Runnin' Fives: Orlando Magic

A Daily Babble Production

Picking All-Time Lineups For Each of the Association's 30 Franchises*

orl.gifAfter a week-long hiatus, we're back to complete the born-in-1989 edition of Runnin' Fives.  A week ago, we rolled out a Minnesota squad that seemed to leave Timberwolves followers cringing far and wide.  Today, our focus heads down toward Disney, where there is currently a pretty good team but also still plenty of wonder of what could have been.  What could have been if certain folks didn't leave town?  If certain others weren't plagued by injuries?  If a few big free throws had been hit?  Since we're not entirely sure, naturally we're here to throw salt in the wounds (are they still open?) by throwing a few of those certain players right back together.  And at their respective peaks in the Orlando, we're guessing this very well could have been one heckuva team (or at least good enough to take down their '89 counterparts).  Let's run fives with the Orlando Magic: 

lil-penny.jpgPoint Guard: Anfernee Hardaway -  The Orlando Sentinel's Brian Schmitz keeps it real simple here: "You start Hardaway...because he's 6-7 and was remarkable his first few seasons."  He couldn't be more on the money on this one.

The one they call Penny leads the woulda-shoulda-coulda list in Orlando as far as questions over how things would have gone if he wasn't plagued by injuries after his first three seasons and hadn't left town just as he was reaching what should have been the prime of his career if he had been healthy.  But over the portion for which his body was fully intact, this guy played incredible basketball.  He averaged better than 20 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds over the course of the 1994-95 and '95-96 campaigns, and he was remarkably efficient in doing so.  Hardaway put up true shooting figures of 59.9 and 60.5 percent in his second and third seasons and was a terror all over the court. 

His length gave him a huge advantage over opposing point guards, and he had the sort of athleticism that enabled him to simply explode at any time.  He could attack the rim fiercely, dish beautifully and when it mattered most, he could even stroke the three a bit.  To that end, during the Magic's run to the Finals in 1995, Penny shot better than 40 percent from behind the arc.  In the brief interim the league took from the reign of Michael Jordan, Hardaway looked as though he was illuminating himself as one of the game's brightest stars for years to come.  He had the nickname, the endorsements (how cool were his Nike commercials with Lil' Penny?) and the game. 

Though his Orlando career ultimately didn't live up to the early expectations, we would be remiss to overlook Penny's achievements over the couple of seasons that marked the height of his career.  Hardaway was an integral part of the team's finest season (the 57-win campaign in 1994-95 that ended with a sweep at the hands of the Rockets in the finals), and he finished his tenure in Orlando with averages of 19.0 points, 6.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game.

He's got our vote with no qualms here, and Third Quarter Collapse's Ben Q Rock concurs:  "Had his knees not given out, we might mention this man as a Hall-of-Famer. He certainly had the talent. Microfracture surgery was in its infancy when Hardaway needed it, and as a result he lost the explosiveness that made him such a dazzling player.  Penny left Orlando on less-than-ideal terms. I don't care. I contend he's the best playmaker in the team's history, which is why he gets the nod here."  Amen. 

Honorable mention: Scott Skiles - Though he suffered through much of the team's formative period, Skiles managed to guide the Magic admirably during his time in town.  The point-guard-later-turned-coach is the Magic's all-time leader with 7.2 assists per game in an Orlando uniform, and he had seasons of 8.4 and 9.4 assists per game, in addition to setting the single-game record for the league with 30 dishes in a win over Denver.  That he also put up nearly 13 points per game and did so with high efficiency didn't hurt either.  He's a worthy candidate but simply lacking Penny's size and explosiveness.

Read More..All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog.  Check him out!
 

Shooting Guard: Tracy McGrady - No, he couldn't get his team out of the first round of the playoffs, and, as Ben Q points out, no, he isn't viewed all that fondly in O-Town these days.  But here's the thing: His individual performance for this team was downright unbelievable while he was in town.

Exactly two players in Magic history have averaged more than 20 points per game while with the team.  One inaccurately calls himself the greatest center of all time, though he is certainly in the top ten and was at one point the most dominant active basketball force on the planet.   The other is Tracy McGrady.  This would be the guy who won two scoring titles in his four seasons in town en route to putting up a tenure average of 28.1 points per game.  The crazy part is that at 6-foot-8, the versatile swingman also had the length and passing vision to do more than his share on the boards (at 7.0 per game, he ranks fifth in team history) and in the passing game (5.2 assists per puts him fourth).  The team ran its offense through him, and while he might not have gotten the Magic out of a playoff series, he certainly was responsible for carrying them as far as they got in each of his seasons in town.  An incredible talent who could take over a game at any point, T-Mac is a no-brainer for this team.

Ben Q puts the flexible T-Mac at the three rather than the two (see below) but certainly agrees in principle: "He's undeniably one of the Magic's greatest all-time players."  And Ben Q has got a goofier reason of his own, too, saying, "He's also the team's most athletic dunker. So, uh, there's that."

Current Magic Senior Vice President Pat Williams backs up Ben Q's assessment of McGrady's flexibility, stating, "Tracy played wherever you needed him to play.  He could do either one.  I’d feel comfortable with him at the three." 

Honorable mention: Nick Anderson - Ben Q's pick at the two, thus sliding T-Mac down to the three (though he promises the two are internchangeable).  The man puts it perfectly: "While non-Magic fans might remember him as the guy who choked away Orlando's hope for a championship in 1995, I remember him as the guy who stole the ball from Michael Jordan to even get them to the Finals. You can't discuss the Magic's history without mentioning Nick Anderson, and you can't discuss Nick Anderson without mentioning the Magic; his career pretty much ended after the Magic traded him to the Kings after the strike-shortened season. He is, to date, the Magic's all-time leader in games played, minutes played, field goals made and attempted, steals and points."  Williams concurs.

So what it comes down to is that I'm mentioning Nick because Ben Q is going to break my legs if I don't.

Or not.  Anderson merits a mention because of exactly what Ben Q says here.  He was a rock of consistency for a decade, putting up 15.3 points per game while in town, and he was involved in many of the team's biggest moments. 

Though he omitted Anderson from his selections, Schmitz pays him a compliment as well, calling Anderson a "tough, post-up old school guard."   While we went with another option at the other swing spot for the purpose of stretching the floor a bit more, Ben Q is absolutely right that this discussion wouldn't be complete without Anderson.  So here he is, a sixth man of sorts.

Small forward: Hedo Turkoglu - He's here to do a little bit of everything.  Of primary interest is that Turkoglu adds outside shooting to a team that is in need of just that.  The front line here won't be doing all that much from outside the paint, and despite Penny Hardaway's occasional postseason succeses from deep, he was still only a 31.1 percent shooter from behind the arc.  Turkoglu loves to shot from deep, hitting from there with 39.4 percent accuracy over his Magic career and posting true shooting figures better than 57 percent twice in four seasons with the team.

But Turk's game doesn't end with the outside shooting.  At 6-foot-10, the guy makes a sizable lineup even bigger, and he also adds both rebounding and another facilitating option to the mix.  Turkoglu showed in 2007-08 especially that he can function quite well as a point forward, going for nearly 5 assists per game to go with his 19 points and 5.6 boards per.  He has only gotten better in his time with the Magic, and he can both distribute and score efficiently.  The NBA's reigning Most Improved Player gets the chance here. 

Honorable mention: Dennis Scott - His job would be to stretch the floor for this team.  Scott put up 14.8 points per game while with the Magic, and he did it while shooting an excellent 40.3 percent from behind the three-point line.  Like Anderson, he was a crucial part of the team's best seasons, and Scott put up 17.5 points per game on a very efficient 58.9 percent true shooting while starting every game of the team's 60-win campaign of 1995-96.

Schmitz takes Scott here and calls this one the toughest choice of all, deciding,  "You start Scott over Grant Hill and Hedo Turkoglu because 3-D was one of the league's best long-range shooters, especially with Shaq drawing attention."  There's no arguing that, but we're not too bothered with Turk's accuracy either, and the rest of his game is more appealing.

Power Forward: Horace Grant - Two crucial issues here.  The first is that Grant was a consistent player and veteran leader throughout his seven seasons in Orlando.  The second is there there is a certain someone who isn't going to be counted as a power forward for this team.

But that latter part shouldn't take away from Grant's selection.  The 6-foot-10 forward came over from Chicago before the 1994-95 season and was a key addition to the Magic's lineup right away.  He added a bruising big man presence on defense and the glass, and he took for the mostly good shots, which led to his being fairly efficient from the field.  On teams with plenty of firepower (especially throughout the early part of his time in Orlando), Grant was comfortable doing whatever he had to do to help make the team a winner.  His 8.2 rebounds per game rank him fourth in team history, and putting up 11.3 points, 50.2 percent field-goal shooting and a block per game didn't hurt either.

Schmitz gives Grant the nod as well and gives away the ineligible consideration at power forward in his commentary: "If you are playing a game, Grant gives you more offensively than Howard would at power forward and just about as much defensively."  The latter clause of that assertion in particular is quite a compliment.

Center: Shaquille O'Neal -  Remember when the phrase "Shaq Attack" was first gaining prominence and chic status across the country?  That sort of national phenomenon is what tends to happen when a guy comes into the league as a freak of nature and virtually immediately establishes himself as a future Hall of Famer and one of the best players of all time. He did this by leading his team to its first three 50-plus win seasons and a Finals appearance in his first four seasons, all the while averaging 27.2 points (on 58.8 percent shooting), 12.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game.  This man-child was an unquestioned force on both ends of the floor.

Ben Q points out that the young beast was not only great for the Magic but for the city in general: "Shaq was more than the Magic's first superduperstar.  He was the city's first superduperstar; Orlando hadn't had a major professional sports team in its history until the Magic came along.  Shaq's all-time greatness -- as I recall, he was the youngest player the league named to its 50 Greatest Players roster in 1996 -- made his leaving to join the Lakers all the more heartbreaking."

Speaking of Shaq leaving for Los Angeles, label me shocked to hear Ben Q say, "Maybe some Magic fans would exclude him from this lineup because of the way he left Orlando, calling it a 'small pond,' but it's simply time for those fans to move on. Grapes get awfully sour after 12 years." 

Ben Q is a lot kinder than I am.  Leaving this guy off the Magic's all-time team would be nothing short of criminal.

After all, he's only the best player in team history.

Honorable mention: Dwight Howard - Perhaps the selection in this discussion meriting the most scrutiny.  The two conceivable options for D-12 are starting at power forward or sitting behind Shaq, and the latter certainly doesn't mean that Howard isn't qualified.

Schmitz puts Howard behind Shaq and calls him the "notable surprise."  Ben Q makes the case for Howard to start at the four and lays out Howard's resume nicely in doing so, stating, "Although his career numbers are relatively modest (16.5 points, 12.2 boards, 1.8 blocks), they don't tell the whole story. He's improved in every season. He's never missed a game. He loves the team and the community, saying, 'Me and Mickey Mouse will be here forever' when he signed a maximum contract extension last summer. And he's only 22 years old. The Magic have a decade to surround him with enough talent to win their first title. His presence gives Magic fans hope they haven't had since the O'Neal era."

Wholly agreed on all of Howard's meaning to his team, and no, the career numbers don't tell the whole story.  Howard is a ferocious athlete who has already become one of the league's best interior defensive presences, and he has managed to score his points largely without a refined offensive arsenal so far.  He continues to work hard as shown by his progress each season, and once he puts in a few new wrinkles to his offensive game, he is going to be unbelievably dangerous.

But there is no question that he has yet to pass the Shaq of his time in Orlando, and the idea of putting Howard at power forward hits a few snags for us.  Though Howard did enter the league as a power forward and played a majority of the team's minutes there for his first two seasons, he also played some center during those seasons and has played nearly exclusively at the center spot over the last two years.  Howard's game is clearly that of a center and in my mind, that's the way he has to be assessed here.

Furthermore, as dominant as a front-court combination of Shaq and D-12 could be - particularly on the defensive end - there has to be some question about how the team would function offensively because, unlike other 'twin towers' pairings of the past, neither player has much of a game away from the basket.  Both need to be working in the low post to be effective, which would seem to lead to some troubles stretching the floor and prevent the possibility of a high-low game inside.  Schmitz also remarks, "Can't start Howard and Shaq together because nobody would make a free throw."

While the worries about their offensive games meshing shouldn't be enough to completely jettison the idea of putting two players of such dominance together, it's really only the final nail in addition to the fact that Howard is truly a center rather than a power forward and should be evaluated as such.  Even in giving Howard the nod at the four, Ben Q concedes, "I'll admit that I don't like putting Dwight here, as he's really a center. But my hands are tied. Shaq has to start at center, and Dwight started his career as a power forward. So it's a reasonable enough move, I suppose."

But Pat Williams does add credence to Ben Q's case by reminding us of the view in the Orlando front office on draft night 2004:  "In kind of a center-less league, he is a center, but I think when we drafted him we saw him more as power forward.  He is a lot bigger and stronger now; maybe the consensus was that he would become a center.  Call him a multi-purpose guy.  We’ll take our chances.  Down the stretch, they’d get fouled a lot.  We’d have a lot of free throws flying around there.  If you’re asking me the best team we could put on the floor from Magic history, that’s my club.  Is it absolutely perfectly refined?  Might there be a few overlaps?  Yeah, conceivably.  But I think you’re going to run into that with every team."

It's an understandable enough move with a compelling case, but - much as I hate to roll the dice against Ben Q and the man largely responsible for bringing the Magic to Orlando -- we'll have to lean away on this one.  Though Williams tells us that Howard may play some power forward when paired next to Tony Battie during the coming season, the fact remains that no matter what the team envisioned on draft night, Howard has clearly become a center by NBA standards and has played there for most of his career in Orlando.  According to 82games.com, the man-child played exactly zero percent of the team's minutes at power forward this past season, his best as a pro.  And so he is relegated to Shaquille O'Neal's understudy on this team.

Howard and Nick Anderson certainly make a nice combination of sixth and seventh man to fill out the rotation of what strikes us as the first true power team of our five so far.

As Schmitz points out, there is incredible size on this team, with the starting lineup running 6-foot-7, 6-8, 6-10, 6-10, 7-1.  This team features two players who were amongst the brightest stars of the '90s and one more who won two scoring titles the following decade -- in addition to one versatile forward with a Most Improved Player award and a veteran leader with championship experience and the willingness to bruise and fill his role.  This team can score both inside and outside and defend as well, and it has at least three players with particularly remarkable explosiveness.  Here's guessing the all-time Magic team cleans the clocks of the four to come before it.

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Special thanks of course go out to our Magic correspondents, the Orlando Sentinel's Brian Schmitz, Third Quarter Collapse's Ben Q Rock and Orlando Magic Senior Vice President Pat Williams.  Schmitz does a fantastic job covering on the Magic beat, and Ben Q is one of my favorite writers across the Web, one with whom I have long enjoyed bantering all things hoops-related.  Both are excellent reads, and their efforts here are much appreciated.  Williams has been and continues to be an integral part of the Magic organization and a well of basketball knowledge, and we extend plenty of gratitude to him as well for sharing some of his time with us.  Thanks again to three great contributors on this one.

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*The official explanation for newcomers to our Runnin' Fives series:

Welcome to the latest edition of the CelticsBlog NBA page's newest feature, Runnin' Fives.  Over the course of the next few months, we'll be picking a five-man all-time team for each of the Association's thirty currently active franchises.  The rules are simple: The goal is to put together the best possible standard five-man line-up (two guards, two forwards, one center, with some room for finagling if need be) for each team based on the performance of the players while with said team.  For instance, it's hard to imagine Michael Jordan making the Washington squad or Karl Malone or Gary Payton challenging for spots in Los Angeles (or Mark Blount making any team, anywhere).  We'll be progressing from youngest franchise to oldest at the rate of one to two teams per week, pursuant to the workings of the NBA's news cycle and availability of sources as we'll be checking in with bloggers, beat writers, fans and anybody else we can get a hold of for insight on their teams.  And of course, we're alwayslooking for your input, and we invite all readers to submit their own line-ups, honorable mentions, dishonorable mentions and everything in between in the comments section below.  We eagerly look forward to hearing from you!

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Previously on Runnin' Fives:

Charlotte Bobcats

Toronto Raptors

Memphis Grizzlies

Minnesota Timberwolves 

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