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John Hollinger's Orlando Magic Forecast: Surprisingly Pessimistic

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An article as expansive as John Hollinger's Orlando Magic Team Forecast for ESPN deserves more than a FanShot, I believe, which is why I'm linking to it in a "normal" post.

Hollinger reviews the Magic's 2007/2008 season using some statistical analysis. When I talk about the Magic possibly contending for a title, people may look at me weirdly, but that's because they don't know, as Hollinger points out, the point-differential story:

They had the point differential of a 58-win team, and their 6.1-win differential between real wins and expected wins was the league's third-largest. It didn't help them any last year, but it's a good omen going forward, as it means the team was really better than its record.

But that's essentially where the optimism ends. Hollinger believes that the Magic aren't any better off now than they were a year ago "because Orlando's bench is (de)composed almost entirely of replacement-level players," citing Keith Bogans as the only man who might exceed that level of production.

He also cites health as a huge reason for the Magic's success in 2007/2008, and thinks the injury bug will bite this year:

Other than losing bit player [Tony] Battie, Orlando glided through last season with nary a splinter; the one minor injury they had was to point guard [Jameer] Nelson, and that was the one position where they had plenty of backup. The Magic are unlikely to have such good fortune for a second consecutive season, and that has to be taken into account.

The first part of that claim is irrefutable: the Magic were remarkably healthy last season. But the second part is largely speculative. Nowhere is it written that a team cannot enjoy reasonably good health for two consecutive seasons. It's a bit like the tired argument that the Detroit Pistons are bound to get worse because they're getting old.

Hollinger concludes by writing that the Magic will win the Southeast Division "by default" and may be the only team in the division to finish with a plus-.500 record. Specifically, he predicts the Magic will post a 46-36 record and finish in fourth-place in the Eastern Conference, behind Boston (60-22), Detroit (54-38), and Philadelphia (50-32). In that respect, he agrees with 3QC readers who voted the 76ers as the Eastern team most likely to leapfrog Orlando in the standings. However, he predicts Toronto and Cleveland will finish with better records (each 47-35) than the Magic, but will place in a tie for fifth due to the league rule which says division champions cannot be seeded lower than fourth in the playoffs.

What does the 3QC community think of Hollinger's outlook? Will a lack of depth sink the Magic? What of injuries? Or will growth from Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson, as well as steady production from Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu, be enough to keep them afloat or, even better, propel them higher in the conference ranks?