When Magic fans look back on the team’s past, there are probably two teams that stick out as the most successful. The 1994-95 Magic team was the first to make the finals, and featured the duo of Shaq & Penny complimented by Nick Anderson along with solid role-players. The 2008-09 featured a Magic team anchored by the defense of Dwight Howard, accompanied by fellow all-stars from that year, Jameer Nelson & Rashard Lewis. Both teams were entertaining to watch and had a very similar amount of success. What if you stacked the two teams up against one another? Who looks better on paper? Who would win in a best of 7 series between the two? I will be comparing the two teams by each player at a starting position. I will also compare the teams’ bench, regular season, intangibles, & then I will deliver a verdict on which would be better if they faced up head to head.
Season/Path to finals
The 09 Magic had two more wins than the 95 Magic & I’d say neither path to the finals was without its bumps in the road. On one hand you have a Magic team that disposed of the defending champion Celtics & Lebron’s Cavs who were regarded highly as a favorite. On the other hand you have a team that did what was considered the impossible by beating Jordan’s Bulls in a seven game series, then winning a game seven against an Indiana team that had swept them the year before.
1995 – Penny Hardaway (20.9 PPG, 7.2 APG, .512 FG%, .349 3PT%)
Penny Hardaway was as good a NBA superstar during his prime as you will see. Hardaway had an explosive offensive skillset & led the team in steals. He was originally a shooting guard that learned the point guard position from Scott Skiles (Oladipo & Jameer anyone?). Hardaway was an all-star and was able to get the ball in Shaq’s hands in great position at will while giving himself the option to create his own shot. He commonly drew comparisons to Magic Johnson early in his career and rightfully so.
2009 – Jammer Nelson/Rafer Alston (16.7/12.0 PPG, 5.4/5.1 APG, .503/.413 FG%, .453/.317 3PT%)
This was arguably Jameer’s best year. He was selected to be an all-star reserve when on February 2 he dislocated his shoulder and would remain out of action until the Finals. On February 19 the Magic made a three way trade acquiring Rafer “Skip to my Lou” Alston in the process. Rafer was a high energy player that did a great job of effectively managing the game & making sure that Dwight got his touches. He was an emotional player & was suspended for slapping Eddie House across the back of his head. Stan Van Gundy made the controversial decision to bring Jameer back for game 1 of the finals, and was a giant question mark in regards to production. Would the outcome have been any different had we let Rafer Alston finish out the season? Was Jameer rushed back too soon?
1995 – Nick Anderson (15.8 PPG, 4.1 APG, .476 FG%, .415 3PT%)
Nick Anderson will forever be remembered in regards to this year for missing the 4 free throws at the end of regulation in the finals during game 1. Anderson did, however, steal the ball from Michael Jordan in a game 1 earlier in the year to swing a game in the favor of the Magic. Anderson was a hardworking, productive, fan favorite who was a solid third option on offense.
2009 – Courtney Lee (8.4 PPG, 1.2 APG, .450 FG%, .404 3PT%)
Courtney Lee was the Orlando Magic pick in the 2008 NBA draft & it would be fair to grade on a curve considering that he had these numbers as a rookie, starting on a team in the NBA finals. Lee is held responsible for the game 2 finals loss much in the same way Nick Anderson has been the scapegoat for the game 1 loss in the 1995 finals.
1995 – Donald Royal (9.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, .475 FG%)
Donald Royal was listed as a starter on the depth chart, but his performances were often eclipsed at his position by Dennis Scott. Scott was the 6th man spark off the bench. Royal was a starter due in large part to his defense and movement away from the ball.
2009 – Hedo Turkoglu (16.8 PPG, 4.9 APG, 5.3 RPG, .413 FG%, .356 3PT%)
Hedo was the difference maker for the 2008-09 Magic team. His ability to run the point from the small forward position was key, especially with the loss of Nelson midway through the season. He hit plenty of game winners & always seemed to have the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter. Whether it be delivering on a perfect alley-oop pass to Dwight, or jabbing forward only to step back & drain a three, Turk always seemed to have you on the edge of your seat, and sometimes pulling your hair out.
1995 – Horace Grant (12.8 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG, .567 FG%)
The goggles will be synonymous with Horace Grant for the rest of NBA history. The workhorse of the 1994-95 Magic was a little bit more of the traditional power forward than his 2008-09 counterpart. He was our secret weapon against Chicago. Anyone trying to move the ball in the painted area against this Magic team was going to be bounced between Shaq & Horace.
2009 – Rashard Lewis (17.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, .439 FG%, .397 3PT%)
Rashard was the last major piece in putting together this team. He hit a big game winner in Cleveland. He was consistent and could hit an open jumper from anywhere on the floor. He improved his game playing the stretch four in Orlando & developed some great looking turnaround jumpers from the low post that you will still see from time to time in Miami.
1995 – Shaquille O’Neal (29.3 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 2.4 BPG, .583 FG%, .533 FT%)
Orlando is where it all began for Shaq. He won the NBA scoring title during this regular season & was also the leader in scoring average with 29.3 PPG. He was dominant down low & was the first option on offense, as well as the last line of defense. Like Dwight, Shaq ended up being a hated villain on his way out of Orlando. Keep in mind that Shaq was in much better shape at this point in his career and used this athleticism to bring down rims and break backboards.
2009 – Dwight Howard (20.6 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 2.9 BPG, .572 FG%, .594 FT%)
Dwight Howard was, and always will be compared to Shaq. After looking at their stat lines, it is easy to see why. It is extraordinary the similar paths that the two have taken. Both were called “Superman,” both were physically dominant on the court, both drafted by Orlando, both moved on to the Lakers following their career in Orlando. I tend to think that more people associated Dwight with defense than Shaq. Dwight did win defensive player of the year being the youngest player & first member of the Magic to win the award.
The big difference here is the wide gap in talent between 6th men. The 1995 squad had 3D, aka Dennis Scott, providing a big offensive spark to the second unit. I’d compare him almost to a James Harden when he was with Oklahoma City. Coming out of college, Scott was more of a do-it-all kind of player & quickly realized that he would have to find a role to play to really make an impact on this team. He became a three-point specialist, and one of the best ones in NBA history. Speaking of three-point shooters, the 1995 squad also had a stretch 4 coming off the bench before stretch 4s were popular. He is also the current color commentator for Orlando Magic home broadcasts, Jeff Turner.
Of the members of this bench, I would say that Marcin Gortat was the most talented. Playing against Dwight in practice MUST have played a part in how well he played and why he is doing well now. J.J. Redick started to come into his own during this season after not seeing the floor very much in previous seasons. Mickael Pietrus was the sixth man, often starting over Courtney Lee. Air France was a lock down defender & an explosive athlete.
From a marketing standpoint, the 1995 squad was much more appealing. Shaq has always been a marketing machine. Penny had his Little Penny commercials with Chris Rock. Dwight Howard was a superstar we hung our hat on & his talent was recognized nationally, but I’m not sure he was the moneymaking powerhouse that the duo of Shaq & Penny were. As far as the coaching staff is concerned, Stan Van Gundy did an excellent job with the roster that he had & continued to do well through all the drama with Dwight.
As I see it, the 1995 Magic are clearly the better team. They were more popular nationally than the 2009 Magic. If they were to play against each other in a seven game series, I think 1995 team takes it in 5. Shaq would have Horace Grant for help defense on Dwight in a much more impactful way than Rashard would help stop Shaq. Some may say that Dwight would be able to guard Shaq one on one because they have seen him do it, but I challenge that based on the fact that Shaq was much more athletic earlier in his career. By the way, who guards Penny? I would imagine that you would have to assign Courtney Lee or Mickael Pietrus to have a chance of stopping him, but that leaves Jameer or Rafer to chase Nick Anderson around. The 2009 Magic had great series victories over Lebron & the big three in Boston, but neither of those things holds a candle to the fact that the 1995 team beat a Bulls team with Jordan & Pippen.