The Orlando Magic Have Options: Potential Lineups for Next Season

Last month, the Orlando Magic advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in 14 years, and for the second time in the team's 20-year history. They mustered just one win against the Los Angeles Lakers, but that was one more win than was expected. In fact, one could argue it was 7 more wins than expected, since almost everyone counted them out after they squandered a 14-point lead to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

In spite of all that, the Magic have turned over quite a bit of their roster. Rafer Alston, Hedo Turkoglu, and Courtney Lee--three starters for most of the stretch run and the playoffs--are gone. So, too, is rotation power forward Tony Battie. Local and national media have questioned the wisdom of almost gutting a team that came up a scant 3 wins shy of a championship.

What isn't getting enough attention--or wasn't up until yesterday, when Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports addressed the subject--is the fact that each of the Magic's new players somehow improves on the one whose role he figures to take. Additionally, they're better equipped to handle stronger, more physical front lines, thanks to the signing of free-agent wrecking ball power forward Brandon Bass.

The key point is flexibility. Last season, the Magic's top-ranked defense carried them all the way to the NBA Finals. It was their offense that held them back at times--and by "at times," we mean after Jameer Nelson tore the labrum in his right shoulder, thus forcing the less efficient Alston and Anthony Johnson to carry the point guard load for the second half of the season. But with Carter, Bass, and Ryan Anderson in the fold, and with a healthy Nelson, this team can seriously challenge to lead the league in both defense efficiency and offensive efficiency.

It's still early in the summer, and the team still has some moves to make. But with 10 players under contract, it's fair enough to start looking at some specific lineups and the flexibility they provide.

Starters/Finishers:

PG SG SF PF C

Jameer
Nelson

Vince
Carter

Mickael
Pietrus

Rashard
Lewis

Dwight
Howard

No surprises here. Offensively, this team will resemble the Magic's best five from last year, with Pietrus taking Lee's place and with Carter subbing for Turkoglu. Lethal three-point shooting at point guard, shooting guard, and power forward, with competent three-point shooting at small forward. One-in, four-out, making room for Howard inside. And I contend that Carter's enough of an upgrade over Turkoglu that this lineup will be even more effective than last year's first five, even when accounting for the drop-off in three-point shooting from Lee to Pietrus.

Tall Ball A:

PG SG SF PF C

Jameer
Nelson

Vince
Carter

Rashard
Lewis

Brandon
Bass

Dwight
Howard

On the surface, replacing a 6'07" player with another 6'07" player does not qualify as getting "bigger." But in practice, Bass beefs up the Magic's lineup with his toughness, interior defense, and ability to hit the mid-range jumper.

The Magic relied on Battie for those sorts of things last year. As we noted on Saturday, Bass is one of the league's best jump-shooting bigs, and he's also an above-average post defender in spite of his size.

Rashard Lewis hasn't played small forward extensively in coach Stan Van Gundy's offensive and defensive schemes. I imagine hanging around the perimeter on defense will be easier on his legs, perhaps keeping him fresher for late in the season. But I still fully expect him to spend most of his time at power forward.

Tall Ball B:

PG SG SF PF C

Anthony
Johnson

J.J.
Redick

Rashard
Lewis

Brandon
Bass

Marcin
Gortat

Maybe this lineup spells disaster. After all, neither Bass nor Gortat is a three-point threat, and neither is particularly adept at creating his own shot. This lineup isn't geared toward them, though. With Gortat stationed on the week side and Bass camped out on one of the elbows, Lewis can go to work in the post--most likely the left block, where he posts-up 86% of the time. The Magic's offense doesn't suffer too badly running through Lewis in the post as opposed to Howard. He's a creative scorer in that area, and has developed into a savvy passer out of double-teams. Gortat and Bass are free to crash the offensive boards for garbage points. And if either Bass or Gortat catch their defenders napping, they can make a quick cut to the basket. If Lewis finds one on the cut, there's an excellent chance a score will result. Gortat shot 78% on basket cuts last season, with Bass clocking in at 72%.

Johnson and Redick are listed here only because we've listed the starting backcourt in every other lineup so far. For variety's sake, in other words.

Tall Ball C:

PG SG SF PF C

Jameer
Nelson

Vince
Carter

Rashard
Lewis

Marcin
Gortat

Dwight
Howard

Here's a lineup to which Magic fans will pay plenty of attention. Because of Gortat's offensive limitations as a power forward, he and Howard rarely shared the floor last season, and we've already gone fairly in-depth as to what happens to the offense when they do. Assuming Gortat ever develops a reliable jumper, this lineup could be one of the Magic's most potent. As it is, it might be the preferred lineup for some stretches against the league's more physical teams, like Boston and the Lakers, because Gortat and Howard don't take any B.S.

Sure, Bass doesn't take any either. The biggest difference is that Gortat is a much stronger rebounder than Bass, even if he doesn't "bang around" as often.

Bombs Away! A:

PG SG SF PF C

Jameer
Nelson

Vince
Carter

Rashard
Lewis

Ryan
Anderson

Dwight
Howard

Finally, a lineup that makes use of Anderson. It's a bit unfair to label him a specialist, considering the versatility he displayed during last week's Orlando Pro Summer League. But in the NBA, when he'll be the 5th option instead of the 1st, well, he's going to be a shooter. This lineup keeps the 4-out, 1-in offense Van Gundy prefers. Think of Anderson as this year's Brian Cook--in terms of his role, not his skill level--a guy upon whom Stan can call when he needs a few quick three-pointers. As a plus, Stan can roll with this lineup for a bit longer than he would were it to include Cook, because Anderson isn't a total defensive zero, and because he's in-shape.

Bombs Away! B:

PG SG SF PF C

Jameer
Nelson

J.J.
Redick

Rashard
Lewis

Ryan
Anderson

Dwight
Howard

No list of three-point-shooting lineups would be complete without one which included Redick. Let's just assume Carter's getting a breather in this scenario.

Bombs Away! C:

PG SG SF PF C

Jameer
Nelson

Vince
Carter

Mickael
Pietrus

Ryan
Anderson

Dwight
Howard

Well, Rashard Lewis has to rest sometime, as he's appeared in every lineup so far.

Bombs Away! D:

PG SG SF PF C

Vince
Carter

Mickael
Pietrus

Rashard
Lewis

Ryan
Anderson

Dwight
Howard

Now this lineup is hardly viable for long stretches at a time, since it asks Carter to chase opposing point guards around. But, were either of the point guards injured or in foul trouble, Carter could run the show. Anderson would have to be in the game, as pairing Howard with any other big would shut down Carter's driving lanes, which he would need in order to set up Lewis or Pietrus beyond the arc.

These are only a sampling of some lineups Van Gundy can use, and I'm confident that they're all at least moderately more effective than their equivalents last year. Improving the 11th-ranked offense will go a long way toward securing another trip to the NBA Finals, and possibly the team's first championship, even if the top-ranked defense slips somewhat.

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