NBA Team Reports: Orlando Magic

NBA Team Reports: Orlando Magic
Jan 03, 2007, 03:47 pm
While the month of December hasn’t gone entirely according to plan for the Orlando Magic, the team has been one of the pleasant surprises of this NBA season. Since the Magic feature no player scoring more than 17 points per game, their 19-14 record is indicative of a consistent balanced attack.

Much of Orlando’s success can be attributed to head coach Brian Hill helping his players understand their roles. He has helped players like Trevor Ariza become contributing members of his rotation. The team features a bright young star in Dwight Howard, but it is the team’s deep, versatile, bench that has gotten it this far.

Note: The number in parentheses indicates the change between the players’ cumulative statistical averages between 18 and 33 total games. Read the first installment of the Orlando Magic team report here.

Dwight Howard
36.0 (+0.2) Minutes, 16.8 (-0.3) Points, 12.5 (-0.8) Rebounds, 1.9 (-0.2) Blocks, 57% (-2%) FG

For how good of a player Dwight Howard is, it is uncanny how few shots he takes in the Orlando offense. In a lot of ways, it looks like Howard just isn’t asserting himself, but this isn’t the case. In an offense predicated on balance, Howard simply doesn’t have to take a lot of shots. For the most part, this has helped Howard’s game. He understands that he doesn’t have to go for 25 every night, so he only takes good shots. His understanding of his role has helped him develop the right kind of offensive habits.

While it is still concerning that Howard doesn’t pump fake around the basket, other parts of his game have improved over the past month. Two of the most noticeable things that Howard has taken to doing are showing the ball to set up his man, and using jabs to get the defense off balance. On a side note, Howard’s left hand has looked extremely good, and he has clearly been working on it.

Howard has developed some go-to moves that he likes to use when he has his back to the basket. His physical stature makes his drop step almost impossible to stop, but he doesn’t always effectively use it to his advantage. One of the things he likes to do is shoot hooks over his right shoulder when the momentum from his drop step is carrying him to the baseline. While he knocks these shots down at a very respectable clip, it would be nice to see Howard develop better technique on some his moves. He never seems to be going straight at the rim after making moves in a post up situation.

One thing Howard does not necessarily need to work on is his rebounding. He cleans the glass better than anyone else in the league at this point in the season. He rebounds outside of his area, and crashes the offensive glass when given the chance. Nearly 15% of his shots come off put backs, so quite a few of his touches come outside of the Orlando offense.

Defensively, Howard has continued to work hard, but has had a tougher staying out of foul trouble. Overall, it is safe to say that Howard is going to get better. He seems to already have the potential to be more productive of the offensive end. This begs the question: how long will it take for Howard to become the true focal point of the Orlando offense?

Jameer Nelson
28.9 Minutes, 13.3 (-0.3) Points, 4.1 (-0.2) Assists, 3.0 (-0.2) Rebounds, 1.1 (-0.1) Steals, 48% (-3%) FG

Things haven’t gone entirely smoothly for Jameer Nelson over the past month. Nelson missed four games due to a right groin strain, but has bounced back quickly. His production tapered off a bit in December, but he’s still played relatively well. The one striking thing about his numbers is how quickly his shooting percentage has declined. He shot nearly 52% from the field in November, but only 40% in December. While his shooting hasn’t fallen off the face of the earth, the change between the two months is notable.

What makes this disparity worth recognizing is the variety that encompasses Nelson’s offensive game. He can score off the pick and roll, off the dribble, when isolated, in transition, and even off the occasional outside jumper. Nelson is an extremely versatile offensive guard, but his entire game suffers when he isn’t shooting well.

It will be easier to identify the reasons for Nelson’s shooting struggles once he is fully recovered from his injury, but some more obvious reasons have become noticeable. For one, Nelson’s shot selection hasn’t been as sound as it was early in the season. He’s shot some contested jumpers, and his form has looked inconsistent at times. He’s also struggled to finish around the basket, so it is entirely possible that his groin has been slowing him down. Up until the injury, he had been finishing around the rim at an astounding rate for a player his size. One other obvious reason is his sudden increase in three-point attempts. While it would certainly help for him to develop this part of his game, he shouldn’t do things on the court that he isn’t entirely comfortable with yet.

On the other side of the ball, Nelson has been solid. He uses his quick hands to create turnovers, and get out in transition. His decision making with the ball in his hands is improving. He has done an extremely good job recently of using dribble penetration to create open looks for his teammates. Nelson’s shooting is definitely something to keep an eye on. While his efficiency has by no means fallen of the face of the earth, it would be an encouraging sign for the Magic if he got back to where he was before he got hurt. Once he gets comfortable again, we’ll see how his productivity increases.

Trevor Ariza
23.1 (+5.4) Minutes, 8.8 (+3.1) Points, 4.3 (+0.9) Rebounds, 55% (+5%) FG

Ariza has looked fantastic recently. He has continued to work hard, and has seen his playing time increase significantly as the season has gone on. One of the knocks on Ariza has always been his ball handling, but it has been one of the parts of his game that has clearly improved over the past month.

He has looked extremely good taking the ball the basket and finishing with contact or throwing down over the defense. His new found confidence going to the basket has also earned him an increased number of trips to the charity stripe. While he won’t ever wow you with his jump shot, Ariza has been finding ways to put the ball in the basket.

Most of Ariza’s touches come in situations where he can simply catch and attack, and his recent aggressiveness with his dribble has really paid off. His assertiveness has always paid dividends for him on the defensive end, so it is nice to see that his game is really starting to round out.

Darko Milicic
21.9 (-0.1) Minutes, 7.2 (-1.0) Points, 4.8 (-0.3) Rebounds, 1.7 (-0.3) Blocks, 43% (-5%) FG

Milicic’s game has remained consistent from last month to this month, but he hasn’t been putting up the same numbers. His shooting hasn’t been nearly as good, and he hasn’t been as aggressive crashing the glass.

Darko’s decrease in scoring isn’t really due to any sort of regression on his part. He simply hasn’t been getting the rolls he was early in the year. One simple reason for this decrease could stem from other teams realizing that they can limit him offensively by overplaying his right shoulder. Since he isn’t entirely comfortable using his right hand to finish, overplaying his left hand can effectively limit his scoring. His jumper has been solid, but not spectacular. It is absolutely essential for Milicic to develop his right hand if he wants to garner a starting spot next to Dwight Howard.

Milicic has continued to use his length to his advantage when blocking shots and grabbing boards. He appears to be making better rotations and not giving up position on the block as easily as he used to. His lack of a right hand has severely limited his offensive game, but it hasn’t stopped him from putting up decent numbers. He is currently in the final year of his contract, and it is entirely possible that the Magic are trying to get him at a bargain rate by monitoring his minutes.

Travis Diener
13.8 (+5.8) Minutes, 5.4 (+3.9) Points, 45% FG

Much like last season, Travis Diener has played well when given the chance. Jameer Nelson’s groin injury thrust Diener into the lineup, and he respond with a string of strong outings. He shot the ball extremely well and controlled the tempo when running the point.

The knocks on Diener’s game will always be the same. He isn’t the most athletic or physically imposing player. However, he does work hard and play smart. While he hasn’t really cracked the Orlando rotation yet, it is safe to say that Diener is capable of handling some minutes behind Nelson and Carlos Arroyo. Given that Nelson’s return has limited him to garbage time, it will be interesting to see if Diener does indeed continue to see the floor.

J.J. Redick
12.0 (+9.0) Minutes, 3.9 (+1.9) Points, 33% (-17%) FG

Redick played in only five games this month, so we really don’t have a lot to draw from when making comments about his progress. There are some observations to take away though. You still can’t leave J.J. open from anywhere inside 25 feet, and he still isn’t ready to be an everyday player yet.

While J.J. is always a threat to score, Brian Hill is probably looking for him to prove some things on the defensive end before he inserts him into the rotation full-time. Redick’s minutes are definitely worth monitoring for the rest of the season, as he his role will no doubt be changing.

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