Orlando Magic training camp opens on September 28th. Orlando Pinstriped Post counts down key questions to consider entering camp and the 2010/11 NBA season.
The Orlando Magic have accomplished plenty since coach Stan Van Gundy took over in the summer of 2007. They've won six playoff series, reached the NBA Finals, and earned at least one individual season-end award each year. The most obvious thing they haven't done is win a championship, but there's another plateau they haven't reached, the significance of which is largely ceremonial. No, for all the things Orlando's done in the last three seasons, it still hasn't crossed the 60-win barrier. With Van Gundy still at the helm, four recent All-Stars in the starting lineup, and an overqualified second unit, Orlando seems poised to make another title run. Is this year the one in which they join the 60-win club?
Before starting, I'd like to make clear that I recognize how arbitrary 60 is, as a number. But in sports, we like those round counting numbers, and a team's reaching 60 wins is particularly indicative of elite play in the NBA, as it signifies winning at least 73.2 percent of its games. But I guarantee that every player in the NBA will tell you they'd take, say, a 47-win season and a championship over a 60-win season and a second-round exit every time; the sixteen wins from mid-April to June are more meaningful than the 60 or so from November to mid-April. Last season's Boston Celtics are a perfect example of that line of thinking, as they were content to take it easy in the regular season, coasting to a modest 50-32 record, before cranking it up to 11 in the postseason on their way to forcing a Game 7 in the NBA Finals against the reigning world champs, dispatching the previously undefeated Magic along the way.
With that said, Orlando has won 60 games in a season once in 22 years, and it was precisely 60 wins, too. The only squad to do that so far featured Shaquille O'Neal at center and Penny Hardaway running the wing. Terrell Brandon was an All-Star. Bill Clinton was running for a second term as President. Magic center Dwight Howard had yet to turn 8 years old. It was, in short, a while ago. And to get there again would mean something to this team, or at least to its fans, because we like round numbers and we like doing things that aren't often done.
Fortunately, the Magic have come rather close to getting there in each of the last two seasons; in the most literal sense of the phrase, they could not have come closer, winning 59 in both campaigns.
Those weren't flukes, either; the Magic's Pythagorean expectation--that is, their expected record based on their point differential--was a league-best 61-21 last year, and at precisely 59-23 the year before. And in Van Gundy's first season with the team, before Howard turned into the dominant defender he is now, the team posted a Pythagorean expectation of 56-26, which is four wins more than they reached. Add those figures and you'll reach a Pythagorean expectation of 176-70 over that span, which breaks down to 59-23 over a three-year period. Again, quite close.
So does this Magic team have the talent to reach 60? Maybe the answer is obvious. It won 59 last year with its first- and third- most trigger-happy shooters--that's the starting backcourt of Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson, respectively--placing 10th and 12th on the team, respectively, in True Shooting percentage. It won 59 the year before that with its All-Star point guard, Nelson, missing 40 games due to injury.
Well, Nelson's healthy now. Vanishing act in the Eastern Conference Finals aside, Carter adapted to the Magic's offense as the year wore on. Quentin Richardson gives the Magic a true fourth three-point shooter around Howard, replacing Matt Barnes' iffy outside stroke. Essentially, it's hard to argue the team got worse, and it was on the cusp of 60 wins in each of the last two seasons. So yes, 60 wins ought to be in the cards for this Magic team, and if Nelson regains the off-the-dribble shooting touch that made him an All-Star in 2009, 65 isn't out of the question, either.