Cohen: Starting Lineup Decisions

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

By Josh Cohen August 21, 2012 ORLANDO -- For the past few years, we never really needed to debate who should start and what positions players should be assigned to. Sure, there were temporary revisions from time to time during the Stan Van Gundy era. But generally, the starting lineup was preordained and complemented Dwight Howard’s aptitude. With the Orlando Magic in a rebuilding process and considering there are many promising unproven and experimental pieces on the roster, Jacque Vaughn will have a plethora of decisions to make come opening night. There is one guarantee at least. Jameer Nelson, who re-signed with the Magic earlier this summer, will be the team’s primary floor general. However, after Nelson, there is ample ambiguity. Most expect Arron Afflalo, who was acquired in the four-team blockbuster trade involving Howard, to start at shooting guard. But, should J.J. Redick, who inarguably enjoyed his most consistent season of his career in 2011-12, be an option to start? Aside from being a fan favorite, Redick continues to blossom and has a chance to be extremely reliable for a team trying to grow without a defined superstar. Barring something extraordinary from J.J. in training camp or some sort of dissatisfaction from Afflalo, however, A.A. will almost certainly be Nelson’s starting partner in the backcourt. Seems relatively simple so far for Vaughn, doesn’t it? Just wait. Figuring out the starting forwards/center is a head-spinner. First off, let’s explore some philosophies. Is it more advantageous for rookies or inexperienced players in general to learn as bystanders or major contributors? Some people tend to more rapidly develop skills by watching others perform a task, while others need the instant pressure and a hands-on approach to grasp it all. It would seem rational for Al Harrington and Hedo Turkoglu, two veterans with years and years of familiarity, to serve as the Magic’s starting forwards on opening night. While neither can be counted on to defend orthodox power forwards in the post, both can stretch the floor and handle the rock. Perhaps, though, it may create more sanguinity if rookies Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson were both given the opportunity to start. It’s a dangerous proposition for a pair of rookies with essentially zero professional experience to get thrown in the pressure cooker as early failure could lead to long term hesitancy. However, there is a far greater reward if Harkless and/or Nicholson prove to succeed immediately. It would generate an abundance of optimism for the franchise. Many don’t know much about Harkless considering he played just one year at St. John’s. But two sources I spoke to say if Maurice stayed in college one more year he would have been a top eight draft pick. After the Dwight deal, another source said Harkless will be an All-Star in three-to-five years and will change the way the Howard trade is viewed forever. As for Nicholson, boy was he good at the AirTran Airways Orlando Pro Summer League in July. Remember, Drew has four years of college experience and showed for five games at summer league he has the potential to be a lethal low post scorer in the NBA. Naturally, Vaughn can mix and match. He can start Turk or Al at the small forward spot and Nicholson at the four or Harkless at the three and either Drew or Harrington at the four. Or…. Glen Davis, who became the Magic’s starting center last season when Howard went down with the back injury and flourished in that role, could return to his more natural position of power forward. And in effect, Gustavo Ayon, who was acquired in the Ryan Anderson sign-and-trade deal with the Hornets, would start at center. The Mexican-born big man started 24 games for New Orleans last season. Like it was for Davis, Ayon got the opportunity as a result of an injury to Emeka Okafor and Chris Kaman’s deactivation. Another option is Nikola Vucevic, who was one of six players the Magic received in the Howard trade. Vucevic started 15 games for Philadelphia last season and proved he is a versatile big man.  There is a plethora of starting lineup options to consider. While Vaughn and his coaching staff will eventually decide the five that will take the court for the opening tip on Nov. 2 when the Magic host the Denver Nuggets, for now how about you all settle on a starting lineup.Vote for who you think should start and who knows, maybe Vaughn will ultimately take your advice.

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