The Orlando Magic begin the post-Dwight Howard era with no tentpole player and seem highly unlikely to have any representation on the Eastern Conference All-Stars when the NBA descends on Houston in February for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game. As the City Beautiful experienced for itself last February, however, there's plenty more to All-Star Weekend than the Sunday exhibition. With the Saturday night festivities--which include, most prominently, the Sprite Slam Dunk and the Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout--there will still be some chances for the Magic to get in on the fun in Houston.
Rising Stars Challenge
The Rising Stars Challenge, perhaps more popularly known as the Rookie/Sophomore Game, pits two teams of first- and second-year players against one another in an exhibition which makes the defense displayed in the All-Star Game resemble that of the mid-90s Detroit Pistons. The Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving tore up the floor in Orlando in 2012, putting up 34 points in 27 minutes on 12-of-13 shooting.
That's not a typo.
Orlando's training-camp roster of 20 players includes a whopping nine guys who will be eligible to participate in the 2013 contest in Houston. Of those nine, second-year man Nikola Vučević would seem to have the best odds of earning a selection to that roster, if for no other reason than he'll, as the Magic's presumptive starting center, get the most minutes.
If rookie big man Andrew Nicholson is able to carve out a niche in Jacque Vaughn's playing rotation, he could also earn some consideration for the job. Between Vučević, Gustavo Ayón, Glen Davis, and Al Harrington, Nicholson faces an uphill battle for minutes, but by all accounts he's an exceptionally polished offensive player for a rookie. Putting up numbers is the best way to earn consideration for the Rising Stars team, and Nicholson may just be able to do that much, if given the opportunity.
Believe it or not, the Skills Challenge, informally known as "the point-guard obstacle course thing," has been around for 10 seasons already. In this timed event, entrants must a) make a layup, b) navigate a dribbling course, c) complete a bounce pass and d) a chest pass, e) sink a long jumper, f) complete an outlet pass, g) navigate another dribble course, and h) make another layup.
Orlando doesn't have an overabundance of ballhandlers, but Jameer Nelson was invited to partake in this event in 2009 before having to withdraw due to injury. As silly as it sounds, the biggest challenge for him in this contest may be the dribbling portions. Nelson can handle, but he doesn't have the explosive speed most of the league's point guards do now.
Past Magic participants: Jameer Nelson (2009 - did not participate due to injury)
Over the last five seasons, no team has made or attempted more threes than Orlando has, but there's no telling to what extent new coach Jacque Vaughn, who replaces the three-happy Stan Van Gundy, will emphasize the triple in his offense. Nonetheless, Orlando still has a solid stable of three-point marksmen: Arron Afflalo (40.5 percent career three-point shooting on 2.4 attempts per game), Jameer Nelson (38.8 percent on three), J.J. Redick (40 percent on 3.1) and Hedo Türkoğlu (38.3 percent on 3.4) all boast solid accuracy on above-average volume.
As a team, Orlando is but three years removed from setting an NBA record for threes made in a single game: Nelson, Redick, and Türkoğlu combined for 12 of the Magic's 24 triples that night, with Nelson going 5-of-5.
Orlando has one real high-flyer, but he's hardly a lock to make the team out of training camp, let alone to earn an invitation to the most popular event of All-Star Weekend.
I speak of course of Christian Eyenga, now entering his third season. The 6-foot-6 forward hasn't made much of a mark at the NBA level, but he's at least earned a reputation as a fierce in-game dunker; they don't call him Skyenga for nothin', folks.
Eyenga's got great leaping ability, but the appeal of his in-game dunks, it seems to me, is that the dude just straight bangs on people. It's difficult to generate that sort of excitement in a dunk contest, because even if a dunker brings out a "defender" over whom to jam, the stakes are incredibly low. The "defender" isn't meant to make a play, but rather just stand there.
Were he invited to the 2013 Slam Dunk, Eyenga would need to compensate for this shortcoming with some sterling creativity to have any chance of winning.
Past Magic participants: Otis Smith (1991), Nick Anderson (1992), Darrell Armstrong (1996), Dwight Howard (2007, 2008 - champion, 2009)
Don't hold your breath on a Magic player earning an invitation to the marquee event of All-Star Weekend, but it could happen. First, we must acknowledge this reality: as Orlando lacks a superstar player, there's exactly a zero percent chance the fans will vote any Magic player into the starting lineup. Orlando would thus be counting on the East's 14 coaches not named Jacque Vaughn to show some love on the reserve ballots, and those coaches tend to reward winning when making their All-Star choices.
The Magic aren't going to be doing a lot of winning in 2012/13.
Having said that much, Afflalo is going to have more responsibility than ever on both sides of the floor, and will thus have the chance to put up some solid numbers. Ditto for Glen Davis, who'll get the lion's share of shot attempts among Orlando's bigs now that Howard's in Tinseltown.
Past Magic participants: Shaquille O`Neal (1993, 1994, 1995), Anfernee Hardaway (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998), Tracy McGrady (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004), Grant Hill (2001 - did not participate due to injury, 2005), Dwight Howard (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012), Rashard Lewis (2009), Jameer Nelson (2009 - did not participate due to injury)
The author wishes to acknowledge Sactown Royalty for inspiring this post.