Denton's Mailbag: Sept. 7

By John Denton
September 7, 2012

ORLANDO -- With players starting to trickle back into Orlando for voluntary workouts and conditioning sessions and with training camp less than four weeks away, it’s time to rip off another Magic Mailbag.

You’ve got questions and I’ve got answers, so away we go:

QUESTION: Which of the three rookies do you think will be a starter now or in a short period of time? – Fidel Seineldin

DENTON: I love the raw athleticism and promise of Moe Harkless, but he’s still somewhat of a project as he works to better his jump shot and ball handling skills.

And center Kyle O’Quinn has the kind of smarts and toughness to stick around the NBA for 10 years, but he’ll ideally be a big man off the bench who specializes in making hustle plays and defending the post.

Because the Magic will most likely be looking for players to score from the post this season after losing Dwight Howard, I think Andrew Nicholson projects as the player most likely to be a starter by the end of the season. Nicholson has long arms, exceptional footwork and savvy moves down low that helps him score from the block and get to the free throw line. He kind of resembles an Antawn Jamison in how he is able to score from awkward angles and uses his smarts to get defenders into the air.

Nicholson has worked most of the offseason to add muscle and bulk and the true test for him will be trying to hold his position against bigger and stronger NBA power forwards. But he will surprise some opponents this season with his ability to score from odd angles with those long arms. Because of that ability to score from the post, look for Nicholson to be the player to get the first spot starts throughout the season.

QUESTION: Who is more likely to start the season coming off the bench – Big Baby Davis or Hedo Turkoglu? – Adam Papageorgiou

DENTON: Knowing what I know about some of the team dynamics already, I truly expect that Turk and Big Baby will open the season as starters. Things certainly could change later in the season, but for now the Magic will need both veterans on the floor as much as possible to stabilize a relatively young roster.

If things change as the roster evolves, Turkoglu would be the most natural fit coming off the bench. Because he still does a lot of things well and can play multiple positions, Turk could be the ultimate utility player for rookie head coach Jacque Vaughn.

As for Davis, everyone saw how he thrived late last season after Howard went down with a back injury and Big Baby was promoted into the starting lineup. He came to Orlando to be a starter, and getting beaten out early last year by Ryan Anderson really did a number on his sometimes fragile psyche. But Davis enters this training camp not only knowing that he will be a starter, but also a focal point of the offense and defense.

A reserve throughout his career, Davis has worked hard this summer to slim down and to get into the kind of shape that will allow him to play 35-38 minutes a game. He did that in the playoffs against the Pacers and was the Magic’s most consistent performer. I fully expect him to show up to camp as a player with a purpose. He’s eager to show everyone around the NBA that he can be a go-to scorer, a hard-nosed defender and a team leader, and he’ll get those chances to do so this season.

QUESTION: Do you see the Magic trading J.J. Redick sometime this season? – Jase Alexander

DENTON: I truly believe that Redick will be valuable to the Magic for several reasons this season. His professionalism, his scoring pop off the bench and his underrated playmaking skills will make him an integral part of the rotation this season. His scoring average has risen four straight seasons, climbing to a career-best 11.6 points a game last year. With his minutes and shot attempts likely to rise this season, I could see a scenario where Redick averages 13-14 points a game.

That kind of production could be very appealing to another team near the trade deadline. Redick’s ability to knock down shots and score on pull-up jumpers are lost arts in the NBA, and he could very well be a highly sought-after commodity around the league. But he is in the final year of his contract and that expiring deal is also what the Magic are looking to hang onto as they attempt to stockpile salary cap space for 2014. So I could very well see Redick remain in Orlando throughout the season and then attempt to nab a sizeable payday elsewhere in free agency in July of 2013.

QUESTION: Who do you think will be the backup point guard behind Jameer Nelson – E’Twaun Moore or Ish Smith? – Swey Torres

DENTON: Smith almost instantly became a fan favorite last season because of his cat-quick speed, his fearless nature and because fans wanted him playing ahead of struggling backup Chris Duhon. The Magic saw his promise this summer when they ended his nomadic run through the NBA and locked him up with a guaranteed contract for the season.

Smith’s flaw, however, is his jump shot and he must become a reliable and willing shooter to earn significant minutes. He was usually the first player to arrive at the arena for games last season, drilling for some 90 minutes with former assistant coach Brendan Malone on his jump shot and floaters in the lane. So his ability to increase his playing time will depend on just how much that jumper has improved.

Moore’s jump shot isn’t a problem, a fact that Magic fans undoubtedly remember from last season. His four 3-pointers and career-best 15 points helped keyed a Boston rally from 27 points down last fall in Orlando. Boston head coach Doc Rivers thought enough of Moore’s long-armed defense that he used him in the Eastern Conference Finals to check Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers.

I think that Moore will eventually emerge as the backup to Jameer Nelson because of his ability to hit shots, make plays in the lane and defend opposing guards. But no one should count out the scrappy Smith, who will be in a daily fight for his NBA life.

QUESTION: Do you believe in your heart of hearts that anyone is good enough to take out the Miami Heat’s Dream Team? -- @NBAfatboy

DENTON: When LeBron James and the Heat finally figured out how to get over the hump last June, it seemed like Miami might be poised to rip off a string of titles a la the Bulls in the 1990s.

But that was before the Lakers smartly reloaded this summer with Howard and point guard Steve Nash. And that was before Kevin Durant proved himself in the Olympics to be the best scorer in the world and the Thunder locked up the core of their team for the next several years. And that was before the Heat started thinking about signing free-agent forward Andray Blatche. (Kidding!)

The Lakers have assembled a Dream Team with the firepower of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison, Antawn Jamison, Howard and Nash. Howard was the absolute perfect addition for the Lakers because he takes the heavy lifting off of Gasol’s shoulders, can cover defensively for the blow-bys that Nash will allow and his inside presence might extend Bryant’s career by three years.

With Howard and Nash, the Lakers are now really strong at positions where the Lakers are the weakest – center and point guard. If the Lakers can stay healthy – and that’s a very big if considering Howard’s back, the age of Bryant and Nash and the mental fragility and volatility of (insert irony here) World Peace – I think the Lakers could very well end the Heat’s run on championships after just one title.

And now it’s my time to turn the tables on the fans and ask a question of my own: If the hated Heat and the Howard-led Lakers are in the NBA Finals next spring, which team would Magic fans pull for to win the title? That’s a tough one for a lot of reasons, but we’ll tackle that issue and your answers (submit them on Twitter at @JohnDenton555) in next week’s mailbag.

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

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