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.
In each of the three seasons since Stan Van Gundy took over as Orlando Magic head coach, one player on the team has enjoyed a pleasantly surprising uptick in production. In 2007/08, the first year of Van Gundy's tenure, Hedo Turkoglu joined Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, LeBron James, and Tracy McGrady as the only players to average at least 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists, winning the Most Improved Player of the Year Award in the process. The next season, Jameer Nelson earned an All-Star berth by popping off for 16.7 points and 5.4 assists on 50.3 percent shooting--that percentage as a point guard, mind you--before succumbing to a season-ending shoulder injury suffered during a collision with Erick Dampier; Nelson certainly would have been a major contender for the Most Improved award had he managed to appear in more htan 42 contests. And last year, J.J. Redick averaged career-bests in scoring, rebounding, assists, and three-point percentage, garnering two votes for Most Improved. These three players' performances have thus established a pattern of improvement under Van Gundy, which makes us wonder which player might break out this season.
Ryan Anderson appears to be a solid candidate. The 22-year-old power forward shot 37 percent from three-point range and averaged eight rebounds per 36 minutes played last year, the third-best figure on the team. His iffy man-to-man defense, along with his itchy trigger finger (he used nearly one-quarter of the Magic's possessions when on the court last season; only Carter ended more) conspired to keep him out of the rotation. Improvement in those areas would go a long way toward establishing him as the clear backup to Rashard Lewis and helping him earn more than the 14.4 minutes per game he averaged last season.
Brandon Bass, the other backup power forward, could also surge this year. He faces an uphill battle, however, as he recorded 31 Did Not Play-Coach's Decisions last season; only third-string point guard Anthony Johnson had more. On his to-do list? Better rebounding and knowledge of Van Gundy's defensive schemes; all season, it seemed, his teammates had to point to the area of the floor he needed to occupy. He's only 25, so he has yet to reach his peak. If he can prove his lack of shooting range won't compromise the team's offensive goals, he can surpass Anderson on the depth chart and become a valued part of the Magic's rotation. With the Dallas Mavericks two seasons ago, he averaged 8.5 points in 19.4 minutes per game, which are realistic targets for this season should he accomplish the above tasks.
A dark-horse possibility here? Backup point guard Chris Duhon. He struggled as the New York Knicks' starter over the last two seasons, but in Orlando, he won't face that sort of pressure. Working in his favor are his passing instincts, particularly in the pick-and-roll, as well as his above-average three-point stroke. Playing off center Dwight Howard, he should get plenty of opportunities to let fly from beyond the arc in Orlando. Spending most of his minutes against the opposition's backup will also help his case here. At 28, he's older than Anderson and Bass, but still one year younger than Turkoglu was when he broke out. Nobody expects Duhon to put together a Most Improved campaign along those lines, yet he should at least have the best shooting season of his career. Imagine Jason Williams' production at this position through the first two months of last season, only sustained through the whole year. That sort of performance would, to me, qualify as a breakout.
Despite these reasons for optimism, the key issue of playing time stands in the way of another player enjoying a breakout similar to Turkoglu, Nelson, and Redick under Van Gundy. Those three players averaged 36.9, 31.2, and 22 minutes in their respective seasons of emergence. Anderson, Bass, and Duhon face long odds to reach the 22-minute barrier Redick established all season, given that all three play behind recent All-Stars. With that said, no one saw Turkoglu, Nelson, or Redick's improvement coming, so maybe we should just sit tight and see what develops.