Denton: 2013-14 Game Night Notebook
October 9, 2013
10/22/13 at Spurs
Denton’s Analysis:For Orlando Magic shooting guard Arron Afflalo, this preseason has been the equivalent of a person about to run a marathon, but not being allowed to stretch his legs before starting.
To his credit, Afflalo is well aware that he has been held back in the exhibition season largely so that he can make it through the NBA’s marathon, 82-game season in good health. Afflalo struggled with hamstring fatigue last year in training camp and he tore a hamstring muscle last April at the end of the season.
Afflalo entered Tuesday’s preseason game in San Antonio having played just 99 minutes in five exhibition outings. That’s far fewer than the career-high 36 minutes a game that Afflalo averaged in 2012-13, his first season in Orlando. He also put up 16.5 points per game – another career high – compared to a scoring average of just 8.6 points per game this preseason.
Meaningless preseason game are often torturous for NBA veterans, and as someone now with seven years of NBA experience, Afflalo can’t wait for the preseason to begin Tuesday night in Indiana against the Pacers.
``No question, I can’t wait,’’ Afflalo said. ``(Not playing much has) been great for our development because we have such a young team and it’s allowed coach to see what guys can do here and there. And it’s given us some practice time to work on our offensive fundamentals. But for me personally, it’s probably been my first preseason where I have veteran status where I’m getting limited minutes. But I’m ready to go.’’
The Magic’s hopes for Afflalo this season is for him to be a much more efficient player this season. Even though his scoring average rose for a sixth straight year last season, Afflalo shot just 43.9 percent from the floor and 30 percent from 3-point range. Much of the reason for the drop-offs was because he was thrust into a role as a go-to scorer and he had to force up many contested jumpers. Getting to the free throw line more is also a major priority after Afflalo shot just 3.48 free throws a game last season on average.
``You can be the greatest jump shooter in the world, but it’s not going to be there every night and you have to find a way to manufacture some points,’’ Afflalo said. ``All of the great scorers shoot between six and 10 free throws a night. If you want to be an elite scorer you have to be able to get to the line.’’
10/22/13 at Spurs
Denton’s Analysis:In a survey of all 30 NBA General Managers conducted by NBA.com, Magic guard Victor Oladipo was the landslide pick to win the Rookie of the Year award. GMs were not allowed to pick players from their own team, and still Oladipo received a whopping 80 percent of the vote.
Later on Tuesday, TNT analysts Reggie Miller and Steve Kerr weighed in on the Magic’s plans to have Oladipo, the second overall pick in last June’s draft, attempt to make the switch from college shooting guard to point guard in the NBA. Both analysts heaped the praise on Oladipo’s talent level and they predicted he would be a success at point guard if he can battle through the challenges that usually accompany NBA rookies.
``The only challenging thing for Victor is when you’ve never played that position (point guard) at the highest level, trying to get your teammates involved when you’ve never been in that position before can be very challenging,’’ Miller said. ``On top of that, on a very young team there are a lot of guys he’ll be playing with that really don’t know the NBA game. I’m sure he’ll feel frustrated and challenged at times, playing a position he’s not comfortable with, but I think in the big picture, if he’s able to play two positions, it will help his game in the long haul.’’
Added Kerr: ``It’s a chance for him to grow. Oladipo is in a position if the team doesn’t have to win, he can figure out the NBA and grow with his teammates. Orlando will get to figure out what he really is and there’s no rush on it. Why not give him his chances, figure out what position he really is and let him grow as he goes?’’
10/22/13 at Spurs
Denton’s Analysis:Veteran point guard Jameer Nelson and Tobias Harris did not make the trip to San Antonio for the game. Nelson, a 10-year veteran, was rested, while Harris was rehabilitating a sore left ankle injury that he aggravated on Sunday night.
Harris, who averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 points over the final 27 games of last season, has missed two games this preseason because of an ankle injury suffered in practice last week when he was accidentally kicked. His injury is not believed to be serious, but his availability for Friday’s preseason finale against the New Orleans Pelicans is in doubt.
``I talked to (Harris on Monday) and he was feeling OK,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``He went to the doctor. Now, they’re just going through rehab a little bit. He had a little swelling, but we’ll get that out of there and hopefully he’ll be OK soon.’’
10/16/13 at Rockets
HARRIS EXPLAINS WHY HE WEARS NO. 12
Denton’s Analysis:Former Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard created a bit of a stir on Tuesday when he expressed his disappointment with the Magic for giving the No. 12 away to another player just months after he had defected to the Los Angeles Lakers.
On Wednesday, Tobias Harris – the player who now wears No. 12 for the Magic – stressed that he wears the number for all the right reasons and that he never meant any disrespect to Howard’s legacy in Orlando.
Upon getting traded to Orlando last February, Harris requested No. 12 as a way to honor former teammate Morgan Childs, who died of leukemia when Harris was a high school sophomore in New York. It was the number that Childs once wore and Harris made a promise to his father, Torrel, the day he left the funeral that he would wear the number if he ever made it to the NBA.
Harris wore No. 12 throughout high school and in college at the University of Tennessee. He couldn’t do so with the Milwaukee Bucks because No. 12 was assigned to Luc Mbaha a Moute at the time. The trade to Orlando gave Harris another shot at snagging the sentimental number – and never did he know that it would create such a controversy because of the history tied to Howard.
“I wear the number for my best friend who passed away. That’s my story and there’s really nothing else to it,’’ Harris said. ``I’m not about the number or the name on the back; I’m about the name on the front and that’s the Orlando Magic.
I wore 12 in high school and college, and to me it was something to keep me at peace and let me know that my best friend is still with me to this day,’’ Harris continued. ``It’s just the number that I wear and I don’t look too much into (the controversy). I focus on us as a basketball team and my teammates and nothing else.’’
Denton’s Analysis:Howard, the first overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft by Orlando, wore No. 12 for eight seasons while playing for the Magic. He led Orlando to the 2009 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. Additionally, he is the franchise’s all-time leader in points, rebounds and blocked shots, but he had an ugly divorce from the team in August of 2012 when he demanded a trade elsewhere.
I’m still a little upset about the No. 12. I just think despite whatever happened, there were a lot of things that I did and we did as a team,’’ Howard said on Tuesday. ``That number is special down there. I was a little upset about that.’’ Harris, who is still just 21 years old, averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 points over the final 27 games of last season after joining the Magic. That’s something that Howard didn’t accomplish while playing for the Lakers, and numbers that only four others (Al Horford, LaMarcus Aldridge, David Lee and Al Jefferson) reached last season. Harris is averaging 12 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in limited minutes this preseason.
Harris did not play Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets because of a minor ankle sprain. He said the injury was minor and he hopes to be back on the floor Friday night when the Magic host the Memphis Grizzlies.
``It’s just a little soreness and a precautionary thing (to sit out of Wednesday’s game),’’ he said. ``I just need to get it back healthy and it’s nothing too crazy. I would hope it’s just a one-game thing.’’
Harris’ work ethic has become somewhat legendary around his friends and Magic teammates. He stayed in Orlando most of the summer to improve his strength and work on his skills. Following a lengthy practice with the Magic on Tuesday, Harris got in some extra work at a local gym in Houston with his personal trainer. Nicknamed ``All Business,’’ Harris said he is simply focused on doing whatever possible to get himself ready for this season.
``It just shows my will power to continue to work as hard as I can,’’ Harris said. ``I just want to be in the best shape that I can possibly be in so that I can play the whole season and have a healthy year.’’
10/14/13 at Mavs
NELSON IN AWE OF COWBOYS STADIUM
Denton's Analysis: Jameer Nelson knows impressive sports facilities what with playing 41 regular season games a season at the dazzling Amway Center in Orlando.
But Nelson said he was blown away Sunday night by AT&T Stadium, the $1.2 billion home of the Dallas Cowboys. In Dallas for Monday’s Magic-Mavericks preseason game, Nelson took several of his Orlando teammates to Sunday night’s NFL game between the Cowboys and Redskins. As an Eagles fan, Nelson didn’t have a rooting interest in the game, but he did go to see the size and magnitude of AT&T Stadium and its 60-yard replay boards.
``We have the best the best basketball arena in the NBA (in Orlando) and that place left me speechless,’’ Nelson said. ``It’s so big that you can’t even see everything there. … It was obviously the most impressive stadium that I have ever seen.’’
Magic rookie Victor Oladipo grew up in Maryland and as a Redskins fan, but he said he chose not to attend the football game. Oladipo is also friends with Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III. Oladipo, the second pick in last June’s NBA Draft, got the first start of his NBA career on Monday in the preseason game against the Dallas Mavericks.
10/14/13 at Mavs
STARTER OR OFFENSE OFF BENCH
Denton's Analysis:Tobias Harris was a standout in Orlando over the final 27 games of last season when he averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds a game. The presumption was that Harris, a starter the majority of last season following the trade from Milwaukee to Orlando, would again be a starter this season for the Magic.
However, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn used Harris off the bench in the first two games of the preseason. Harris got his first start on Monday night in Dallas against the Mavericks. Harris’ ability to play either small forward or power forward could help his chances of being in the starting lineup.
Despite playing limited minutes, Harris was effective off the bench early in the preseason. He had 17 points and nine rebounds in the opener against New Orleans and seven points and six rebounds on Friday versus Cleveland. Harris has played almost exclusively at small forward this season and has been in the same rotation with power forward Andrew Nicholson and Oladipo.
Vaughn said no decision has been made yet as to whether he will use Harris off the bench or in the starting lineup.
``I haven’t settled on lineups and it’s not even something that I have discussed with (Harris),’’ Vaughn said. ``We’ve been pretty much just putting him on the floor in a position to see where his game is and how he can help us. We’ll always take the approach of what is best for the team. The great thing is he provides scoring whether he’s starting or coming off the bench. He provides us with a person we can count on every single night.’’
10/11/13 vs. Cavaliers
Denton's Analysis:Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown was twice asked on Friday if his team considered drafting Victor Oladipo with the first pick in last June’s NBA Draft, and twice he dodged the question.
Even though the Cavs ultimately drafted power forward Anthony Bennett, Brown made this much very clear: He is convinced that Oladipo is going to be a standout player for years to come in Orlando.
``He’s tough, he’s long, he’s athletic and he can do a lot of things. That’s going to allow him to bring a lot of things to the table for the Orlando Magic,’’ Brown said. ``On top of that he’s a quality, quality person. You’re excited for him and you’re excited for the fans in Orlando because they have good people here.’’
Cleveland shocked the basketball world when it took Bennett with the first pick in the draft. The Magic were delighted with that move and happily selected Oladipo with the No. 2 pick. Whereas Bennett is trying to make the transition as an undersized power forward, Oladipo is switching from the shooting guard position in college to the point guard spot in the NBA. Oladipo embodies a lot of the same qualities that Brown tends to like as a defensive-minded coach, but he thinks the rookie will thrive in Orlando.
``He’s a tough guy, physically and mentally he’s really tough, especially for a guy coming out of college and he already has a lot of that already in place,’’ Brown said. ``You can’t help but appreciate that formula that he brings to the table.’’
10/11/13 vs. Cavaliers
Denton’s Analysis:Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said he was delighted with the poise that Oladipo played with in his first preseason game. It was an extension of the feel and composure that he’s shown throughout training camp workouts. Vaughn said that Oladipo’s playing time is based completely on merit, and the rookie has earned the right to see extended minutes in the preseason games to come.
``Overall his composure was really good and he had a good pace about himself,’’ Vaughn said. ``That’s tough in your first NBA game, in the preseason and to have the pace and composure that he played with the entire game in his full stint of minutes was pretty impressive.’’
As for Bennett, Brown said that the 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward has the ability to be a go-to scorer for the Cavs, but he must learn how to use his size to his advantage on the NBA level. Bennett made just two of 12 shots in his preseason debut and missed all three of his 3-point attempts. He finished with only seven points, but he had 10 rebounds.
``He may not be 6-10 or 6-11, but he’s got long arms and a thick strong body that’s athletic,’’ Brown said. ``He can bang with guys on the low post if need be and he can finish above the rim in traffic if need be. But he can also step out on the floor and shoot from range. He’s got extremely quick feet and that should translate to him being a very good defender on the other end of the floor, defend multiple positions and fly around.’’
10/9/13 vs. Pelicans
Denton's Analysis:Denton's Second-year power forward Kyle O’Quinn has already caught the eye of Orlando Magic coaches this preseason with his improved strength and his willingness to do the dirty work in the post.
But one of the O’Quinn’s other, somewhat unexpected talents is his ability to pass the ball effectively from the high post. Even though O’Quinn is 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, his passing is of great importance because Magic coach Jacque Vaughn likes for his centers and power forwards to be able to hit open cutters from the free throw line and top of the key. And that’s just fine to O’Quinn.
``I’m not the best scorer, so getting somebody else the ball is good for me. If I can get somebody else the ball maybe I can get them going. I know that if I can get Tobias a good pass and he gets a dunk he might run off 10 points after that. That’s what our team needs. As a team player, I’ll continue to do that.’’
O’Quinn got the start at power forward in Wednesday’s preseason opener against the New Orleans Pelicans. Whereas a start in the preseason might be insignificant to some veteran players, it meant a lot to O’Quinn considering how far he has progressed in a year’s time.
A second-round pick in 2012 out of tiny Norfolk State (Virginia), O’Quinn had to work to make the team last year in training camp and he stuck with the roster because of his hard work. Now, he’s become a trusted part of Vaughn’s regular rotation because of his abilities to play power forward and center.
``It’s cool. Coach thinks that’s a good lineup. Now I have to go out there and prove him right. I just have to do the things that we have been doing in practice and have been working on. I just want to start off right so the game will go smoothly for us.’’
VAUGHN KNOWS ELITE PGs WILL TEST OLADIPO
Denton's Analysis: The Orlando Magic’s eight preseason games will have them playing some of the NBA’s best point guards, and that suits head coach Jacque Vaughn just fine because of the challenges that it will present for rookie Victor Oladipo.
In Tony Parker (Spurs), Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers), Jrue Holiday (Pelicans), Mike Conley (Grizzlies), Brandon Jennings (Pistons), Jeremy Lin (Rockets) and Jose Calderon (Mavericks), Oladipo will see some of the best point guard play that the NBA has to offer.
A superstar shooting guard in college, Oladipo is attempting to make the transition to point guard in the NBA. He’ll spend time at both positions in the NBA, but Vaughn does want to use the preseason as a time when Oladipo can log major minutes at the point.
And giving him a chance to fight through screens against Parker, stay in front of the slick-handling Irving and handling the ball pressure of Holiday and Conley should put Oladipo to the test as a NBA point guard.
“We have a good test with guard play throughout our eight preseason games,’’ Vaughn said. ``So there will be opportunities for us to manipulate our lineups a little bit so that he will be able to play against some elite guards in the league.”
Vaughn said he hasn’t yet mapped out a course of action for how many minutes that Oladipo will log at point guard in the preseason. Rather than focus so much on what position that he is playing, the Magic are hoping that Oladipo will concentrate primarily on playing with great energy and competing.
Vaughn knows that there will potentially be rough times ahead for the rookie point guard, but he will try to preach a patient approach to Oladipo.
``I think it’s just a matter of talking (to him),” Vaughn said. “It’s a good thing to want more of himself and to push the boundaries a little bit and create his own timeline. Hopefully he does that and with any situation new there will be a learning curve for sure.”
Denton's Analysis: In this 25th anniversary season for the Magic, one player will feature a flare that will have fans remembering a power forward from Orlando’s past.
Jason Maxiell, who had surgery last season for a detached retina, plans to unveil a pair of goggles in the coming weeks that will resemble the ones worn by Magic great Horace Grant. Maxiell has worn a pair of sports glasses – ones very similar to those worn previously by Bo Outlaw – throughout training camp and in Wednesday’s exhibition opener against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Grant was Maxiell’s favorite player when he was growing up on Chicago’s South Side. He not only modeled his rugged style of play after Grant, but he also took inspiration for his jersey number from the former power forward.
``Coming up I probably will have more of a Horace Grant-look goggles, try to bring those back and have a little fun with that,’’ Maxiell said. ``He is the reason why I’m wearing No. 54. When I was growing up in Chicago, yeah, he might’ve had the world’s greatest (Michael Jordan) on his team, but otherwise it was Horace. I modeled myself after him and also a little bit after Charles Barkley.’’
DREAM COME TRUE
Denton's Analysis: It’s taken Solomon Jones seven seasons and six NBA teams, but the 6-foot-10 power forward finally accomplishing a boyhood dream by suiting up with the Magic.
Jones grew up in Mount Dora and the first NBA game he ever saw live was the Magic in Orlando Arena. He grew up idolizing Penny Hardaway and later Tracy McGrady, players who he said inspired him to want to play in the NBA. He’s played for the Hawks, Pacers, Clippers, Hornets, Raptors and Knicks, but admitted recently that it was always a dream of his to play in Orlando.
``Coming up I thought it might be a distraction playing for my hometown team, but now that I’m older and more mature and I know how to limit those distractions, I’m very excited about coming home to play,’’ said Jones, 29. ``I’ll have a lot of fan support and friend support and I’m very excited to be with the Magic. … I didn’t think I’d never play here. But here’s that opportunity and it’s a golden opportunity and I’m looking forward to seizing the moment.’’
Vaughn has raved about the basketball smarts and professionalism of Jones, and the veteran could have a shot at making the Magic’s Opening Night roster. Jones is willing to do the dirty work with defense, rebounding and hustling – something that has already endeared him to Magic coaches.
``I just have to bring energy, defend that paint, block shots and rebound,’’ said Jones, who was out of the NBA last season but jumped at the Magic’s invite to training camp. ``As long as I come out and play hard … if it’s not here, hopefully it will be with one of the teams in the NBA. Hopefully it’s here. I missed the NBA last year and I’m hungry for it.’’