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Evaluating the Orlando Magic After 10 Games

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It's 10 games into the season and I still don't quite know what to make of the Orlando Magic. Their 7-3 record is one game worse than it was at this time last year, but that's hardly the most significant number. To gauge this team's progress, I thought it might be prudent to compare its stats from the first 10 games of this season to those from the first 10 games of last season. Here are the results:

The Offense
Magic 07/08 Magic 08/09
105.8 Efficiency 106.5
51.5% eFG% 49.1%
25.8 FT Rate 26.1
22.1 OReb% 26.6
15.0 TO Rate 14.8

Well, the offense is nothing if not consistent, as the subtle changes in the above numbers suggest. In spite of shooting worse from the field, Orlando's offense is slightly more efficient than last year's, due in large part to a marked increase in offensive rebound percentage. We can attribute some of that increase to the return of Tony Battie, whose offensive rebounding rate of 9.7 is his best since 2002/2003. However, much of the credit has to go to--surprise, surprise--Dwight Howard. Not satisfied with leading the league in total rebounds in each of the last three seasons, Howard's made huge improvement on the offensive glass, grabbing 15.8% of his team's available misses while he's on the floor. That mark annihilates his previous career best of 12.2% as well as his rate from last season, a career-low of 10.9%. In other words, the Magic can afford to misfire from the field a bit more because of Dwight's dominance on the boards. When they finally get out of their shooting slumps--Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu are shooting below 40%--they will be even more potent offensively.

Another positive sign is that the turnover rate has improved, ever so slightly. Point guard is arguably the Magic's weakest position, and the departures of Carlos Arroyo and Keyon Dooling last summer did little to change that. Credit Anthony Johnson (some) and Jameer Nelson (a lot; he's cut his turnover rate from 17.4% to 15.3%) for running the offense more smoothly.

Of course, basketball is played on two ends of the floor. We'll look at the Magic's defense after the jump.

The Defense
Magic 07/08 Magic 08/09
97.8 Efficiency 100.3
45.1% eFG% 45.3%
18.8 FT Rate 22.1
26.7 OReb% 25.1
15.3 TO Rate 14.6

Okay, so the team's defense has slid a little bit. Magic opponents are getting to the foul line more, and turning the ball over less, than they did at this point one year ago. Perhaps there's cause for concern there. Forcing turnovers is important for a defense because it leads to opportunities to score easy transition buckets. That the Magic are able to field a top-5 defense without forcing many turnovers is a testament to their discipline. They defend the old-fashioned way: by staying between their man and the basket. There are few opportunities for easy baskets against the Magic in the halfcourt, meaning it's imperative for Orlando opponents to take advantage of every Magic turnover to score in transition.

Also helping Orlando's defense: blocked shots. The Magic average 7.8 blocks per game, tops in the league. Last year, they blocked only 4.1 shots per game, or 27th in the league. This season, Howard has eclipsed that mark by himself, with a league-leading average of 4.2 blocks per game. No one else in the Magic's rotation averages more than one block per game, but Tony Battie (0.9) and Rashard Lewis (0.8) are awfully close.

Summarily, the Magic look a lot like they did a year ago, on offense and on defense. A marked improvement on the offensive glass has mitigated the team's poor shooting. If they can foul less often--I'm looking at you, Mickael Pietrus--their defensive efficiency will rival that of the Los Angeles Lakers and the boston Celtics, the best in the league. Any concern about this team's ability after it lost its first two games should be long gone by now. Again, we're early on in the season, but at this point it looks as though the Orlando Magic are for real.