"Look, I know the Pistons have had Orlando's number in recent seasons, but these aren't those same Pistons, not by a long shot. Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace have been dinged up all the time, and even when healthy they're just an old team whose difficulty scoring would play right into Orlando's hands. I don't think it'd be any contest, really. If Orlando sticks to their gameplan on D and they don't let Detroit interfere with their long-range shooting (since we know one of the only things Detroit does well is defend the 3), it's a cakewalk for the Magic."
-- Neil Paine, Basketball-Reference
As promised, here is Part II of my interview with Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference.
In the final part of the Q/A, Paine analyzes several Magic players, offers opinion regarding Orlando and Detroit, and paints a championship winning path in the Playoffs for the Orlando Magic.
Click after the jump for the full transcript.
Dwight Howard. It's no secret that Superman still has room to grow as a player. Rather than regurgitate what's always said about Howard (with regards to what he can improve on), could you briefly comment on how Dwight's eventual growth on the court may translate on the stat sheet?
Oh, it's going to be insane if he makes the necessary improvements to become a more complete offensive player. He's already one of the most effective offensive big men in the NBA (his 114.7 ORtg on 26.8 %Poss compares very favorably to Yao's 113.1/26.3 and Shaq's 118.3/24.0), and they're really not even deliberately funneling the offense through him (he only takes 21.5% of Orlando's shots when on the floor). If he gets to the point where they're comfortable force-feeding him in the post, look out -- this isn't even hyperbole, you could be looking at Shaq-in-his-prime tempo-free numbers (120+ ORtg on 30+ %Poss).
For the past month or so, you have been doing your statistical plus/minus series, highlighting the top 10 players at each position. At the end of his career, where do you think Howard might end up on the list of all-time great centers?
SPM loves itself some Dwight, that's for sure (he's 8th in the league this year, behind only James, Paul, Wade, Ginobili, Roy, Duncan, and Bryant). When it's all said and done, I can certainly see him ranking somewhere between #7 and #10 all-time, trailing only Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem, Wilt, Shaq, and the Admiral. Because right now he's tracking to be better than, say, Patrick Ewing. Then again, it all depends on the longevity factor. But if he plays long enough, he'll be up there.
What's the deal with Mickael Pietrus? This is a guy that seems to have some potential still waiting to be untapped, but unfortunately, inconsistencies in his game and injuries always appear to slip Pietrus up. If Mickael could somehow put it all together (can he?), what type of player could he become?
When he was first drafted, I thought Pietrus was going to be a really good player, what with his combination of great size (for his position), athleticism, and shooting ability. But I overlooked one big piece of the equation: he simply can't handle the rock well enough to be a creator, no matter how many physical tools he has. That means the best he can hope for is to be a 3-point specialist who plays tough D at the other end -- a Raja Bell/Bruce Bowen type, if you will, who maybe contributes a little more offensively. Unfortunately, Pietrus needs to be closer to 40% than 35% on threes to earn his keep on offense that way (he's at 36.8% right now), and he still hasn't progressed enough defensively to be anywhere close to Bowen and Bell at the same age. I still think he has the athletic gifts to make it as a comparable version of those guys, but he needs to start turning that potential into results, and soon.
Many Magic fans are concerned that Orlando will end up facing the Detroit Pistons in the first round of the Playoffs and get bounced early, as a result. If this series becomes a reality, do you think the Magic will finally beat the Pistons? What does Orlando have to do to finally beat Detroit in a seven-game series?
Look, I know the Pistons have had Orlando's number in recent seasons, but these aren't those same Pistons, not by a long shot. Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace have been dinged up all the time, and even when healthy they're just an old team whose difficulty scoring would play right into Orlando's hands. I don't think it'd be any contest, really. If Orlando sticks to their gameplan on D and they don't let Detroit interfere with their long-range shooting (since we know one of the only things Detroit does well is defend the 3), it's a cakewalk for the Magic.
Do you think the Magic can gain some real momentum in the post-season if they were to beat the Pistons in a playoff match-up? It seems Orlando would gain the most from beating Detroit, more so than any other team. What do you think?
If you want to get the monkey off of your back and exorcise the demons of the past -- to use just 2 of the cliches that I'm sure we'll hear if this matchup materializes -- I suppose there's no better way than to beat the living snot out of (a shell of) the team that's knocked you out so many times in the past. I'm a Red Sox fan, so I guess the analogue would be the 2004 ALCS: neither team has really been the same (good for Boston, bad for NY) since we made that epic comeback against our longtime tormentors. Obviously it's on a much smaller scale for the Detroit-Orlando rivalry, but it's the same idea.
A while back, I made the argument that Rashard Lewis (he was borderline, IMO, but his stats were no different to Paul Pierce's) and Jameer Nelson were both deserving of being named All-Stars. There's no doubt Nelson was deserving of the honor, but what about Lewis (there was some contention with his selection among critics, fans, and experts alike)? Was he worthy? What are your thoughts?
I like Rashard, I think he's come a long way as a player, especially on defense, when compared to his Seattle days. When all of the dust settled with the injury replacements and whatnot, I think the only commonly-mentioned "snubs" were Rajon Rondo, Vince Carter, David Lee, and maybe Caron Butler. And I wouldn't compare Rondo to Lewis because I think it's apples and oranges to compare a PG to a forward of Lewis' ilk. So we've got Carter, Lee, & Butler... Had Butler played like he did last year, he would have had a case, but not this year. And in terms of the other two -- if pressed, sure, I could make the case that both are better than (Carter's just as efficient and a much better creator, Lee is far more efficient and more of a prototype PF in style), but the Magic are having such a better season than either the Nets or Knicks and Lewis fits their system perfectly. IMO, that means any complaint about his presence at the ASG is just nitpicking.
The Orlando Magic, 2009 NBA Champions. What has to happen in the playoffs for that to become a reality? Could you lay out the scenario, step-by-step?
OK, I'll put on my best Hubie Brown voice for this... "So, you're the Orlando Magic. You've got a great defense, a strong offense, and one of the best young big men in the game today. You'd love to see Detroit in the playoffs because they're getting long in the tooth, and you have such a better differential that it would be a likely win. But maybe you see Philadelphia instead -- in which case you shut down their offense by making them jump shooters, exploit their weakness defending the 3-ball and dominate the painted area at both ends with Howard. Either way, you win.
Now comes the Celtics. They're the defending champs, they've got home-court advantage, but you had their number in the 2 most recent matchups (albeit without KG at full strength). You must replicate that success by containing their offense, making them turn the ball over and keeping Pierce away from the line. Can you neutralize Garnett? Can you win at least one game at the Garden? These are the questions that will determine this series.
If you can, Cleveland looms. Winning at The Q is even more important here. You have to win the free throw battle, keep LeBron off of that line. You can survive a good day from any other member of the Cavaliers, but you cannot allow LeBron to run wild, you must make him shoot jumpers and make him a facilitator, not a finisher. You can live with a triple-double as long as he shoots poorly and doesn't go off for 25+. You're definitely up against it here, but you can advance if you win at least 1 game on the road, collapse on LeBron's penetration, and force him into multiple bad shooting nights.
Finally, the Lakers. You swept the season series, but that was with Jameer Nelson orchestrating everything. How much of that will Rafer Alston be able to replicate? You have to slow the pace down, make a concerted effort to go at them inside with Howard, use the interior to set up the perimeter game. And that means doing a better job of feeding Howard in the post. Transition defense is key, so you have to take good care of the basketball. Kobe has more weapons at his disposal than LeBron, so you can't play L.A. the same way you played Cleveland. Kobe's going to get his points, but you must prevent Gasol, Odom, Fisher, Ariza and Vujacic from being factors. Do all of those things, and there's a good chance you could be hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy this June.
I like to give props to Neil for taking the time to answer all my questions. His insight was excellent and thorough. Don't be surprised to hear him offer his analysis and observation again once the postseason rolls around.