Our 5-part Saturday series continues with a look at the position battles heading into the Magic's Oct. 1 training camp.
Today: Point guard.
Ever since the Magic traded fading Steve Francis late in the 2006 season – former GM Otis Smith hoodwinking the New York Knicks – Jameer Nelson has not been challenged as the starter. The club obviously wants that to change at some juncture.
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Riding shotgun for years with Dwight Howard, Nelson enters his 10th season with the Magic as the team's longest-tenured player. He'll turn 32 in February.
If he finally hears footsteps, they are coming from a rookie trainee, Victor Oladipo.
The Magic selected him at No. 2 in the June draft, making Oladipo their highest pick since taking Howard at No. 1 in 2004. (Nelson also was selected that year, at No. 20 by the Denver Nuggets, and acquired by the Magic.)
If there was any doubt that the Magic were influenced by what Oklahoma City has done with Russell Westbrook – transitioning a dynamic athlete to point guard – they made their intentions clear in the summer league. They put Oladipo – a shooting guard at Indiana University – in charge of the offense.
Not surprisingly, the experiment played to mixed reviews.
Oladipo's aggressiveness was undermined by turnovers. The Magic will give him chances in Year 2 of this rebuild to position himself to succeed Nelson while they monitor Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart for the next draft.
Oladipo is everything that Jameer is not at this stage: Young, lightning fast, defensively adept and about five inches taller.
On the flip side, Jameer has everything that Oladipo lacks: Vast experience, teammates' trust and a reputation as a scorer.
Oladipo finished second in the Orlando summer league in scoring at 19.0 points per game in four outings, but shot just 37.5 percent. He filled the stat line, averaging 5.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 3.0 steals.
The intriguing takeaway: Oladipo got to the rim enough to average 10 free throws each game.
But Oladipo struggled making decisions under pressure and turned over the ball 19 times, nearly five miscues per game.
Vertically challenged at 5-11, Nelson has never been a natural fit as a conventional point guard.
He played just 56 games last season because of injuries, but averaged a career-high 7.4 assists while scoring 14.7 points per game with 2.8 turnovers. He slumped to 39 percent shooting. Nelson averaged a surprising career-high 35 minutes per game, a stat not likely to be repeated this season.
E'Twaun Moore will be battling Oladipo for playing time behind Nelson. Moore played in 76 games, making 21 starts. He averaged 7.8 points and 2.7 assists.
Nelson's critics, long frustrated with his turnover tendencies and defensive liabilities, will no doubt be following Oladipo's progress.
It's the perfect time for the Magic to enroll Oladipo in Point Guard 101, with Nelson as tutor.
No question, the Magic need to find an heir to Nelson, but he's still the best point-guard option.
T-Mac's hall-of-fame case
Former Magic star Tracy McGrady's retirement spurred debate on whether he should be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
His stats scream yea; his legacy conjures nays (or at least doubts).
No player who has scored 18,000 points, grabbed 5,000 rebounds and dished 4,000 assists as T-Mac did has been excluded from the hall (and there are 15 of them.)
The negatives against McGrady? Other than fits of diva petulance – hardly an exclusive NBA sin – T-Mac never won a playoff series as a starter.
T-Mac was in the right place at the wrong time in Orlando. The undermanned Magic were a No. 8 seed in 2003 when T-Mac (without the perennially injured Grant Hill) lost in seven games to No. 1 Detroit.
Today, superstars routinely defect teams to join forces. Hill was available for just 47 games in the first three of T-Mac's four seasons. Injuries would derail McGrady later in Houston as well.
Bottom line for me: If a hall of fame has room for Chris Mullin, it has room for T-Mac.
This 'n' That
Free agent Lamar Odom was arrested Friday for DUI just when reports persist that he's battling substance abuse. And we haven't even mentioned his biggest problem – having married into the Kardashian clan. … Mike Budenholzer's start as a rookie head coach in Atlanta got off to a flying stop. He was arrested Wednesday for drunken driving. Usually, you don't begin drinking until the games count. …Our great ambassador, Dennis Rodman, said he was asked by the U.S. State Department if Kim Jong Un is running North Korea. The Worm visited Jong Un in April. "Pretty much they just said, do you think Kim's running the country … the Marshal, do you think he's running the country?" Rodman told the Huffington Post. "You know they want me to sit there and say all these things, you know 'What did you see?' … And I saw one thing: a bunch of liquor, a bunch of girls." …T-Mac, when asked by Comcast Sportsnet Houston about his hall-of-fame chances: "I think my numbers match up with some of the guys that are in the hall of fame. Whether or not I get in or not, it really doesn't matter to me. I'm a guy from Auburndale, Florida (with) a population of 10,000 people, grew up in a pretty bad neighborhood, so to me, I'm hall of fame just by making it through my career. That's hall of fame to me." … Isn't it about time that the NBA establishes its own hall instead of this homogenized version?