality in the post it can cover up some of the team’s defensive deficiencies.
EXPECTATIONS: Both Vucevic and O’Quinn should benefit greatly from having veteran power forward Channing Frye on the roster this season. Frye’s ability to shoot the 3-pointer will pull opposing power forwards away from the lane, giving Vucevic more room to operate on the low block. Vucevic’s scoring average has gone up each season in the NBA and it seems like a natural progression for him to average about 16 points per game this season with more opportunities likely coming his way. With Vucevic heading into his fourth NBA season and O’Quinn going into his third campaign, both players should make big strides and become big-time leaders for the Magic.