The Magic's entire roster has made its appearance in ESPN's second annual ranking of the 500 players that populate the NBA ... and we have not even reached No. 50 ... or No. 60.
According to the panel of experts from ESPN who undertook this massive project once again, Arron Afflalo is Orlando's top player, coming in at 80th in the list. Jameer Nelson is second at 102nd on the list.
Clearly, on paper, the Magic lack individual stars. That has drawn the comparisons to the Heart and Hustle team of 2000 and has had many beliving the team could be the newest version of the post-Carmelo Anthony Denver Nuggets squads that seemed to do just fine without a superstar player.
Having a superstar player is not necessarily the key to the Playoffs, but it is certainly something required for a championship. And, as I mentioned previously, defense will be key to the Magic sniffing the postseason this season. It will take that kind of effort all season like that heart and hustle team to get there.
Especially if the talent deficit is as wide as ESPN seems to believe.
There is no doubt that in a short-term analysis, the Magic got the raw end of the Dwight Howard trade. The Magic traded a top-five player for the No. 80 player, in effect. When you look at the long-term implications of the deal, the analysis certainly changes. It may take a while though. The Magic are certainly asking for their fans' patience.
What Rob Hennigan stressed when he put together this team was that they would be collecting assets. It was not necessarily the trade that Hennigan made in August but the trade that comes after the trades that makes the move. So when we look at the #NBARank on ESPN, it is more of an evaluation of what assets the Magic actually have.
When you review where these assets sit, it does not feel great for the Magic immediately. Orlando is not flipping anyone right now for that star to build around. It just is not in the cards -- unless a team gets as desperate as the Magic did.
Afflalo is very likely the best player on the team. His rank at 80th is well deserved. The increased role and responsibility for this team will help see his numbers increase from 15.2 points per game (although his field goal percentage may decrease). Few would say at this point that Afflalo is a number one option for a deep Playoff team. And ESPN would say that he had a down year last year despite the uptick in production he had.
Jameer Nelson came in second among Magic players at 102. Yes, according to ESPN, the Magic have only one player in the top 100 in the NBA. Nobody said the odds would not be long. Nelson is starting a three-year deal at about $8 million per and is turning 30 this season. He, by all accounts, is on the downside of his career, and dropped 29 spots from 73 in last year's rankings from ESPN.
J.J. Redick is the third best player and one of the few bright spots for the Magic. Of the 15 players on the Magic's roster only Redick, Al Harrington and Nikola Vucevic saw themselves rise in the ESPN rankings. E'Twaun Moore and Ish Smith also rose after strong rookie showings too. But they are in the 400s.
A quick review of the Magic's roster from this year and last might show how much the Magic's roster has changed:
|'13 Player||'12 Rank (Chge)||'12 Player||'11 Rank (Chge)|
|Arron Afflalo||80 (-2)||Dwight Howard||2 (???)|
|Jameer Nelson||102 (-29)||Jameer Nelson||73 (-29)|
|J.J. Redick||115 (+28)||Jason Richardson||79 (-42)|
|Glen Davis||141 (-24)||Glen Davis||117 (-24)|
|Al Harrington||143 (+25)||J.J. Redick||143 (+28)|
|Hedo Turkoglu||192 (-39)||Hedo Turkoglu||153 (-39)|
|Gustavo Ayon||214 (NR)||Ryan Anderson||167 (???)|
|Quentin Richardson||259 (-16)||Quentin Richardson||243 (-16)|
|Nikola Vucevic||282 (+109)||Chris Duhon||282 (-76)|
|Josh McRoberts||304 (-54)||Von Wafer||325 (-16)|
|Maurice Harkless||365 (NR)||Ish Smith||424 (+1)|
|Andrew Nicholson||378 (NR)||Daniel Orton||431 (+5)|
|Christian Eyenga||411 (-34)||Justin Harper||455 (+6)|
|E'Twaun Moore||414 (+44)||DeAndre Liggins||479 (+14)|
|Ish Smith||423 (+1)||Earl Clark||NR (351)|
|Kyle O'Quinn||427 (NR)||Larry Hughes||NR (NR)|
|Justin Harper||449 (+6)|
This table shows that the Magic were certainly more top-heavy last season. Dwight Howard was legitimately the second best player in the league entering last season after his best season of his career in 2011, and Nelson and Jason Richardson were certainly useful players. Both players struggled in 2012 and their rankings entering this season reflect that. The 2012 Magic were definitely a team that disappointed and failed to live up to even modest potential.
So what does that mean for this year's team?
As we would suspect considering the bevy of decent, but not spectacular players the Magic received in the Dwight Howard trade, there should be a lot more balance offensively and in who contributes this upcoming season. It will not clearly come from one person -- unless a player like Nikola Vucevic substantially improves (something that is very possible considering the increased playing time he should receive).
Balance offensively is a good thing... except when it is not. It is hard to tell where scoring is going to come from and generating points and scoring opportunities will have to come from smart playmaking and smart plays and coaching philosophy. With a first-year head coach in Jacque Vaughn, it is OK to be skeptical about that occurring.
Considering NBA Rank only looks at the top-500 players in the league, it should be worth noting that the Magic have seven players in the top half of the league when they had eight last year. Again, the top is not as god as it was last year either.
The conclusion from all this is that it will take a magical (no pun intended) season like the Heart and Hustle year to get close to matching last year's team and maybe even the Playoffs. That does not mean it cannot happen. Arron Afflalo may succeed with an enlarged role in the offense. Players like Nikola Vucevic and Gustavo Ayon may improve. Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson may be a steal in the draft.
However, by this measure, the Magic are much worse than they were a year ago. A sure sign that the rebuilding has begun in earnest.