I’ve held off on Tebow because I think there’s been more than enough Heisman discussion between the internet, TV and radio to last us all. My completely biased two cents probably isn’t going to change your mind or bring up any points that haven't already been illuminated. I’ll just say this: If the Heisman was voted on like the MVP (Which it isn’t, in any way, shape, or form) there’s no question that Tebow should win.
As for the Magic, I have often refrained from addressing them in this space due to a fear that my praise of them will immediately result in a drastic downturn in their collective fortune. This, of course, only proves that I’m as big an idiot as the aforementioned Heisman voters, as it should be clear by now that the Magic will, always eventually falter and go back to their familiar, pathetic ways.
Rashard Lewis: All-Star Forward, Part-time Ninja
Except, I don’t really feel like that this year. Make no mistake about it, this Magic team is not ready to make the NBA, or probably even the Eastern Conference, Finals. However this team is for real. I mean, they were #1 in ESPN.com’s weekly Power Ratings this week, which I’m pretty sure is a franchise first. More importantly, they just went 4-1 on a West Coast road trip which is always a good barometer of whether an Eastern Conference team is real or not. They have a better collection of talent than any Magic team in the last decade (I know thats not saying much, but still) and that collection has fit together very nicely on the court thus far. Listen, I was as dubious about the Rashard Lewis signing as anyone (and I still think that he’s overpaid and his contract will be a huge burden on the franchise in 5 years) but his presence has completely changed the feel of this team. He’s a known commodity in the NBA. He gets 20+ points nearly every night and does it in an efficient manner (this can’t be underestimated). By doing this, he opens up space for Dwight Howard to operate in the paint while also lessening the scoring burden on guys like Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson.
Turkoglu is a fine NBA player but he’s more playmaker than scorer. He can’t be the #2 scoring option on a good NBA team. However, he can thrive as the #3 guy. In this role, Turkoglu can play freely and create shots for himself and his teammates as opposed to feeling like if he doesn’t score 20 then his team has no chance. Furthermore, while the forward combo of Lewis and Hedo is pretty bad defensively, it’s a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses. Both can create off the dribble against less agile big men, and both can shoot well enough that defenses have to honor them, which only opens up driving lanes for Nelson an space in the post for Howard to operate. Of course, having a beast like Dwight Howard roaming the paint makes it much easier for Stan Van Gundy to throw this frontcourt on the floor together. He dominates the paint in most games and he's still not even near his peak. It's really amazing to watch his game mature right in front of you.
There’s another thing that gives me confidence in the 2007-08 Orlando Magic, Stan Van Gundy. I’m serious here. Van Gundy is a very good coach. Everybody seems to forget what he did with the Miami Heat during Dwyane Wade’s rookie year. That team started out 0-9 and was left for dead by the media. But once Van Gundy figured out how to best utilize and motivate his players, the Heat went on a tear and ended up in the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs. Van Gundy is a flexible coach who will tweak his sets to accentuate his player’s strengths. Which is in direct contrast to former head man Brian Hill who refused to push the tempo despite having a young team that didn’t shoot particularly well and needed to get it’s young (and unbelievably athletic) big man some easy buckets. Van Gundy has not only employed an uptempo system and gone with Turkoglu and Lewis at the forwards, he’s also instituted the pick and roll as a staple of the Magic offense. The effect of this is three fold: It gets Howard moving and away from double teams while also forcing defenses to choose whether they want to drop inside to cover the paint (thereby leaving numerous open shooters) or risk giving Howard an easy dunk. Finally, it also simplifies the decision making processes within the halfcourt for Jameer Nelson which, in turn, allows Nelson to play more freely while cutting down on the turnovers which plagued him last year.
While I’ve got more to say about the Magic, this post is running long so I’ll cut it off right here for the time being. I’ll be back soon with more Magic related stuff as well as a number of random thoughts I’ve had over the last week or so of sports.