Denton: Ten Burning Questions (Page 2)
6. How will young players Andrew Nicholson, Moe Harkless and Kyle O’Quinn fit into the team this season?
Nicholson impressed the Magic in the summer league with his ability to score from the low block and battle for rebounds. He has deceptive athleticism, solid footwork and exceptionally long arms, making him tough to handle when posting up. In time, he could be a player the Magic could go to inside to provide scoring from the low block.
Harkless is likely out until mid-November because of a sports hernia, but that’s done little to dampen the excitement of him blossoming into a solid player in Orlando. He has the size and athleticism to be a good wing player, but he must work to improve his jump shot and ball-handling skills. But GM Rob Hennigan targeted Harkless in the big trade because of the small forward’s toughness and knack for making big plays in clutch situations.
A product of Norfolk State, O’Quinn put himself on the NBA map with a dominant performance against Missouri in the NCAA Tournament and he earned a NBA contract with a workmanlike effort in the summer league. He is a highly intelligent player who knows his future in the NBA depends on his willingness to do the dirty work and battle bigger players in the post. He is somewhat undersized as a center, but he makes up for it with his hustle and muscle. A favorite of the coaching staff already, O’Quinn could carve out a long NBA career if he can continue to get bigger and provide the Magic with an edge with his toughness.
7. Who will win the backup point guard job behind Jameer Nelson?
The longest tenured Magic player, Nelson is the unquestioned leader of the team with his presence in the locker room and on the floor. Players listen when he speaks and they follow him because he is the consummate professional.
Finding a steady, reliable replacement behind Nelson has been a problem for the Magic for the last few years. Orlando turned to Anthony Johnson, Gilbert Arenas and Chris Duhon with little success in recent years.
But that could be about to end with the late-summer addition of E’Twaun Moore and the return of Ish Smith. Smith’s chances of winning the backup job took a hit, however, when he separated his shoulder and tore the labrum muscle over the summer. He is expected to return by mid-November.
Moore, a college star at Purdue, had an impressive rookie season in Boston and was used to guard Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers in the Eastern Conference Finals because of his quickness and grit. He also had the finest game of his professional career in Orlando, hitting four second-half 3-pointers as the Celtics rallied from a 27-point deficit to defeat the Magic.
Smith became a fan favorite last season because of his cat-quick first step and his willingness to drive the paint. He’s worked hard to improve his jump shot and must show an ability to score when left alone by opposing defenses.
Moore will be the backup to Nelson throughout training camp and early in the season, but he should receive a strong challenge from Smith once he returns fully healthy.
8. Which reserve could evolve into a rotation player?
Justin Harper, the Magic’s second-round pick from 2011, will be given a shot in training camp and the preseason to prove that he can become the outside threat Orlando will need this season. His shot was hot and cold during the summer league and he needs to be more assertive as far as drive the ball and taking perimeter shots when open. This could very well be a make-or-break training camp for Harper, who has added muscle to help him hold his own defensively at the power forward position.
Josh McRoberts is a highly athletic power forward who can also bang on the inside. He’ll likely battle Nicholson and Harper for minutes at the power forward slot behind starter Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis.
Gustavo Ayon has played just one season of NBA basketball, but at 27 years old he is a mature player who does a lot of things well. He appeared in 54 games and made 24 starts last season in New Orleans, splitting his time between center and power forward. He had a 16-point, nine-rebound performance against Washington in March and he closed last season by scoring 13 points, grabbing seven rebounds and handing out four assists against Golden State.
Ayon could evolve as a valuable utility player for the Magic’s because of his ability to play multiple positions and offer up athleticism.
9. How much does Hedo Turkoglu have left in the tank as a playmaker?
Last season was a very tough one for Turoglu, what with the condensed schedule because of the lockout and the myriad of injuries that he had to battle through. Turk showed incredible resilience by returning early following surgery to repair several facial fractures to get back on the floor for the playoffs.
Incredibly, Turkoglu, 31, is entering his 13th NBA season and his eighth wearing a Magic jersey. His game is starting to show signs of wear and tear, dropping from a career-best scoring average of 19.5 points per game in 2007-08 to 10.9 points per game last season. This Magic team needs him to play more like the one from last regular season (10.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 41.5 percent shooting) as opposed to the one in the playoffs after the facial injury (8.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 36.6 percent shooting).
Turkoglu showed up in Orlando in great shape and said he’s eager to work with Vaughn. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the new coaching staff after enjoying his finest professional success under Stan Van Gundy. Van Gundy entrusted to Turkoglu to make plays off the dribble and it will be interesting to see how Vaughn utilizes the 6-foot-10 forward. After all, Turkoglu needs to have the ball in his hands to be successful.
10. Can this new-look Magic team compete for a playoff slot?
I touched on this subject in my most recent Magic mailbag, stressing that the No. 8 seed in the East will be very much up for grabs. At this point, I have the top seven seeds in the East breaking down this way: 1. Heat; 2. Pacers; 3. Celtics; 4. 76ers; 5. Knicks; 6. Bulls; 7. Nets. As for the No. 8 seed I see a season-long battle between the Wizards, Pistons, Hawks, Bucks and Magic.
Simply put, the Magic have too many proud and talented veterans to not battle all season for a playoff slot. If they can reach the playoffs it would extend Orlando’s streak of making the postseason to seven consecutive years, which would continue to lead the Eastern Conference.
I see no reason why a starting lineup of Nelson, Afflalo, Turkoglu, Davis and Vucevic and a rotation that will include Redick, Harrington, Ayon and Moore can’t push for a playoff spot in the East. Players such as Davis, Afflalo and Redick have plenty to prove this season, while Nelson will keep the group focused and fighting all year long.
So I see no reason why the Magic can’t surprise people with the unselfish and gritty play and stay in the playoff hunt all season long. That in itself would be a huge accomplishment for a franchise that has been through so much change the past few months, and it would set the foundation for the building process ahead.
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