Orlando Magic 2008/2009 Season Preview

Third Quarter Collapse is proud to once again take part in CelticsBlog's NBA blogger preview series. We'll take an in-depth look at the Orlando Magic's 2008-2009 season, their 20th in the league, and offer analysis, insight, and predictions.

The Orlando Magic's 20th Anniversary logo

Orlando Magic

Last Year's Record: 52-30

Key Losses: point guard Carlos Arroyo (free agency to Maccabi Tel Aviv), combo guard Keyon Dooling (sign-and-trade with New Jersey), shooting guard Maurice Evans (free agency to Golden State, er, Atlanta).

Key Additions: power forward Tony Battie (return from shoulder surgery), point guard Anthony Johnson (free agency from Sacramento), shooting guard Courtney Lee (2008 draft), shooting guard Mickael Pietrus (free agency from Golden State), small forward Jeremy Richardson (training-camp invitee).

For the rest of the preview, make the jump.

1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?

Nothing the Magic could have done this summer could have matched the splash they made in 2007 when they obtained Rashard Lewis from the Seattle SuperSonics in a sign-and-trade deal. This year, they landed Mickael Pietrus, arguably the best role-playing swingman from this year's free-agent class in the Magic's price range. The Magic believe he has the athleticism and skill to slow the Eastern Conference's best wing players -- he will certainly be expected to stick with Joe Johnson, Ray Allen, and LeBron James, to name but a few -- and the three-point ability to thrive in Stan Van Gundy's offense, which is built around franchise center Dwight Howard. They also hope to use his slashing and post game to add a new dimension to the steady-yet-predictable production they got from the Keith Bogans/Maurice Evans platoon last season.

Almost more important than who they added is who they lost. Keyon Dooling was the Magic's sixth-man last season, providing energy and tenacity off the bench. He played so well that he priced himself out of Orlando, and the Magic accommodated him by sending him to New Jersey, which needs his leadership, not to mention skill, to shore-up a thin backcourt.

Anthony Johnson, in his second go-round with the Magic, will take a bulk of Dooling's minutes, but he'll play a much different role. Johnson won't have the green light to shoot, as Dooling did, because he's frankly not that good at it. What he is good at is running an offense, even one with which he is not familiar, as he compiled a sterling 29-to-5 assist-to-turnover ratio in the five preseason games against NBA competition in which he played; if you prefer advanced statistics, Johnson's Pure Point Rating of 14.3 may even make Chris Paul blush. Although his defense likely won't be as good as advertised, he's still competent enough that his defensive deficiencies won't undermine his offensive production.

One of the reasons the Magic drafted Courtney Lee was because they believed he, as a four-year senior at Western Kentucky, had the maturity and skill to contribute right away; his donut preference was also a deciding factor. However, he's behind Pietrus, J.J. Redick, and probably Bogans on the depth chart. He's going to have to earn his minutes and maybe he'll be ready to play in meaningful situations next season.

Finally, one shouldn't underestimate what Tony Battie brings to the team either. I made this point in greater detail as part of Sports Illustrated's Orlando Magic preview.

2. What are the team's biggest strengths?

  • Three-point shooting, as was also the case last year. With Dwight Howard commanding double-teams inside, the Magic's top-flight perimeter shooters -- Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, Mickael Pietrus, J.J. Redick, and Keith Bogans -- will have plenty of open looks from beyond the arc. If those shots don't fall, the Magic can try to go to Plan B by force-feeding Howard in the post. Hopefully, Lewis will make good on his promise to be more aggressive and take the ball to the basket with more regularity if he's off from the outside.
  • Defense. Howard's presence in the defensive lane discourages most opposing players from driving, forcing them to settle for perimeter jumpers. According to 82games.com, 69% of the Magic's opponents' field-goal attempts last season were jumpers. For comparison, the league's overall top defensive team, the NBA Champion Boston Celtics, forced their opponents to take jumpers 70% of the time. The Magic's number may increase, as Pietrus is faster, younger, and stronger than either Bogans or Evans, and thus should be able to stay between his man and the basket on most nights.

3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

  • Frontcourt depth. The Magic's starting frontcourt of Turkoglu, Lewis, and Howard rivals that of any other team in the league; according to this metric, they were individually 3 of the top 50 most valuable players in 2007/2008. Unfortunately, there isn't much behind them.
    • Power forward Tony Battie is fully recovered from the shoulder injury which kept him on the sidelines all of last season, and still has the defensive and rebounding skills to justify playing 15 minutes a night. Unfortunately, he broke his left ring finger in practice earlier this preseason, and will have to wear a splint for two months. Tony's a trooper and will be able to play opening night, but I can't help but feel like the broken finger will nag him throughout the season and may take its toll in the playoffs.
    • Power forward Brian Cook prefers to stay on the perimeter and isn't going to give the Magic much defensively; he probably won't play more than 10 minutes a night, despite his three-point acumen.
    • Center Adonal Foyle fell out of the rotation in the playoffs, much to his chagrin. He opted out, hoping to sign with a team that might give him a more meaningful role. When none came, he re-signed with the Magic, and resigned himself to a season likely spent at the end of the bench. Foyle's a fantastic rebounder on per-minute basis, but he's such an offensive liability (in terms of skill and speed) that he probably will only have mop-up duty, if he's even on the active roster on a nightly basis.
    • Center Marcin Gortat, the man who took Foyle's minutes in those playoffs, is probably the Magic's most reliable frontcourt reserve. He doesn't get much offensively, but his post moves are good enough that the Magic shouldn't be averse to feeding him there. Where he earns his keep is defensively. He's a fantastic shot-blocker, in either man-to-man or weakside-help situations, and may earn additional minutes at power forward alongside Howard if he can stay out of foul trouble. But as a second-year player, he won't get the benefit of many whistles.
    • Small forward Jeremy Richardson made the squad with a strong training-camp and preseason showing, beating out power forward Dwayne Jones for the team's final roster spot. Barring an injury or combination of injuries the myriad players in front of him on the depth chart, Richardson will find himself behind Orlando's bench in a suit for the season... or at least until January 10th, after which point his contract becomes guaranteed.
  • Free-throw shooting. Howard's struggles at the foul line are well-documented, but he's not the only Magic player who struggles there. Pietrus is no great shakes (66.2% career, never higher than 69.8%), which will pose a problem if he drives to the basket as much as he should. And although Nelson is solid overall, shooting 79.1% for his career, he got the yips in last year's Game 4 versus Detroit and may have cost his team the game. Hopefully Lewis and Turkoglu will be able to mitigate their teammates' poor shooting. Otherwise, this team will win fewer games than it should based on its point differential.

4. What are the goals for this team?

The team has made it clear that its goal is an NBA Championship. A more attainable goal is to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, although it'll certainly be an uphill battle, given the increased level of competition at the top of the East. If the Magic are eliminated in the second round, the season won't have been a total loss if they at least stayed competitive. If they are eliminated in the first round, the season will have been an unmitigated disaster, and heads will roll at One Magic Place.

5. Will J.J. Redick finally earn a place in the rotation and contribute on a nightly basis?

Surprisingly, yes. Earlier this summer, I firmly believed that J.J. would become a worthy NBA player, just not with the Magic, and as such advocated a trade. But the time he's spent in the gym has paid off, and he's faster, stronger, and more athletic than ever before. Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy, always known as a candid guy, said Redick had the best preseason of any Magic guard. Earlier, he praised J.J.'s previously awful defense. There's no chance that Redick will crack the starting lineup as long as Pietrus is healthy, but there's a great chance he'll be the first man off the bench on opening night, and may play up to 20 minutes a game. I think he's due for a great year.

Predicted Record: 55-27

I'll cheat a little bit with my explanation and quote myself from a Southeast Division prediction post Will Brinson made at AOL FanHouse earlier this week:

It's easy to forget, given the Magic's three-point-happy offense, that they were even better on the other side of the ball, ranking 7th in offensive efficiency and 5th in defensive efficiency, according to basketball-reference.com. That site also tells us they had the point differential of a 56-win team. So even accounting for a possible drop-off in talent and perhaps a few games lost to injury, the Magic should have a win total in the 50s. That total should be enough to propel the Magic to win their second consecutive Southeast Division championship.

Last year, I cautiously and optimistically predicted 46 wins, which came up 6 wins short of Orlando's actual total. I hope I'm equally off-the-mark this year.

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