The Orlando Magic open training camp Tuesday with a reasonably settled rotation at point guard. Eight-year veteran Jameer Nelson will start for Orlando on opening day, as he has in each of the last six seasons. In terms of minutes, Nelson has more than 10 times as much experience at the NBA level as prospective backups Armon Johnson, E'Twaun Moore, and Ish Smith combined.
But solving who'll back Nelson up for the long-term is a complicated task. Smith, a waterbug who led Orlando in Pure Point Rating in the 2011/12 season, will miss all of training camp as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. His absence would seem to pave the way for Moore to open the season as Nelson's backup at the point, given that Johnson is a camp invitee with a non-guaranteed contract.
The question, then, is whether Moore has enough to hold Smith off once Smith returns to the floor healthy. The Purdue product averaged only 8.7 minutes per game as a rookie with the Boston Celtics, and though his size--he stands 6-foot-4--is certainly an asset, he's yet to demonstrate he can orchestrate an offense.
Smith has the opposite problem. The Magic list Smith, a proven distributor, at 6-foot-0 and 175 pounds, and he's never been much of a scorer. Even at Wake Forest, Smith averaged only 9.2 points per game.
The Magic may have found a diamond in the rough with Moore, as he dominated summer leagues in Orlando and in Las Vegas with his scoring: between the two leagues, going against some admittedly unimpressive competition, he averaged 14.9 points in 25.6 minutes on 57 percent True Shooting. Yet his ability to set himself up for jumpers off the dribble recalls Nelson's, and if he wins the backup job for the entire season, playing him with the second unit would ensure some offensive cohesion; the Magic wouldn't need to adjust their play style, as they would if Smith, who lacks both shooting range and the inclination to fire away, were to win the job.
Johnson isn't a cinch to make Orlando's opening-day roster by any means, but he's nonetheless intriguing. Only 23, the former second-round Draft choice put together some solid games for the New Jersey Nets toward the end of the 2011/12 season. He, like Moore, stands 6-foot-4, and he's got the best athleticism of any of Orlando's four point guards.
For some clues as to how new coach Jacque Vaughn may fill out his playing rotation, we can look to his own career and background. Vaughn lasted 12 years in the NBA, largely as a backup, though he did start 48 games for a lottery-bound Magic team in 2002/03. He played a low-mistake, caretaker style, finishing with exceptionally low rates of shooting and scoring, as well as more than twice as many assists as turnovers. He compensated for his middling athleticism by playing hard, especially defensively.
We can also look at the San Antonio Spurs, the organization with which Vaughn spent his years as an assistant coach, for more ideas about how he sees the point-guard position. In recent years, San Antonio has used tall, score-first guards like George Hill and Gary Neal to back up Tony Parker. The fact that the Spurs have a ball-dominant, shot-creating wing in Manu Ginóbili gives them more freedom to use reserve point guards who don't distribute as well as one might expect.
Vaughn's history, then, would seem to favor Moore or Johnson over Smith.
Like darn near everything else about this Magic squad, the backup rotation at point guard is cloudy. And without Smith healthy to compete against Johnson and Moore in camp, we won't have a definitive idea of whom Vaughn trusts most until well into the season.