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Is Orlando a contender again? Maybe, maybe…

Dec 31, 2010, 2:13 PM EDT

Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Dwight Howard

Here was the conventional wisdom after the Orlando Magic made a series of trades to bring in Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson: Why? The Magic took on a lot of extra long-term salary and locked themselves in with a roster that is, at best, marginally better than what they had. The offense had more diversity short term, but the defense would be worse.

Um, maybe we were wrong.

The long-term contract issues remain. But short term the Magic are undefeated in their last five . In those five not only has offense has gotten better so has the defense. As the wise Mark Haubner noted at TrueHoop, in the last five games the Magic have been scoring 110.5 points per 100 possessions, and giving up 96.0 points per 100 possessions. Over the course of the season, that would be the best offense and best defense in the league right now.

It’s just five games (welcome to the small sample size theater), but it’s enough to make us take a second look at the trades and think maybe we undervalued a few things.

One is that Orlando knows how to use Hedo Turkoglu. As Rob Mahoney points out at the New York Times, Turkoglu is not shooting any better than he did in Phoenix or Toronto. He’s basically the same player he always was. The differences are that he is getting minutes now, and that Orlando trusts him to be the ball handler on the pick-and-roll. Phoenix didn’t because then they were taking the ball out of Steve Nash’s hands and one should never do that. Toronto used him less as a ball handler and more as a spot up shooter, something he’s not great at. But put the ball in his hands as Orlando does and he becomes a solid NBA player.

Orlando also is running more with the new configuration, about 3.5 more possessions per game. Teams score at a high rate in transition so if this is a long-term trend it bodes well for their offense.

The other thing of note is that the Magic’s three-point shooting touch has returned — they are draining 45.7 percent of their threes in the last five games. That is not a sustainable number, but the fact it is better than they had shot all season is of note. When the Magic are hitting their threes, with their inside-out game centered around Dwight Howard, they become very hard to beat.

The question is can they keep all this up? Will the defense continue to be good (or as good as it was pre-trades)? Will they continue to drain the long ball at a high rate? Will they continue to run?

Are they title contenders again?

We don’t know. But it seems more like it than it did a couple weeks ago, that’s for sure. In that sense, the trades have been a success so far.

  1. pskerry - Dec 31, 2010 at 11:00 PM

    Howard is going to miss to many games due to t fouls. If he made the league average % FT they would be the team to beat.

  2. rlodato - Jan 1, 2011 at 11:39 AM

    I loved this trade when it happened and couldn’t understand the cynicism from some of the sports media (this blog included).

    Were the Magic good enough to win the championship as previously constructed? I think that has been proved, without a shadow of a doubt, that a title was not going to happen with that roster. Forget the Lakers and the West – they wouldn’t have been able to get out of the East facing the likes of the Celts, Heat – and by playoff time – the Bulls, who in my opinion, are going to gel into a serious contender and challenge the Celts and Heat for the East.

    Now, the Magic are in that crowd as well. A huge part of playoff basketball is the match-up game, right? And how badly did Orlando cripple itself with those match-ups come playoff time when it essentially swapped Vince “I’m just collecting checks, nigga” Carter and Hedo? Last year it was evident – Orlando did not have one player who felt comfortable in crunch time. Now, they have two – Hedo and Gilbert. Say what you want about Gilbert – and there’s much to be said – but his confidence and shooting touch in crunch time is what this team desperately needed. There are few people in the game more confident or more willing to take that game winning shot.

    Some guys don’t want that spotlight (VC). Some guys do. Gilbert and the self-proclaimed “Turkish Michael Jordan” are two of those guys.

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