This article is the (nearly) official welcome of Andrew Yowler to the Orlando Magic Daily staff. You may remember Andrew wrote a few stories about the Amway Center's impact on Orlando. He will be posting much more regularly now and are very excited to add him to the Web site. Enjoy!
I have waited to pass judgment on this year’s Magic squad until now, wanting a solid 10 games to evaluate before jumping to any conclusions. The first 10 games have definitely been a rollercoaster, from opening with a dazzling performance against Washington to a recent puzzling lead-blowing loss to the lowly Raptors.
By watching these games, I have started to see a trend of which Magic players have risen as impressive “studs,” while other Magicians have had, well, bland and less-than-exciting showings as “spuds” on the hardwood.
Ten games into the season, here are the Magic studs:
Stud - Dwight Howard
Dwight smiles too much. Dwight laughs too much. Dwight is just too darn happy and is not serious enough to carry the Magic team.
After 10 games, Dwight has shown that he is committed to being the best big man in the NBA. This happy, smiling, God-fearing 6-foot-11 muscle man has shown his critics this season that he is for real, displaying a real professionalism and commitment to winning. The man with a smile plastered on his face is averaging a double-double through 10 games and has been putting on a defensive clinic, averaging nearly three blocks per game.
Plus, rather than travel all over the world this summer, Dwight spent time learning from and training with the great 90’s NBA star Hakeem Olajuwon. Good call.
Dwight has opposing defenses in a tizzy thus far, many thrown off because Dwight has developed a pretty consistent jump shot. The Wizards were the first to experience Dwight’s new jump shot back in October and they looked completely blindsided by it. Reminiscent of the old school days of basketball, Dwight’s mid-range bank shot is really refreshing and makes Dwight even more versatile. It’s hard to stop a massive center who sports a diverse arsenal of dunks, layups, hook shots, and now, jump shots.
The only notches against Howard at this point are free throws and technicals. With stricter refereeing this season, Howard needs to beware of ticky-tack technical fouls which add up quickly. Also, Howard still struggles from the charity stripe, but his shooting does show some promise, making 8 of 11 from the line against Memphis.
Stud - Vince Carter
Somebody must have fired up the DeLorean because it feels like we’ve traveled through time. Somebody check the calendar…is it 2001 again? Either Vince has traveled back in time or the man has dyslexia, confusing 2001 for 2010.
After 10 games this season, Carter is starting to look more like the star Orlando was hoping for when executing the New Jersey Nets trade two off-seasons ago. Carter is putting up a solid 15 points a night, but his intangible play has been even more significant thus far in the season.
Carter is a well-known, well-decorated NBA veteran and is naturally expected to be a team leader. While Carter’s leadership left, well, a lot to be desired last year, Vince seems like a new man this season. He seems to have finally adjusted into Van Gundy’s system and is becoming a good playmaker.
Carter is definitely not putting up the stats that made him an All Star in the early 2000s. His rebound and assist tallies are slim, but he is scoring like a machine and his leadership and hustle are surely showing. If Carter keeps up this level of play, the Magic will do well.
Stud - Brandon Bass
Like me, my girlfriend is quite the Magic fan. While she is absolutely in love with JJ Redick, she knows a heck of a lot about the Magic. For example, during the Magic’s playoff collapse against the Celtics last year, when the Magic could not get the upper hand of the Mean Green, she kept asking me why Van Gundy would not play Brandon Bass more often, noting how Bass is a playmaker and plays with a lot of energy and heart.
As I thought about it more, she made a good point. Bass would have been a much needed spark for the struggling Magic.
Fast forward to this year and my girlfriend’s question last year now appears to be spot on. With a "heart and hustle" style of play, Bass comes off the bench with a fierce tenacity. Bass really seems to have a general workhorse attitude to him, always fighting for rebounds and looking like he is trying to prove that he is the real deal. He is averaging ten points and five rebounds.
Otis Smith saw the potential of Bass in Dallas. Now, with Bass playing over 21 minutes a game, it’s clear that Van Gundy has finally come around to trusting Bass on the court. Brandon Bass is one major reason why many say that the Magic have the deepest bench in basketball.
Now (after the jump) onto the ‘spuds,’ the Magic players and people that have been more ‘blah’ than ‘ballin’ so far this season.
Spud - Rashard Lewis
This one is plainly and painfully obvious. When your highest paid player has the ninth best field goal percentage on the team, you know you have a problem. Many of the issues that plagued Rashard throughout last season are still problems, leading many Magic fans to wonder what’s up with Rashard Lewis. A clutch three point threat during the Magic’s monumental 2009 playoff run, especially during the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland LeBrons, Lewis has been a player mired in a constant funk ever since.
Orlando’s offensive bread and butter is based dishing the rock to Howard into the paint, usually luring double team coverage to swarm Dwight which leaves shooters open on the perimeter to drain buckets. Obviously, this game-plan is heavily burdened on nights when perimeter guys like Lewis cannot get shots to fall. For the Magic to enjoy a successful season, Rashard needs to find his groove again.
Bottom line: the team simply cannot win the title with Lewis in this funk.
Spud - J.J. Redick
Calling all Magic fans! Can someone please send a search party out for Mr. Redick? I know he got married this off-season and honeymooned in Spain, but many Magic fans are left wondering if Redick remembered to come home to Orlando.
We all love JJ, but he is just not yet "on" this season. Averaging less than five points a game, JJ has not made a three pointer since Nov. 5. He has seen a good bit of playing time, but Redick has definitely struggled with his shot. This season is far different from JJ’s successes in recent years.
In the past few seasons, Redick matured into a very good, well-rounded player, drawing attention last summer from Chicago. Once mocked for his less-than-stellar defensive performances, JJ has steadily developed a good defensive game to compliment his great offensive talent.
Yet, neither offense nor defense has really shined for Redick this season. Redick sat out Monday’s game with back spasms, so perhaps back issues have been affecting his play recently. Magic fans have seen what JJ is capable of doing on the court. He can hit three pointers. He can hit jumpers. He can drive the lane make lay ups. JJ is a great player…just not now.
After a few upset losses recently, however, we anxiously await the return of the real JJ Redick.
Spud – SVG
Before calling me out on this one, hear me out. I am a huge fan of Stan Van Gundy. I think he is the best coach in the history of the Magic franchise. But, I have a few qualms with his coaching lately.
The Magic have blown more than one game after enjoying a hefty lead. I can understand a hiccup here and there, and I also understand that Stan does not put on the pinstriped jersey and play on the court himself, but coaching decisions can help sway the momentum of games. Formation adjustments, smart lineup changes…even just a well-timed timeout, can all stop an opponent on a hot streak.
In the games against both Utah and Toronto, the opponent managed to erase a sizable Magic lead each time, handing Orlando its first losing streak in the new arena. Van Gundy simply looked a little too complacent in the losses. Furthermore, I think that SVG needs to get more control over the turnover problem lately. While the Magic defense was impressive in the win over Memphis, the Magic offense actually equaled the Grizzlies’ first quarter turnover count: 10. Ouch.
I like this team a lot, and I believe that once it settles down and Van Gundy solidifies the lineups, the Magic will have a great season.