Denton Opens Up Mailbag

By John Denton
October 25, 2012

ORLANDO – Seven preseason games in the books and – mercifully – only one more remains before the bullets are real, the popcorn starts popping, the lights shine a little brighter and the NBA standings really matter.

Magic fans still have plenty of questions about the roster and the rotation, and I’m here to answer those queries in a rapid-fire Magic Mailbag.

Remember that you, too, can submit a question on Twitter (@JohnDenton555) or via e-mail ( Extra points are given for proper spelling, a hint of punctuation and good grammar. (Yes, even on Twitter!)

Without further ado, away we go with the questions:

QUESTION: It looks like the Magic are keeping with their 3-point favoritism. Does 3-point shooting play a big role in Coach Jacque Vaughn’s playbook? -- @MrHibachiii

ANSWER: The Magic did make 12 of 21 3-pointers on Wednesday night against the Grizzlies, getting four makes from J.J. Redick and Hedo Turkoglu and two apiece from Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo. Through seven preseason games, the Magic have made 39 of 109 3-pointers. That’s 5.5 makes and 15.5 attempts a game. Those numbers and percentages should go up dramatically with the starters logging significantly more minutes in regular season games.

Magic players have gushed this preseason about the freedom in Jacque Vaughn’s offense. It is a system where the coach doesn’t call nearly as many plays and it allows the players to react to the defense and take what’s available. But, as Vaughn has stressed repeatedly, the Magic want to be the ones dictating what’s happening, not the other way around.

But it only stands to reason that the Magic’s dependence on the 3-point shot will decrease somewhat this season. First, there’s no Dwight Howard inside to cause the defense to pack the paint. And with Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson – the only two power forwards in the history of the NBA to lead the league in 3-point makes – long gone, it’s natural to think the 3-point shots will decrease this season.

QUESTION: How big of a problem do you think backup point guard is for Orlando? E’Twaun Moore has been a mixed bag so far. -- @RedFromNZ

ANSWER: The backup point guard spot has been a bug-a-boo for the Magic the past three years what with Anthony Johnson, Gilbert Arenas and Chris Duhon struggling to give the Magic much stability behind Jameer Nelson.

Moore has shown plenty of flashes this preseason that he can finally solve the Magic mystery at point guard. His eight-assist, zero-turnover outing against the Spurs was his best game thus far. But there are also plenty of questions surrounding Moore’s ability to run a team from the point. Too often he resembles a shoot-first, pass-second shooting guard trying to morph into a point guard. He’s obviously very talented, so he’ll continue to get shots as the backup point guard.

The imminent return of Ish Smith should help the Magic’s options and depth at the point guard position. Smith is cat-quick, fearless and looks to get into the lane to set up others. He’s worked hard to improve his jump shot while recovering from shoulder surgery. Smith might ultimately get the nod because of his knack as a true point guard and his ball-pressure skills.

QUESTION: Any idea when Moe Harkless is going to play? -- @Jase_32

ANSWER: First, Moe prefers to be called ``Maurice.’’ Originally the nameplate on his locker read ``Moe,’’ but he requested that coaches, teammates, staff and media refer to him as ``Maurice,’’ and the change was made.

Harkless, who had surgery in July to repair a sports hernia, is a regular in after-practice workouts with assistant coach Brett Gunning and appears to be making major strides with his ball-handling and conditioning. All projections are that Harkless could be back at practice with the Magic by mid-November and possibly see game action by the end of the month. Returning a couple of weeks sooner is even a possibility because of the strides he’s making on the practice court.

Harkless is a dynamic athlete and the Magic coaching staff can hardly wait to get him on the floor to start molding his game. Developing his game will be a major priority this season, so expect Harkless to be thrown into the mix as soon as he’s healthy enough to return to game action.

QUESTION: What’s your projected starting five? And who will be the first few players used off the bench? -- @ChrisFountain33

QUESTION: What do you think the Magic’s nine-man rotation will look like? -- @ScottJewell92

ANSWER: In my opinion, the Magic’s starting lineup and the one they use to close games will differ drastically.

All indications are that point guard Jameer Nelson, shooting guard Arron Afflalo, center Nikola Vucevic, power forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis and small forward Hedo Turkoglu will make up the starting five. J.J. Redick, E’Twaun Moore, Andrew Nicholson and injured players Al Harrington, Maurice Harkless and Gustavo Ayon will round out the rotation.

Because the Magic need to get their best players on the floor at crunch time, I could see a lineup of Nelson and J.J. Redick at the guard slots, Afflalo at small forward, Turkoglu at power forward and Davis at center in the fourth quarter of games. The pluses of that lineup are that Redick and Davis are on the floor together to run pick-and-rolls, Afflalo can guard small forwards and Turkoglu gives the Magic a shooter at the power forward position. The negatives are that the undersized Magic could have trouble rebounding and defending bigger front lines.

QUESTION: Any chance during the regular season that Arron Afflalo starts at (small forward) and J.J. Redick starts at (shooting guard)? -- @JesseRoyce007

ANSWER: Barring injuries, I don’t think the two of them will start together, but they will still log plenty of minutes together on the court this season.

Afflalo’s ability to guard multiple positions and Redick’s ability to both score and make plays for others off the pass gives Vaughn a lot of options while trying to get them on the floor together.

So while JJ and AA won’t start together, don’t be surprised to see them finish games together this season.

QUESTION: What will happen to Andrew Nicholson when Al Harrington comes back? Who will back up Turk? Will Justin Harper and Josh McRoberts get cut? -- @I_am_Sisco

ANSWER: Harrington is an enormous question mark for this Magic team because of the uncertainty surrounding his health and his future with the club. Harrington needed arthroscopic surgery and three more procedures this summer to clean up the loose bodies and staph infection in his knee. The Magic looked into his medical records prior to trading for him and are confident that he can get back on the floor in the coming weeks. A Nov. 12 doctor’s appointment in Colorado should shed more light on when Harrington will be able to return to practice.

When healthy, Harrington will give the Magic another tough and fearless veteran who can play either forward slot. He’s put up solid numbers throughout his 14-year career, and he will give the Magic another player at the end of games who isn’t afraid of the big moment.

But because Harrington is in the latter stages of his career and could possibly fetch a first-round draft pick from a team in the championship hunt, the Magic could shop the veteran forward prior to the trade deadline.

If healthy, Harrington needs to play, and the Magic don’t want anyone cutting into the minutes and development of Nicholson and Harkless.

Stay tuned to the Harrington saga over the next few weeks. The belief here is that Harrington works to get back onto the court, proves that he can still be a solid contributor and finishes the season elsewhere after a January or February trade.

QUESTION: Is Nik Vucevic a legit double-double candidate this season? -- @CDMFantBall

ANSWER: Magic fans must first understand that in no way whatsoever was Vucevic just a throw-in part in the Howard mega-trade with four teams and 12 players. Magic GM Rob Hennigan specifically targeted the 22-year-old big man after scouting him extensively in college.

Vucevic has proven himself this preseason to be an extremely skilled big man. No, he isn’t overly athletic or explosive, but he can score with either hand, runs the floor exceptionally hard and has a nose for rebounds. He had another 16-point, nine-rebound performance against Marc Gasol on Wednesday to push his preseason averages to 8.7 points and 7.8 rebounds a game. He’s doing that over just 20 minutes a game, so it’s easy to project him averaging 12 points and 9.0 rebounds a night with more playing time.

Magic fans should also realize that Vucevic is a basketball lifer. His father played professionally for 24 years in Belgium and Switzerland and played with the legendary Drazen Petrovic on the Yugoslavian National Team. And his mother also played professional basketball in Bosnia.

The point is that the Vucevic – who turned 22 years year old on Wednesday and treated himself to a new Mercedes – is a skilled and steadily improving big man who is only going to continue to get better.

QUESTION: With Gustavo Ayon out, where does that playing time go? -- @dbuch_1080

ANSWER: Ayon is expected to miss two weeks after spraining a ligament in his left thumb in last Sunday’s win against the San Antonio Spurs. If he sticks to that timetable, Ayon should miss just two regular season games.

That’s a good thing considering that Ayon has been impressive with his tireless hustle and sneaky-good passing abilities from the high post so far.

Vucevic will be the starter at center and Davis will play that slot for long stretches as well. In a weird sort of way, I think Davis most helps the Magic as a power forward defensively and a center on offense. He’s at his best when he’s in the lane or going toward the basket. He got off to a poor start last season when he settled for jump shots or tried driving into the heart of the defense. But his best basketball came when Howard went down and Davis could anchor himself on the low block. Posting up and running pick-and-roll plays with Redick and Nelson is where Davis can be the most effective.

The temporary loss of Ayon could also mean more minutes early on for Nicholson, the Magic’s first-round draft pick. Using what Vaughn calls ``a YMCA game,’’ Nicholson has been an effective scorer from the low post this preseason. He doesn’t jump particularly high and he’s not that quick, but his exquisite footwork, patience and long wingspan help him score in the post.

Nicholson must continue to ``hit first’’ and be willing to mix it up inside to thrive in the NBA against bigger and stronger power forwards. Do that, and the rookie has a shot at being one of the NBA’s most surprising first-year players this season.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for this edition of the Magic Mailbag. Thanks for all of the questions and, as always, stay thirsty my friends.

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.



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