Last year, when Adonal Foyle was Dwight Howard's only backup at center, it became painfully obvious that the Orlando Magic needed a reserve with a skill set more like Howard's. The Magic's offense is predicated on teams having to "pick their poison;" that is, choosing between letting the Magic shoot three-pointers or letting Howard go to work inside; it's nearly impossible to do both. With Foyle in the game, the Magic's offense went from lethal (115.1 points per 100 possessions) to laughable (103.1 points per 100 possessions) because he could neither draw defenders away from the three-point line nor be relied upon to finish near the basket.
This year, with Tony Battie providing backup minutes, the Magic's offense is better off than it was with Foyle; the Magic score 109.2 points per 100 possessions with Battie on the floor. The offense is actually worse off with Marcin Gortat, the other reserve center, scoring 99.3 points per 100 possessions. Neither is a back-to-the-basket center like Howard is, but both are useful offensively--Battie with his jumpers from the top of the key and along the baselines, Gortat with his tip-ins and occasional alley-oop finish.
Depth at center will become a question once more next season, though. Battie will be in the last year of his deal, and Gortat may not even be with the team, as he will become a free agent this summer. Clearly it's a bit early to discuss roster moves for next season, but technically, my suggestion for backup center isn't a "roster move" because said "move" was made in 2005, when the Magic selected Fran Vazquez with the 11th pick in the NBA Draft.
Previous updates on Vazquez, like this one, have not been encouraging, but according to Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress, Vazquez has put it together this season. Via TrueHoop, here's Givony's detailed scouting report, which is required reading for all Magic fans. I've selected a few choice excerpts:
Already left for dead after struggling to get off the bench last season playing for the very strict and demanding Dusko Ivanovic (now in Tau), Vazquez has taken full advantage of the opportunity presented to him by new head coach Xavi Pascual, emerging as one of the most productive rebounders, shot-blockers and finishers in European basketball. He ranks #1 in both in the Euroleague and ACB in blocked shots per-40 pace adjusted, 4th in the ACB in rebounding, and 1st in the ACB in FG%. Physically, he looks better and his confidence seems to be way up.
Almost all of Vazquez's shots come in the immediate area of the paint, where he is an awesome finisher thanks to his freakish length and athleticism. He makes an incredible 82% of his attempts around the basket according to Synergy Sports Technology, and is a constant target for lobs and simple drop-offs from his very generous teammates.
Not all the news is good, though. He struggles in the post, both offensively:
Inside the post, Vazquez is pretty limited with his back to the basket, showing insufficient strength, poor footwork and a pretty average feel for the game, not being particularly fluid or graceful when forced to create his own offense.
As a post-defender, Vazquez is not quite as effective, as he lacks the strength to hold his ground against the bigger and burlier big men he'll go up against at times, and also some awareness not biting on fakes on such, as he's not the smartest guy you'll find around.
Givony does mention, though, that Vazquez defends the pick-and-roll well. That's encouraging, as his is previously cited shot-blocking prowess.
So, to recap: Vazquez is young (25), NBA-ready, a great rebounder and shot-blocker, and an excellent finisher at the rim. I'm not sure what his "ceiling" as a player is, but his "floor" seems to be Marcin Gortat. Despite his inability to create his own shot, it still seems like Vazquez would be an ideal backup for Howard next year and beyond. To that end, here's what Givony says about the odds of Vazquez's joining the NBA anytime soon:
Vazquez has just one more year on his contract after this, and considering his salary slot on the NBA's rookie scale as the #11 draft pick--nearly two million dollars--could still be a realistic target if Orlando (or any team that trades for his draft rights) were able to bring him over. Talking to his NBA agent Marc Cornstein about that, he thinks that from the Magic's perspective "the door has always been open for him if he wants to play in the NBA," although he pointed out that he has not discussed that matter recently with them. "With Fran it's always been more a matter of desire rather than money."
With this new information, I pose a question similar to the one I asked last May: What should the Magic do regarding Fran Vazquez? Please vote in the poll, which will remain open for two weeks. RSS readers, please visit the site to participate in the poll.