Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Top 10 Orlando Magic Point Guards in Franchise History

Inspired by others coming up with these sorts of lists, and the boredom of an NBA Lockout, I decided to provide my input on who I thought the Orlando Magic's best position players were in its 22 seasons of existence. That's not a long period in comparison to many prestigious professional teams. Even though we've never hoisted the championship, we've made it to two NBA Finals in our 6th and 20th seasons.

Throughout these rankings, keep in mind that it's not just statistics involved but also intangibles and whether the player did what they were supposed to do in their assigned role. Winning also plays a large factor as you'd expect. Any personal opinions will be controversial. All numbers are from regular season games only and it's the seasons themselves being averaged out, not on an individual game basis.

So here we go, the Magic's top 10 point guards of all-time.

Missing the cut:

Carlos Arroyo 

2006-2008; 161 games played; 25 starts; 20.2 mpg, 8.5 ppg, 3.1 apg, 45.9% FG percentage

I'm sure right now the Puerto Rican delegation is furious with me. 'Chuck' never made the team better. Initially in those first 27 games after the trade that also brought in Darko Milicic, it did seem like Arroyo was the distributor we needed to complement Francis' and Jameer's more shoot-first approach. However, in his first complete season with us, Carlos quickly became extremely frustrating to watch with all of his inconsistencies.

Ballhogging, inadequate defense, and bad turnovers were things we sadly became accustomed to. He became such a detriment at times that he became a liability to see prominent court time during the playoffs. It isn't until now, after he's bounced around, that we know Carlos has a short fuse and always seems to find himself unwelcome to all of his teams that he leaves behind in his destruction.

Troy Hudson

2000-2002; 156 games played; 11 starts; 18.2 mpg, 8.3 ppg, 2.7 apg, 38.5% FG percentage

Coming off the Heart & Hustle season, Doc Rivers had the difficulty of trying to find an identity for new addition 'T-Hud', an undersized shooting guard, and experimenting with him as a point guard. Hudson had such an abysmal '00-'01 season due to his adjusting, then he turns it all around the next season, drastically upping his averages. Troy needed to be a volume shooter though for him to be effective. Unfortunately for the Magic, even in a 6th-7th man sparkplug role, that didn't happen very often which led to rollercoaster performances.

Without 2001-2002, Hudson doesn't get monetarily rewarded by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the summer of '02. In the end, T-Hud may have been a better rapper than basketball player, but hat didn't stop him from having some phenomenal games in Magic stars (especially one particular 26-point performance).

Keyon Dooling

2005-2008; 188 games played; 10 starts; 21.0 mpg, 8.5 ppg, 1.9 apg, 43.9% FG percentage

Brought in as an energy scorer, 'Ninja' as I called him could be placed at shooting guard as well in evaluating him. It's not like he's not making either list. Other than getting into a fight with Ray Allen, Keyon will be a forgettable Magic man considering he did play 3 seasons in Orlando. Injuries and inconsistencies really hindered the man when his game relied so much on quickness and surprise. However, the man had some awesome hops.

Others missing the cut but not worth going into detail over:
Tyronn LueDerek Harper

10. Mark Price

1997-1998; 63 games played; 33 starts; 22.7 mpg, 9.5 ppg, 4.7 apg, 43.1% FG percentage

How could I put a one-season decrepit man on this list? Easy. Partially it's because we really have lacked in decent point guards, but the other is that the man made everyone around him better. No flashiness, just being a good floor general. That '97-'98 campaign was the season Penny played only 19 games. Chuck Daly's Magic finished 41-41, which was only good enough for 10th place in the Eastern Conference. People forget, Mark Price had one hell of a professional career. Spent his first 9 seasons with the Cavs, then jumped around to Washington and Golden State before we acquired his services.

We also signed an even older Derek Harper to come off the bench. Darrell Armstrong was being groomed for the job, but even 'Flash' missed a large chunk of the season due to injury. Price only recorded one double-double in Orlando pinstripes, but Price kept the Magic relatively afloat with no Penny around and countless other injuries plaguing the roster. If healthy, that's easily a playoff team. After Penny's famous Games 3 and 4 of the '97 1st round playoffs, Daly wanted to have the option of sliding Penny over to shooting guard and have an actual pass-first man (such as Price) to allow Hardaway to space the floor.

If Anfernee didn't get injured, it would have been special to see what this team could have done. Here's a rare clip from early in that '97-'98 season with Mark Price in action against the defending champion Chicago Bulls, before the injuries hit the Magic. I know it's against Steve Kerr, but Price was a more than decent defender. Mark also seemed to have a surprising burst of speed when he turned a corner. He also showed to be a rather disciplined wise man figure in the locker room. Too bad we didn't see his sharpshooting skills.

Due to his deteriorating body though, Price decided to retire at age 34 after completing his one season in Orlando, and having a long Lockout period to help weigh his options.

9. Chucky Atkins

1999-2000; 82 games played; 0 starts; 19.8 mpg, 9.5 ppg, 3.7 apg, 42.4% FG percentage

Kenneth Lavon Atkins only spent his rookie season in Orlando, playing all 82 games as an important piece of the Heart & Hustle team. The Evans High School local product made his NBA debut at age 25 after a few years spent in Europe. The 5'11" USF Bull knew he had to be a scrapper if he wanted to keep playing NBA ball. He really reminds me of Darrell Armstrong. No doubt that both guys on that Heart & Hustle team helped keep that team a playoff contender to the very end of that memorable 41-41 campaign. Their games, spirit, and attitude really did mirror each other.

Unfortunately, we only got the one season with Atkins as GM John Gabriel was looking to sign 2 superstar free agents in the summer of 2000. Chucky ends up going from the league minimum to over $3 million per season with the Detroit Pistons and having a decade long career in the league.

8. Sam Vincent

1989-1992; 151 games played; 80 starts; 23.0 mpg, 10.0 ppg, 4.5 apg, 43.9% FG percentage

I was too young to see Vincent play, so this is more of a statistical slot. We weren't winning games those first 3 seasons, except when Michael Jordan was putting 52 points on usHere's a clip to put you in the time machine. Can't help but enjoy a clutch Otis Smith. Injuries had plagued Sam his entire career, and it's no surprise that they continued to get worse at the end of his NBA lifespan. Still, when fans did see him on court, Vincent provided some excitement during those growing pains.

7. Brian Shaw

1994-1997; 230 games played; 41 starts; 23.4 mpg, 6.7 ppg, 4.6 apg, 37.6% FG percentage

With Scott Skiles gone in the summer of '94, the Magic needed a veteran backup who could be relied on to give Penny a rest. In a rare move at the time, Orlando looked towards Miami and Brian Shaw. B-Shaw wasn't a good shooter, by any means, but the man could throw an alley oop like few others could at that time. For those 3 seasons, Shaw was a key contributor during the golden age of the franchise.

I'm sure old school Magic fans miss saying 'Shaw-Shaq Redemption'. Brian also displayed a high basketball IQ that would lead him into coaching after he won 3 rings with the L.A. Lakers. Brian for the most part also did his thing come playoff time. Oh yeah, did I mention already he could throw a great alley oop?

6. Steve 'The Franchise' Francis

2004-2006; 124 games played; 123 starts; 38.0 mpg, 18.8 ppg, 6.4 apg, 1.3 spg, 42.8% FG percentage

Oh boy, hide the women, children, and noses. Things were looking fantastic when we acquire Stevie Franchise from the Rockets in that Tracy McGrady deal. Who knew before stepping onto the court for the '04-'05 season that we would be an immediately better squad after having the worst record in the league? We start that season by winning our first 2 games at the wire, the first being a buzzer beater from Steve himself to win the Bucks game.

In those first few months we appeared to be making the playoffs with Stevie, Hedo Turkoglu, a relatively healthy Grant HillCuttino MobleyKelvin Cato, and rookies Dwight Howard and Jameer. If only someone better than Johnny Davis was at the helm. Then Mobley gets hurt, Cato also suffers a career-shortening shoulder injury and so hockey guy GM John Weisbrod made what would be the worst decision of his life after having great success during his tenure.

Trading Mobley (Francis' best buddy) for Doug 'bone spurs' Christie. Francis' attitude drastically changes and he becomes a mad man nutcase. The wheels fall off the bus and Davis gets fired, followed by Chris Jent. The next season Brian Hill comes in and Francis just could not be contained and became a detriment to the team (No matter what statistics he may have been putting up). So we handed the keys to Jameer and shipped Steve off to the Knicks where he didn't fair much better when it came to winning.

Such a waste of talent after such a promising 5 seasons in Houston. Francis in Orlando could put up shooting guard points, yet still dish out 6-7 assist a night. Here's a superb highlight mix to remember him by, filled with amazing assists and dunks. The man had no problem putting his body on the line.

5. Rafer 'Skip 2 My Lou' Alston

2009; 29 games played; 28 starts; 29.5 mpg, 12.0 ppg, 5.1 apg, 1.8 spg, 41.3% FG percentage

Now we get to a guy who didn't even play a half season of basketball in Magic pinstripes. This is where not having postseason statistics included can hamper an argument. The dreams we had of making a good run in the '08-'09 postseason were dashed when All-Star Jameer Nelson was sidelined for what appeared like the rest of the season in February. Or so we thought.

Desperate in seeing that there was no way Anthony 'Old Man River' Johnson could run the show, GM Otis Smith made quite a 3-way trade to bring in Skip. In a #36 jersey that was about 8 sizes too big for him, the streetball legend came off the bench to make his debut on February 20th. He put up 3 points and 8 assists and the Magic beat the Bobcats in Charlotte. It was the last game he would come off the bench. Oh was he such an important piece for us. Providing his clever distribution and fabulous defense.

His shooting was erratic, but when he was on he was tough to stop. Look at his playoff logs. He was tough as nails and no one intimidated him. Skip knew hot to have fun. Whether that came about through the fansrefs, or just straight up embarrassing people. When Rafer played well, the Magic won. Plain and simple. It's remarkable really that a guy who supposedly couldn't shoot brought the Cleveland Cavaliers to their knees in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Even when Jameer came back too soon and took his minutes, the one great 20-point game Rafer had against L.A., the Magic won. Their only victory in that 5-game Finals defeat. This might be the biggest 'WHAT IF?' question in the franchise's history. What if Jameer doesn't play, saving our newly found chemistry, and it's Rafer playing Derek Fisher in critical phases of those Finals games? I can't say truthfully that it wouldn't have made a difference because it would have. 11 days after the Finals concluded, GM Otis Smith would take a 'win now' risk that we can now officially say didn't pay off.

Skip, Tony Battie, and Courtney Lee got shipped out to New Jersey to bring in Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson. Part of it was Hedo Turkoglu was going to walk because he'd get too much money thrown at him, the other was the front office and coaching staff didn't want Jameer and Rafer butting heads for the starting spot and decided to avoid the controversy all together. Hindsight is 20/20, but we never should have disrupted that team.

4. Jameer Nelson

2004-Present; 470 games played; 375 starts; 28.3 mpg, 12.8 ppg, 4.9 apg, 1.0 spg, 46.2% FG percentage

Call him 'Crib Midget', 'Mighty Mite', or whatever, Jameer has stuck around this team longer than anyone could have ever guessed when he first showed up in the league. It's 7 seasons and counting. We traded for him on Draft day 2004 specifically for him to be a 6th man type scorer off the bench. After all, he was the best college player despite his small height.

The reason Nelson's not higher on this list is because he still is inconsistent when it comes to making up his mind on either being more a shooter or a passer, a jump shooter or a paint driver. That doesn't mean that Jameer isn't clutchclutchclutch. You can't learn that. Jameer is never afraid of the big stage.

It seemed like he figured it out in 2008-2009 where he became an All-Star, but then got injured in February just after he was voted in. His return in the NBA Finals is our scapegoat in why the Lakers beat us. Nelson hasn't quite recovered from those criticisms even though he still has some great playoff games. Some claim he's still on this team because he's Dwight Howard's best friend. True or not, Jameer is around because he's a great player and he'll have to be dethroned or traded for that to change. Whether he's on the downhill or not, that's up to the front office and coaching staff to decide.

3. Scott Skiles

1989-1994; 384 games played; 285 starts; 30.9 mpg, 12.9 ppg, 7.2 apg, 43.3% FG percentage

It's amazing how Scotty's 30-assist game NBA record is still intact. '90-'91 was also the season Skiles was named Most Improved Player. I get nervous every time I see a player get close to his record, which is very rarely. Skiles was possibly the most valuable Expansion Draft Magic man. Skiles also had to go through the growing pains of a terrible team.

He spent 5 seasons in Magic pinstripes, and Scotty made sure every fan that paid for a ticket to see the team saw how gritty and tough he truly was. That view of him has stuck with Skiles throughout his life. Skiles did a superb job grooming Penny along with getting Shaq started in becoming a superstar. I just wish there were more highlights available to us all of Scott's work.

2. Darrell 'Flash' Armstrong

1994-2003; 502 games played; 291 starts; 23.0 mpg, 9.9 ppg, 4.2 apg, 1.4 spg, 42.0% FG percentage

The way I've weighted the numbers, this hurts Darrell because of his short first few seasons. Then again, Armstrong was more than numbers. That's why he's is so high on this list. The NBA's original 'Flash' (so back off, Wade), Darrell had the ability to make every single man, woman, and child in Orlando get excited on a nightly basis.

It wasn't because of spectacular offense necessarily. The man could make you go nuts in appreciation whenever he made superb defensive stops, or even just dove on the floor for a loose ball. Of course, it helps when you have ridiculous hops. Flash never quit on a play. Darrell is the epitome of Heart & Hustle. In fact, if you look up the terms 'sacrifice', 'heart', and 'hustle' in the dictionary, I'm pretty sure you'll see Armstrong's face listed.

Clearly the rest of the NBA noticed as well, because in the 1998-1999 Lockout season Flash was named both Most Improved Player and 6th Man of the Year. Armstrong's path to success is something special. Bouncing around the minor basketball leagues, Europe, and grocery stores as a bag boy before he finally made it to the O-Rena. I'm sure if there was a statistic for floor burns and most coffee consumed before a game, Flash would far and away own both all-time records. Even when he left after a long tenure in Orlando, Darrell still proclaims his love for this town, team and its fans.

He never won a championship as a player, but I'm glad he just now accomplished it even as an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks.

1. Anfernee 'Penny' Hardaway

1993-1999; 369 games played; 365 starts; 36.8 mpg, 18.6 ppg, 5.9 apg, 1.9 spg, 45.6% FG percentage

At his best, Penny was playing point guard. He only slid over to shooting guard when his mobility lessened due to his injuries. Plus, it helped that Darrell Armstrong could push the tempo and force feed him the ball. Since being traded by Golden State along with 3 future first round picks on Draft day of 1993 to Orlando for Chris Webber, the pressure was on Hardaway to be Shaq's sidekick.

To this day, I think Anfernee was Shaq's most talented partner that provided the best chemistry. Even when Shaq left town, Penny flourished as an All-Star and did his best to keep the squad competitive. His culmination may have came in a series that we lost, but Game 3 and Game 4 of the 1st round of the 1997 playoffs are memorable to watch. Penny was so spectacular that Nike began the greatest puppet campaign ever for the man (Chris Rock to this day is still thankful). Lil' Penny was even given an NBA on NBC intro. Penny had shoes that were beyond respectable in the business, and he was rightfully dubbed the man to succeed Michael Jordan.

If only his legs held up. When healthy, Anfernee showed he was one of the best players in the world. It wasn't all offense either, the man could defend his position with the best of them. He reminded folks of what Magic Johnson was doing in L.A. a decade earlier. There wasn't anything Penny couldn't do with the ball. Penny took great pride in theMagic-Heat rivalry as well when few others have. Hardaway is a 'should have' player. Penny should have been an All-Star more than 4 times. He should have be an NBA champion and he should have been a Hall of Famer. At least he has that 1996 Olympic gold medal. I don't hide that Penny is my favorite NBA player of all-time.

The way it all ended with this franchise is a shame, but there's no question that Anfernee gave his all on the court. Penny still cheers on the franchise that banished him and that's a testament to the man's heart. Love him or hate him, in 6 seasons Penny proved that he is by far the best point guard in this franchise's history.

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