Despite a first round exit and the uncertainty surrounding the 2011-2012 (We might as well write off the 2011 part now), there are reasons for Magic fans to be optimistic heading into the new season, whenever it may start.
Here are five reasons why Magic fans should be optimistic about the 2012 Magic:
1. Dwight Howard – All of the talk about the Magic big man has surrounded his impending free agency. As sick as Magic fans and NBA fans in general are about hearing about it, the story is going to continue to dominate the news. However, although some make it feel like Howard is already gone, he still has another year left on his contract. When you have the best player on the court, which Howard almost always is, you’re going to have a chance to win.
Last season, only LeBron James posted better all-around numbers than Howard and if you factor in what Howard does on the defensive end of the floor, he had a great argument to be the league’s MVP (he finished second to Chicago point guard Derrick Rose, but that’s a different argument). Howard averaged 22.9 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game last year while shooting 59.3% from the floor. He has recently hired free throw guru Ed Palubinskas as his shooting coach.
2. Orlando’s Supporting Cast Will Be Healthy- Last season, the Magic had bad luck with injuries. J.J. Redick, who has developed into one of Orlando’s most important players, missed 23 games last season. In fact, once he injured his abdominal late in the season, he didn’t return until the first game of the postseason and clearly wasn’t the same player. Quentin Richardson, who was coming off of a career-season shooting-wise in Miami, had a few different injuries and needed back surgery once the season ended. Ryan Anderson played in just 64 games because of DNPs, sickness and various injuries. Brandon Bass also was injured in the middle of the season and never really got his legs completely back under him. Of course, the biggest injury was one the Magic traded for in Gilbert Arenas and his knee. No one is counting on that knee completely healing, but the Magic are hoping Arenas can give them more next season.
3. The Magic Needed More Games Together – The Magic made their big trades in December but because of various injuries and other small distractions, the team didn’t get much of a chance to play together as a whole. Because of Chris Duhon’s ineffectiveness, Arenas had to play more at the 1. Then, with Redick hurt, Arenas had to switch to the 2 when the team wanted to use him as a backup point guard and he was seemingly getting used to being the backup to Jameer Nelson.
The team also never really replaced Marcin Gortat, instead using Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson together when Howard was out of the game. It’s unlikely the Magic will find a backup big nearly as skilled as Gortat, they have probably figured out they need another big and will address that move with whatever money they have – depending on the new CBA – once free agency starts.
They also will have time to better figure out how Arenas, Hedo Tukoglu and Jameer Nelson – all guys who like to control the ball – can work together when they’re in the game at the same time, something they had issues with last season.
4. Jameer Nelson Can Get Back To What He Was In 2008 – Before Nelson’s injury during the 2008-09 season, he was averaging 16.7 points, 5.4 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. He was posting incredible shooting numbers, posting an effective field goal percentage of 58.0% and a true shooting percentage of 61.2%, while shooting 45.3% from beyond the arc. His turnover percentage was also a career-low 12.6%. This all led to an All-Star game selection.
Simply put, Nelson couldn’t have played any better. He’s had moments over the last two seasons, but still hasn’t been anywhere close to the player he was then. Of course, some of that has to do with having the ball less and the Magic acquiring scorers like Vince Carter and Jason Richardson, who took shots away from him. With some extended time off and time to watch the way he meshed (or didn’t mesh) with his new teammates, Nelson can play a smarter game than ever before. He may not ever shoot the way he did during the ‘08-’09 season, but he can make better decisions and get better shots for both he and his teammates.
Nelson averaged 13.1 points, 6.0 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game last year while posting an effective field goal percentage of 51.7%, a true shooting percentage of 54.8% and a three-point percentage of 40.1%. None of those numbers are bad, but ee also posted a turnover percentage of 17.6%, the worst of his career.
5. The Magic Are Committed To Winning – Say what you want about some of the moves Otis Smith and the Magic front office have made (and there is a lot to say, both negative and positive), but at least the Magic go out and try to improve. They certainly don’t stand pat.
Many may be wondering why it says positive above, but there have been good moves. It’s unlikely the Magic make their run to the 2009 NBA Finals if they don’t make a move to get Rafer Alston to replace an injured Jameer Nelson. Despite what many think of letting Hedo Turkoglu walk and trading for Vince Carter while sending Courtney Lee to New Jersey, Ryan Anderson, the other player acquired in that trade, has been a very good player. Anderson averaged 10.6 points per game last year while shooting 39.3% from beyond the arc. He’s also an underrated rebounder, posting a total rebounding percentage of 14.5%.
The Magic are also committed to spending whatever money it takes to improve their team as evidenced by the $76,223,288 they already owe over the 2011-12 season (and that doesn’t include their rookies, Justin Harper and DeAndre Liggins or free agent Jason Richardson, who they will attempt to resign).
(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger, ESPN Florida’s Magic Insider (http://ESPNFlorida.com) and is the co-host of the ESPNFlorida.com Insiders Show Sunday mornings at 10:00 am EST. Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter to follow him daily. You can download the HTD app here).