Friday, March 28, 2014

Tobias Harris is Too Good for Tanking

Tobias Harris in 36.1 minutes per contest averaged 17.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.1 apg, and 1.4 bpg in the 27 games he played late last season after being acquired from Milwaukee. 'T12' reminded me of a Carmelo Anthony-type forward, and that hasn't changed one bit in my mind in '13-'14. Harris was unfortunately snake-bitten by ankle injuries that kept him out of Summer League, and then forced Tobias to miss crucial training camp and regular season time. Tobias didn't get back to being the Tobias we were used to last year until January. He's barely been healthy 3 months this season.

Despite Jacque Vaughn's discreet tanking rotations and benching Tobias Harris for the past 9 games entering Friday's contest against Charlotte, Harris is proving his potential star value hasn't gone anywhere.

Since Glen Davis got waived away on February 21st, - but before Tobias was sent to the bench on March 8th - Harris averaged 19.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.1 spg, and 95.1 FT% (39-of-41) on 50.5 FG% in 7 games at just under 33 minutes per game starting at power forward. Orlando had a 3-4 record in that stretch. Since then, the Magic had lost 8 straight with Tobias coming off the bench until finally knocking off Portland on Tuesday.

Now you tell me how many coaches and teams in this league would turn down that type of production from their starting power forward unless winning wasn't the priority? No more than a handful.

Even with the coaching staff having Harris produce off the bench, Tobias - in that 1-and-8 team stretch coming off the bench - has been solid. In just over 26 minutes per game off the pine, Tobias is averaging 16.2 ppg and 7.0 rpg on 52.2 FG%. You can see it at after every postgame loss, Tobias doesn't accept defeats. Not to say that other Magic players do too, but you can hear it in his voice through what appears to be a calm demeanor. You can see it in those determined eyes. Tobias hates losing. That's what we all want from any athlete starving to be a top asset in any profession. Seeing T12 having to come off the bench is like watching a thoroughbred race horse not being allowed to sprint with all its natural capability.

This is Tobias' 3rd season in the league. Barring an injury here down the stretch, Harris will have played his most games in a season (looking at over 60), surpassing his combined 55 contests with the Bucks and Orlando last season. More impressively, is Tobias just gets better the more games he plays consecutively as his monthly game splits log shows.

In 12 March games, - in which he's only started 3 - Tobias in just 27.1 minutes per night is averaging 17.3 ppg and 6.6 ppg. The key is the shooting percentages. 50.6 FG%, 37.5 3PT%, and 58.4% true shooting are stats of an elite level player. It puts Tobias in the discussions with the Carmelos, the Dirks, and even be in reach of the Durants.

Tobias will I'm sure be in discussions about a possible extension with the team. Harris is on an outstanding rookie contract. He along with Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo will be watching who the Magic select come this summer's draft and in free agency. One thing that needs to be certain is that no matter who gets their contracts extended and which additions show up to training camp in October, Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, and yes, Mr. Tobias Harris need to be starters. They're your early-20s building blocks who all can be massive pieces to a championship contender.

Tobias has the makings of a stud All-Star who can be your go-to scorer down the stretch of games. Harris is showing his value to the front office both as a starter and even as a bench contributor. Tobias is wise beyond his 21 years. Harris' work ethic and effort will never be questioned on this Magic team. He's come a long way since his heftier Tennessee Volunteer days and being buried on the Bucks' bench. There's no ceiling on how high Tobias' star can reach.

I would be doing my blogging brethren wrong had I not mentioned how outstanding his 'Arrive Alive' commercial campaign has been this season. Get this man some more ads. If his player growth continues, Tobias will be looking at national fame soon.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Victor Oladipo: The Best Rookie Even Without the 'ROY' Award

This piece was meant to be a celebration of Victor Oladipo and his rookie supremacy over his draft class. However, I now find myself having to defend Oladipo. Victor is still behind Michael Carter-Williams in the title and award race for Rookie of the Year. Me typing out this piece is a 'white flag' in the 'ROY' race, but not in regards to who the better player is now and will be in the future. MCW is on a Sixers team that's been one of the few in the NBA that have been worse than the Magic. Inflated stats or not, Victor can't overcome the perception that MCW has already locked up the award. 

Percentages (instead of numbers) don't lie, Oladipo has been better. The world needs to be more exposed to Oladipo further from Hoosier Mania or the Rising Stars exhibition or a botched skills competition at All-Star Weekend. It didn't help that the Magic were not on one nationally televised game this season. 

Anyone that's watched and analyzed this 2013 draft class knows that Oladipo has been the best rookie this season. I have zero regrets about who Rob Hennigan chose with his #2 selection and I'm confident Oladipo will remain the best in his class as the years progress and his Magic responsibilities grow larger. I got my wish in Orlando drafting Victor Oladipo. With that said, in my amateur opinion, Victor is best at shooting guard and I can't wait to see him team up with Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, or Tyler Ennis. Oladipo still has done quite well for a man not playing his natural position and that's a testament to his outrageous athleticism and work ethic. 

This rookie point guard experiment is invaluable to Vic's career moving forward. I look at it the way I did with Dwyane Wade's point guard rookie career. And both are/were Tom Crean guys. When you compare them (I've also added rookie Russell Westbrook for fun since he's a scoring guard), you see vast similarities. Especially on a per 36 minutes basis. Now we know 'Henny' and Coach Jacque Vaughn don't like getting specific with positions. They'll look at 'Dipo as a "guard" or a "ball handler", but no more detailed than that. There's no evidence that Oladipo won't be the PG next season, but I'm telling you the team is more than open to putting Vic back at SG. 

So here’s a fun fact: Over the last 15 years only two #2 overall draft picks have scored 10+ points in each of their first 5 regular season games. Those gentlemen are ‘Dipo…and Kevin Durant. Good company to be in except Durant actually won ROY. Michael Carter-Williams is shooting below 40% from the field. If that holds, MCW would be the first player since 1958 to solely win the award. Oladipo at just over 41% isn't much better, but that's what LeBron James and Allen Iverson shot as rookies.

The shot charts show Oladipo is much more comfortable on the perimeter than MCW.



That's a lot of blood for the Sixers rookie. Oladipo's shooting hasn't been brilliant either, but there's a balance to it. Plus, Victor will be much better once he hoists up fewer Gilbert Arenas 'YOLO' jumpers. I'm actually surprised how much better Victor is at the rim than MCW considering Oladipo has on numerous occasions attacked the rim at will against multiple defenders at once.

Look at MCW's season splits. He's been declining since the All-Star Break. Look at Oladipo's splits and you notice that Vic's improved since All-Star Weekend. MCW has played only slightly better in wins than losses. Victor shoots over 46 FG% and 37.2 3PT% in 20 Magic wins so far while averaging 15.0 ppg, 5.1 apg, and 5.1 rpg. That's outstanding. 

Victor has only had FOUR GAMES all season where he's played 40 minutes or more. Yes, 2 of the 4 came against Philadelphia. 3 of the 4 (including one against Philly) were in overtime outings. Meanwhile, Michael Carter-Williams has also played over forty minutes 4 times this season. On the one hand, it's great that the coaching staff hasn't burned Oladipo out. On the other, he's 21 and needs as many minutes as possible experimenting with lineups and moves and styles. So let's take a peak at what those guys have averaged in their four 40+ minute games:

Oladipo: 27.3 ppg, 9.3 apg, 6.5 rpg, 53.9 FG%, 23.5 3PT%, 85.2 FT%, 62.0% True Shooting
MCW: 18.8 ppg, 9.0 apg, 10.3 rpg, 44.4 FG%, 31.3 3PT%, 46.2 FT%, 48.3% True Shooting

Whoa. More 40+ games for Victor please. 

Head-to-head, Oladipo would've prevailed in a landslide had he not laid an egg on that March 2nd matchup. Remember, MCW averaged 4.5 more field goal attempts in those duels. Still, the Magic won the season series 3-1 and I wish that held more weight. Also, Oladipo having WAY more highlights than MCW should give him a clear edge in the entertainment quotient as well, right? With eurosteps, takeover games, blocks, speedy lay-ups, flashy flushes, and stealth-like steals, I dare you to reject those for what MCW offers. Oladipo's confident swagger - never to be confused for cockiness - combined with his relentless effort makes for a player impossible not to adore. 

Victor may not win Rookie of the Year, but it doesn't matter. Dwight lost 'ROY' to Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon in '05 when we all knew Howard was the better player. Tyreke Evans beat out Steph Curry in 2010. So Magic fans know what they're witnessing. Oladipo-mania is running wild in Central Florida, and it's not about to slow up following this season. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Touchy Topic of Grant Hill's Magic Exit

7 years, $93 million. 200 regular season games. 4 playoff games. That's Grant Hill's tenure in Orlando from 2000 to 2007. One thing I've learned in my time as a media member is that there are still secrets in basketball. Some that never get uncovered. We don't have Otis Smith's detailed non-GM viewpoint on the Grant Hill situation. Who knows when or if we ever get it. We know that G-Hill said during his final season in Orlando that he owed the fans and team a healthy version of himself. What we also know is that a 35-year-old Grant Hill signed with the Phoenix Suns - $1.8 million plus a player option of $2 million the following season - just over a week after the July free agency period opened in 2007. It supposedly shocked the Magic. This was following Hill's 2nd-best season ever as a member of the Magic - playing 65 games and averaging 14.4 ppg - as it honestly appeared that Grant might finally find a good streak of health.

Grant Hill is going to be honored by the Magic organization on Tuesday against the Portland Trail Blazers for 'Legends Night'. Even now Hill is a unique circumstance. Every other former Magic man that had been honored by the Orlando franchise was brought back on a Friday. Grant's a good man. He's done plenty of great things for this community. I don't advise fans to boo Hill, but it's understandable not to applaud.

Here's a Magic fan's perspective on Hill's exit back in July '07:

I didn't believe he would take $93 million of the Magic's money and then run off somewhere else now that he is healthy. 
Wow, I could not have been more wrong about a person. Grant Hill turned out to be the same mercenary, selfish athlete that has taken over professional sports over the years. He truly had us fooled as to his character. In 2000, the Magic took a chance on a superstar on crutches and gave away Ben Wallace, arguably the best defensive center over the last seven years. How much different might it have been had we kept Ben Wallace? They took a chance on [Hill], paid him an exorbitant amount of money and got nothing for it. 
The Magic had a $93 million cheerleader for the last seven years. He was a wolf in sheep's clothing. And when it came time to pay back the loyalty and favor given to him by the Magic, he turned tail and ran off to another team with a parting comment that it was "time to move on." 
Grant, you barely moved at all for seven years, and now it's time to move on? At one time, you might have been held up as a role model. Now, you are a selfish, self-centered mercenary who belongs in the hall of shame. Shame on you, Grant Hill.

Whether it was Grant seeking a better training staff and/or an improved shot at a championship along side Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire, or it was Otis and the Magic telling Grant to hit the road, we don't truly know the truth about why Orlando didn't retain Grant for a cheap two or three million. Otis was busy putting a championship team together for Stan Van Gundy with the help of Rich DeVos' checkbook. Hill may or may not have been in those plans.

Another aspect one needs to remember is that Brian Hill got fired after the Magic were eliminated in the '07 playoffs (the only Magic postseason G-Hill participated in). Did G-Hill like Stan Van Gundy? Did SVG like Hill? Was Hill that hellbent on not playing shooting guard? Back in May of 2007, Grant seemed to have two options in his mind: 1. Play for the Magic in '07-'08 or 2. Retire. That's it. So you can again see why Magic fans were angry to see Hill bolt to another franchise less than two months later.

That 2007 offseason was maybe one of the busiest in the franchise's history. Smith had to negotiate contract extensions for the '04 boys: Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson. Smith had to figure out what to do with Darko Milicic, who was playing his best NBA basketball in Orlando. Could Otis keep Darko at a reasonable price while at the same time going after Rashard Lewis? The answer was obviously no. Could Otis depend on Hedo Turkoglu to hit his prime and thus make G-Hill's exit less painful? The answer was a resounding 'yes'. Otis and the coaching staff were expecting improvements out of guys like JJ Redick, Trevor Ariza, Keyon Dooling, Keith Bogans, and Marcin Gortat to add bench depth and replace Hill's production.

It's pretty evident that getting rid of G-Hill meant that Otis was handing the leadership reins at the time to a 21-year-old Dwight and also Jameer. The 2009 trip to the Finals is as a result of the moves made in '07 (with the help of '08 draft pick Courtney Lee and a brilliant Rafer Alston '09 trade deadline acquisition). Whether you believe Otis forcefully pushed Hill out or you think Grant walked determines how you react to Grant Hill's return this coming Tuesday.

Grant Hill retired without a championship ring. In that regard, most Magic fans got their wish and are ready to bury the hatchet. One of the best college players of all-time, a successor to Michael Jordan's throne, was robbed of his prime by injury and a near-death staph infection. The Magic franchise and fans unfortunately had to standby and wait, watch, and hope that pre-millennium G-Hill would arise from the depths of all those injuries and missed games. It never happened in Orlando. If G-Hill did indeed bail on Orlando, then basketball karma occurred with the Stan Van Gundy Magic competing for a title while Hill wasted healthy years on a declining Suns squad.

I'm ready to move on. I won't celebrate Hill, but I won't boo him. Again, I respect everything he and his wife did for this Orlando community. I'll respect the one All-Star season we got out of Grant. I'll respect Hill for continuously trying his ass off to return to the Magic healthy and better than ever. But the fact is that his contract and all of the games Grant missed crippled the Magic franchise. If Hill was healthy in '03-'04, that nightmarish season never occurs. McGrady never would've wasted his best years on a franchise that was barely a playoff contender because of all the cap space Grant took up. The '00-'07 Hill time period should be viewed as a black hole of unfortunate circumstances. Nothing more, nothing less. Let Hill enjoy retirement. Let Hill have a rich NBA commentating/announcing/analyst career. Let Grant reflect on some of those great memories he had in Orlando. Let Hill describe the Magic in a positive light moving forward.

I'll end this post with the always grimace-worthy G-Hill timeline.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Best Postgame Home Quotes of February

The Magic are definitely playing better at home of late. The 4-1 February record at Amway Center indicates that.

2/5/14 - Detroit Pistons

Pistons Coach Maurice Cheeks on Magic: "And what was discouraging is that they continued to lay the ball in, particularly in the 1st half they got layup after layup. And that was the difference in the way they got a cushion to win the game."

Kyle Singler on Magic's bench: "Harkless and O'Quinn did impact the game. They played well and basically we had no answer tonight."

Victor Oladipo on Kyle O'Quinn: "It was crazy. He played great today, absolutely amazing today. When he's blocking shots and he's still running the floor, beating everybody down the floor, it's crazy energy and we definitely feed off of that."

2/7/14 - Oklahoma City Thunder

Kevin Durant on Tobias Harris' game-winning dunk: "I didn't think he had enough time to be honest. They raced it up there and I thought there were only a few seconds to go. It was a good play."

Durant on not getting back to defend final play: "Yeah I should have. No excuse. That was one of those plays where you start watching because you think the clock is going to run out. You don't ever know what can happen. I should have gotten back. I should have made the shot to be honest."

Scott Brooks on Magic's final play: "When the game's on the line, you've got to do whatever it takes to get that play stopped. But, then give them credit. They played to literally the last tenth of a second. They deserved to win. Give them the credit."

Scott Brooks on Victor Oladipo: "He's a good player. He's an aggressive player. He's offensive minded. He can score. He can put it in the basket at many different spots on the floor. He's only going to get better. He seems like a great kid that works hard, and they've got a good group of guys that coach him."

Jacque Vaughn on Tobias Harris' last play: "It's the competitive spirit, that's it. He was going to out-run whoever was next tot him and he was going to get to the rim and try to make a play for his team."

Coach Vaughn on final play thought process: "It will be interesting on film because as the 50-50 is going on with either Vic or the Thunder guy is going to get it, you know we have a 20-second timeout left so I'm trying to get close to an official thinking about calling a timeout. I see Vic tap it ahead and the rest is a Magic win."

Arron Afflalo on hustle to close out the win: "Those are winning plays. Obviously the moment calls for it. It's not hard to do with the game on the line, but Glen's charge, Mo sprinting down there and creating that lane, Vic hustling to that rebound, and Tobias sticking with it; those are all winning plays and that's the reason we won with a tenth left."

Tobias Harris on buzzer beating dunk: "I had seen Victor get the steal and I just wanted to be down there whether or not he shot a lay-up or if he made it, missed it to congratulate him, to hit a tip in, or anything. He kicked it to Mo and I just kept running, Mo had seen me and my whole momentum was to just get it in the rim. I know there wasn't a lot of time but I got it in there quick enough."

2/9/14 - Indiana Pacers

Jacque Vaughn on end of Magic win: "Well, the last 14 seconds were extremely long. I used 3 different draw-ups to get the ball in-bounds, give them credit for being very aggressive...Nik, just internal clock, it sped up on him a little bit. What I did love, though, was the fact that when we turned the ball over there was all our guys running back and trying to do something on the defensive end. Paul George's shot we have 3 guys trying to contest and another guy trying to tap it out underneath the boards so I was impressed by that after the turnover."

Victor Oladipo on overcoming another 17-point deficit: "Just credit coach Vaughn. I know that we played but he has a competitive edge to him too. He kind of feeds off of us and today going into the 4th quarter he just simply told us 'whoever plays harder is going to win the game. If you really want to win you will play harder than them.' That 2nd unit, we just went out there and we just played hard and played together. Most of all we just played defense. We let our defense juice our offense and when we play defense the offense will take care of itself."

Victor Oladipo on beating the 2 best teams in the league back-to-back: "We play hard. It might sound simple and it might sound kind of plain, but that's really what it is, we just played harder today. We just played hard throughout the whole game, especially in the 4th quarter. Just just let our defense juice our offense and we fed off the crowd. The past 2 games the crowd has been unbelievable. If they continue to keep coming out like that for every game who knows what we can do in this building."

Jameer Nelson on getting better: "I always say that this is a process. You're not going to just become a good or great team overnight. We have to work at it in practice, games and in film sessions. We have to continue to learn to get better."

2/12/14 - Memphis Grizzlies

Grizzlies coach David Joerger on Memphis' win: "I don't care where we play or who we play, this Orlando team has beaten some good teams. Our guys respected them and took this game very seriously after 4 games in five nights."

Coach Joerger on Arron Afflalo: "Afflalo, we did a nice job in the first half, got going a little bit in the 2nd half. That guy's an All-Star. He's had a great year. He's a tremendous player. I love him."

Memphis guard Nick Calathes: "It is a blessing to be out there. I have always been a Magic fan since I was young and watching the games. For me to play on the court in front of my family and friends, it was great. The big thing is that we got the win and I was laughing out there and having a good time."

Tobias Harris; "it was our game, I thought, right there. We let that one slip away. So it's a tough one but we've been playing good basketball, got to bring it every night. Just have to continue to get better."

2/21/14 - New York Knicks

Jacque Vaughn on Victor Oladipo taking control of the 2nd overtime: "He did and he got what he wanted on both ends of the floor whether it was defensively getting into a guy, using his strength to do that or on the offensive end, he didn't call a lot of timeouts. There were a lot of different places where we let him go and it was his decision making."

Coach Vaughn on finally winning an overtime game: "It feels good. We were down 14 at one point, we could've hung our heads then. In the overtime we could've hung our heads when we missed a couple of lay-ups at the rim. We could've hung our heads again but still we kept pushing each other, pulling for each other and good things happened."

Victor Oladipo: "It's no question; I've come a long way. Just as a person, not just as a player and I've been in so many situations, I've had a lot of ups and a lot of downs. Every game I can control one thing; that's what I bring in my energy at both ends of the floor and just play hard no matter what."