Denton's Notebook: Wednesday, Nov. 28

By John Denton
November 28, 2012

ORLANDO – Of all the things that Orlando’s Jacque Vaughn took from Gregg Popovich during his time in San Antonio as a player and an assistant coach, one of the most important aspects was the need to constantly evolve as a coach.

Popovich has won four titles in San Antonio, in part, because he’s been flexible as a coach and willing to adapt to the personnel around him. Of course, it hasn’t hurt that Popovich has had either David Robinson or Tim Duncan – or both simultaneously – during his entire coaching run with the Spurs.

Whereas the Spurs were mostly a half-court team that focused on the defense and shot-blocking of their two 7-footers throughout the 1990’s, the Spurs have become a more up-tempo in recent years. The Spurs have focused more of their offense around the penetration skills of Tony Parker and the playmaking abilities of Manu Ginobili.

And it all has happened, Vaughn said, because of Popovich’s willingness to adjust with the times.

``That’s why he’s a genius,’’ Vaughn said of Popovich, whom he played for for three years and coached with for two seasons. ``A lot of guys would fight themselves, but he’s evolved. The Spurs were always 1-2-3 (ranking) in defense, but the past years they have been 1-2-3 (ranking) in offensive efficiency. So that’s a heck of a transformation while still having consistency along the way. It speaks volumes to Coach’s ability to adjust and get the right players in there and still play Spurs basketball.’’

When told of Vaughn’s praise before Wednesday’s game in Orlando, Popovich playfully stuck his finger in his throat as if he wanted to vomit. Said Popovich of his evolution as a coach: ``You just get older, that’s all it is.’’

MO’S DEVELOPMENT: The Magic have made no secret one of their top priorities this season is to develop their first and second-year players. At the forefront of that list if 19-year-old Maurice Harkless, who declared for the NBA Draft after just one season at St. John’s.

The Magic have gone to great lengths to make sure that Harkless is surrounded by a strong supporting cast and there are veteran players in place to assist him with his transition to the NBA.

It’s no coincidence that Harkless’ locker is right next to that of Arron Afflalo, one of the Magic’s most respected players. And it’s no coincidence that Magic coaches have Harkless go through shooting drills every next along side of J.J. Redick, one of the Magic’s hardest workers in practice.

``It’s just great to have veterans that he can emulate. Arron has made himself into a player. J.J. has made himself into a player and both of them have done it because of hard work every single day,’’ Vaughn said. ``The sooner that Mo sees that the better that his career will be.’’

VETERAN SAVVY: Veteran point guard Jameer Nelson, the longest-tenured Magic player, likes to joke that he’s always been a second-half player throughout his career. That has never been more evident than lately when he scored 12 points in the third quarter of games against Cleveland and Boston.

Nelson scored 19 of his 22 points against the Cavs in the second half, while he scored 17 of his 20 on Sunday in the final 24 minutes. Part of Nelson’s timing is by design as he reads attempts to read what his team needs and also how the defense is playing before he decides whether he needs to be a scorer or a distributor.

``I have to pick and choose my spots because we have guys on this team who can score even though they are young,’’ Nelson said. ``If they have it going I won’t necessarily take a back seat, but I’ll let them do their thing when they are hot. If not, I’ll force the issue a little for myself.

``The first two quarters might not be mine, the third quarter or the game might not be mine, but I understand when it’s your time it’s your time,’’ Nelson continued.

ETC: J.J. Redick ranks fifth in the NBA in scoring among reserves at 14.8 points per game. He trails only only L.A.’s Jamal Crawford (18 ppg.), Charlotte’s Ramon Sessions (16.4 ppg.), Oklahoma City’s Kevin Martin (15.7 ppg.) and Sacramento’s Marcus Thornton (15 ppg). However, none of the high-scoring reserves ahead of Redick are averaging at least five assists a game. Redick said the decision of whether to score or pass depends on the personnel that he’s playing with. Said Redick: ``When I’m with Jameer I can play off of him a little bit because he creates for other people. But with E’Twaun (Moore), he’s just better off the ball and it requires me to do a little more creating. We have some guys in that second unit who are getting more comfortable – Andrew (Nicholson) is a guy who can get some buckets and him and I have to continue that combination similar to what Glen and I have done over the last couple of years.’’ … Vaughn has said that during his first season as an assistant coach in San Antonio that he so totally poured himself into the job that he kept his family in Kansas City. Joked Popovich: ``Yeah, he dressed in my locker while he was there.’’ … The Magic wrap up their season-long five-game home stand on Friday against the Brooklyn Nets. Orlando then hits the road for five games over a nine-day stetch. The Magic will play the Lakers (Sunday), Warriors (Monday), Jazz (Wednesday), Kings (Dec. 7) and Suns (Dec. 9).

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