Don't worry, I'm not about to make this a political post. First, I'm sure nobody wants to hear it. Second, and more importantly, I don't know nearly enough to even pretend to speak knowledgeably about politics.
No, no. I'm here today because the Orlando Magic have the best record in the NBA. The Orlando Magic. Have the best record in the NBA. In late January. While this may not seem like much to most people. This is quite a feat for a franchise that has seen more uniforms than All-Stars in its 20 years of existence (Grant Hill's All-Star selection doesn't count because it was pity/charity and Grant Hill can lick my dick).
The final confirmation of this Magic team's legitimacy came this past week when the Magic went 4-0 on a west coast swing that included the Spurs, Lakers and Nuggets. Make no mistake about it, the Magic are for real. Do I think they'll win the title this year? No. Do they have a better chance than since I was in high school? Absolutely. Most importantly, the core of this team is young and they are coached by, in my estimation, the league's most underrated coach in Stan Van Gundy.
Now, I'm sure you're excited to read along as I dissect every strength and flaw of this Magic team but, I'm sorry to inform you that I'm not here to do that. Nope.
Don't worry, I'll be talking about the Magic a bit but I'm also here to pontificate and preach about something I do know a lot about (or at least think I do)...basketball. According to my opinion, the Super Bowl bye week is when the 8% of Americans that still watch both the NBA and college basketball collectively tune in to both (on a regular basis) and start giving a damn. So, in honor of that I present you with a collection of disjointed thoughts on, basketballing.
- Ever since UNC lost a couple games earlier this season, analysts have been breaking down why, and they've focused largely on Carolina's poor defense on the perimeter. Rightfully so, Ty Lawson plays Steve Nash style D (one swipe and turn as your man goes past you) and Wayne Ellington is basically the black JJ Redick (only not as consistent a shooter) but one guy that nobody talks about is Tyler Hansbrough. As good as Hansbrough is, he's not especially big or athletic and thus is horrible at protecting the rim. As a result of this, anytime somebody gets past the first level of Carolina's D they have a free pass to the rim. Hansbrough's might be back there but he's not quick enough laterally or bouncy enough to really deter a player with a head of steam from going straight at the rim.
- Speaking of bad defensive big men who don't get enough blame for their team's defensive struggles, Amare Stoudemire is absolutely the worst post defender (among high level bigs) in the NBA. He doesn't even try half the time. Steve Nash gets a lot of shit for his lack of defense but he is somewhat athletically limited in what he can do. Stoudemire is athletic, long and strong enough to be a terror from both the weakside and in one-on-one matchups. He's below average, at best, defensively and he's hasn't improved in years. I'll say it now, any team that goes after him in 2010 is completely fucking crazy. Besides the lack of D, he has a questionable attitude, a history of injuries and he's played most of his career with an elite PG. The guy's going to fall off the cliff faster than Antoine Walker if/when he leaves the Suns.
- There are a number of reasons the Magic have jumped a level this year, but one that's slipping through the cracks is the play of Courtney Lee. The 22nd pick in the draft is terrific, and he's getting better with each passing month. Stan Van Gundy (not known to be fond of rookies) has already annointed him as Orlando's best on-ball defender, he's athletic, fearless (see the dunk he attempted on Lamar Odom last Friday?), shoots it well and is an extremely underrated passer. I'm not exaggerating when I say I think he has a good chance to make and All-Star team or two down the line.
- As good as Lee is, he's never going to be as good as my two current favorite players to watch in the NBA, Brandon Roy and Joe Johnson. Both are smooth scorers who fly under the radar of casual NBA fans because of the ease at which they seem to play the game. Johnson's bigger than Roy while Roy may be just a bit more athletic than Johnson but their games are strikingly similar. Both can play either guard spot and are terrific shooters off the dribble. Their shooting ability opens up driving lanes for them where they use their size to finish consistently. LeBron and Kobe get most of the headlines because the way in which they score is so spectacular/skillful but Johnson and Roy are worth tuning into whenever you get the chance.
- I think the time has come for the media to acknowledge the fact that Tracy McGrady is no longer an elite player. Hell, he's not even an All-Star anymore in my opinion. He's always been soft (the kind of guy who goes out of his way to wince and make it apparent he's playing through pain) but he's also broken at this point. He's like an NFL tailback at 30-31. He has too many miles on his body. He's had a bad back for nearly a decade and his knees have been problematic for the last couple of years. I'm not breaking any news here, this is something that everybody who follows the NBA knows. So...if you were offered Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince for McGrady last summer, why wouldn't you jump on it?
I don't know. Somebody should ask Daryl Morey though because, reportedly, thats the offer that he turned down from the Pistons. I know Morey is kind of a "moneyball" guy, but at some point you have to understand that McGrady's is a case of diminishing returns from here on out. Can you imagine sending the Battier/Prince combo out defensively against your opponent's best perimeter player each night? How much better would Billups make Yao? (Ask Nene). I heard this report two weeks ago and I'm still baffled at the thinking behind Morey's decision.
- Back to the Magic, nobody has killed Jameer Nelson more than I in the past few years. In my mind, heis ideal role was that of a backup PG on a championship team. However, his play this year has won me over. He's scoring more, while shooting a better percentage and, most importantly, he's playing decisively. He's no longer leaving the ground with no idea what he's doing, he's learned to split the double team off the pick and roll as good as anybody other than Dwyane Wade and he's turned into a killer in the 4th quarter (see: Friday night in LA). His play makes the Magic a completely different team offensively. Now, instead of relying soley upon Hedo Turkoglu to create shots late in games, the Magic has two players who are equally good at creating shots for themselves and their teammates.
- The next time that Kansas is on, tune in until you see Cole Aldrich on screen. He is, in every way possible, Joel Pryzbilla 2.0.
- A few years ago I wrote about how angry it made me that NBA GMs (and TJ) didn't see the distinct possibility of Tayshaun Prince and Josh Howard becoming good NBA players. Well, get ready to hear a similar rant from me this June when Lousiville's Terrence Williams doesn't get selected until late in the 1st round (if he goes in the 1st at all). Most of the same reasons apply, he's a 4 year starter for a consistently good program in a good/very good conference. He has a well rounded game, he's unselfish and he's outstanding defensively. Isn't that exactly what you want out of the 4/5/6 guys in your rotation? In addition, he's big and athletic enough to guard two positions (sg/sf) in the NBA. Just wait, guys like Tulsa's Jerome Jordan will go 10-15 spots higher than Williams and never make half the impact that Williams does in the NBA.
- Dwight Howard thinks that Magic play-by play guy David Steele looks like George Bush. As a result of this, he began calling Steele "Mr. President" a year or so ago. Well, somewhat recently, Steele entered the Magic locker room as Young Jeezy's "My President" was playing. So, now whenever Steele interviews Howard after games (which is often) he finishes it up by saying to Dwight, "My president is black". To which Dwight replies, "My Lambo's blue!". I almost fell out of my chair laughing the first time I heard it and I still get a good chuckle out of it each time I hear it again.
I bet you didn't think I could tie the picture up top into this post, did you?