SPECIAL PREVIEW EDITION
|Marc Stein ESPN.com
||With Grant Hill starting the season in distress, it's tough to see the Magic cracking the playoff field unless the development of man-child Dwight Howard accelerates at Amare Stoudemire speed.|
|Chris Sheridan ESPN Insider
||Not much to like here beyond Dwight Howard, who could turn out to be the best big man in at least a half-decade to drafted by an Eastern Conference team. The rest of the roster is not particularly young, nor particularly good.|
|Will Perdue ESPN Insider
||Assuming that Grant Hill stays healthy (you know what happens when you assume) this team should be in the playoff hunt. Look for even more improvement from Dwight Howard in the post as he works on his individual moves. This kid is still learning the game.|
|Jim O'Brien ESPN Insider
||So much depends on the health of Grant Hill. If they can get 70 games out of him, they can make Brian Hill's return to Orlando a real success. The Magic could be this year's biggest Eastern Conference surprise.|
|Eric Neel ESPN
|This is the second-tier team most likely to make the playoffs. If Philly, Washington or Chicago falters, Dwight Howard will be waiting to take advantage.|
|Tim Legler ESPN Insider
See Item 7 for Legler's analysis of the Orlando Magic.
|Scoop Jackson ESPN
|Call it a comeback! Grant healthy for 80 games, franchise finally over Cuttino trade.|
|John Hollinger ESPN Insider
||Talented enough to make the playoffs if everyone's healthy and Dwight Howard takes a step forward, but Hill's abdominal strain isn't a good sign.|
|Chad Ford ESPN Insider
||Still recovering from a disastrous year with John Weisbrod at the helm. Unfortunately, new management hasn't done much to inspire confidence. The Magic botched the draft and came up empty (unless you're counting Keyon Dooling) in free agency.|
|John Carroll Scouts Inc.
||Steve Francis must mature and realize that the true mark of a player is leading his team to the playoffs. Whether as the point or two guard, Francis must become a consistent scorer, playmaker and defender.|
|Ric Bucher ESPN Mag
||Grant Hill is hurt, their lottery pick is in Europe and Steve Francis is wondering where he's headed next. Dwight Howard deserves better.|
|Chris Broussard ESPN Insider
||Need to tell Stevie Franchise it's D Howard's team, not his.|
|Starters: Francis must cut TOs (career-high 4.1) for the Magic to show.|
|Even KG says Howard reminds him of himself.||
|Great comeback story. Can he do it again?||
|Eight-year vet splits minutes with Kelvin Cato. Exactly.||
|Last season's 11.4 ppg was career high.||
|Grump at SG last year, back to running the show. Smile, Stevie!||
|Bench: Shooters Pat Garrity and Hedo Turkoglu will get plenty of open looks, while Keyon Dooling and Jameer Nelson switch the game's pace nicely.||
ESPN The Magazine's NBA Preview hit newsstands Wednesday.
Player Efficiency Rating
vs. NBA Avg.: -0.53
The Magic's first-round draft pick, Jameer Nelson is probably more like 5-foot-10 than his listed height, but apparently he was wearing heels the day he was measured. As a result, opponents were able to shoot right over him and he was an easy mark for guards looking to post up. He also gets beat on screens when his man is away from the ball -- Mike Bibby murdered him on this when the Magic played Sacramento.
Fortunately, Nelson showed plenty of promise in his rookie season. Despite his stature, he rebounds very well for his position, posting the seventh-best rebound rate among point guards. He also has a good first step that makes him a potent scoring threat. However, he needs to take some steps to improve his efficiency. For starters, he has to improve his 3-point stroke since he made just 31 percent of his shots. Second, he needs to draw more fouls. With his penetration skills and strength, he should do better than a 6-to-1 ratio of field-goal attempts to free-throw attempts. Lastly, he has to improve as a passer -- Orlando already has one point guard with dribble blindness, and that's more than enough.
Although point guards often struggle mightily as rookies, Nelson was able to come in and play effectively, which is a strong sign that he'll quickly become a valuable contributor. That's not a bad payoff for the 20th overall pick in the draft.
We asked SportsNation for its recommendation between Steve Francis, an established star who looks like a point guard but plays more like a two-guard; smallish second-year point guard Jameer Nelson; and free agent signee Keyon Dooling, who appears to be the least talented of the trio:
Who should start at point guard?
62.7% Jameer Nelson
21.3% Keyon Dooling
16.0% Steve Francis
Legs on Magic: Unfortunately, with the East much improved, .500 isn't gonna get it done in terms of making the playoffs. The Magic's top six (Steve Francis, Grant Hill, Hedo Turkoglu, Dwight Howard, Kelvin Cato, and Jameer Nelson) isn't bad at all.
But they will be counting on two second-year players (Nelson and Howard) and an aging star (Hill) playing on borrowed time with those sore dogs.
New coach Brian Hill is a major upgrade from Johnny Davis, but Orlando's weak bench will do them in. They'll be in it till the end, but will come up just a little short.
Tim Legler, ESPN Insider
Experience: 7 years
Reg. season record: 222-227
Playoff record: 18-18
Brian Hill is back in Orlando and the Magic will be rewarded for this decision. Hill can coach and the Magic are deep.
Dwight Howard is a year older and stronger. The coaching staff will keep then on task and competing for the playoffs if Grant Hill can play at least 70 games.
Jim O'Brien, ESPN.com Insider
The question is what he can do for an encore. The 6-foot-11 power forward seems to have limitless potential, with a developing array of post moves that complement his outstanding finishing skills around the basket. He's also a potential force at the defensive end, ranking in the top 20 in blocked shots as a rookie.
However, Howard's development might be stunted unless he gets the ball more. One reason Orlando was so anxious to move Steve Francis off the point was because Howard rarely saw the rock last season.
This year, Howard figures to get more catches in the post, where he can use his superior athleticism to score over most opponents. If he can raise his points-per-game average to the mid- or high-teens, he gives the team a potent third scoring threat alongside Francis and Hill. At the very least, Orlando will hope he can command some double-teams, which none of its frontcourt players could do a year ago.
Sleeper: Dwight Howard was impressive as a rookie, but he's going to get a lot better. How can an All-Rookie selection be a sleeper? The kid was just 19. Howard proved he was durable and solid defensively, and now all the Magic have to do is teach him moves. The top big man on this team could average 17 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks.
Bust: Grant Hill made a tremendous comeback and had everyone rooting for him. But a year ago when Hill was a popular final round pick, we called it value. Now he'll be drafted too high. Beyond the huge injury risk (he did miss 15 games), Hill was merely a scorer who shot well. Forwards with no range and fewer than five rebounds aren't steals.
Eric Karabell | Fantasy Basketball Index