Andrew Melnick from the Magic blog, Howard the Dunk is back with NAS again to discuss his team headed into the season's final six weeks (and likely more for Orlando). I also answered some questions for him at his site, so be nice and check it out for all of our sakes.
NAS: Vince Carter has had an up and down season and is averaging a career low in ppg. Is there any buyer’s remorse in Orlando?
After a disastrous month of January, there was. Carter was not expected to post the same kind of numbers he has throughout his career, but he doesn‘t need to. In the offseason, he joined a team featuring three All-Stars (Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson), so his attempts, minutes and subsequently his points per game were going to drop. Carter’s struggles were often discussed heading into the new year but in January, Magic fans began to turn against him. Carter averaged just 8.7 points per game on 22.4% shooting in the month and even watched a few close fourth quarters from the bench as J.J. Redick closed out games. In the month of February, things began to change. Carter finally found his place on the team. After proclaiming that he would turn it around in February, he has done a much better job of driving the ball into the paint and getting his teammates involved. Plus, his shot is finally falling. Carter averaged 18.6 points per game on 51.5% shooting, highlighted by Carter‘s 48-point performance on February 8th against New Orleans. He is not only taking less shots but he’s taking much better shots.
Carter is still going to be called upon to make plays down the stretch in games and as of late, he’s done a good job of doing that. If Carter keeps getting into the paint and continues to make good decisions with the ball, that remorse should disappear.
NAS: Judging from his per 40 minute numbers, it looks like Ryan Anderson is a player, but he’s also been racking up some DNP-CDs it appears. Is it just a result of the numbers game in Orlando, or are the other reasons he’s not getting PT?
It’s a mix of both. Anderson has struggled at times defensively and that has prompted Stan Van Gundy to turn to Brandon Bass in certain situations to provide a spark on that end, which is the cause for Anderson‘s recent string of DNPs. Anderson was a starter early in the season because of the suspension of Rashard Lewis, but now Lewis is playing heavy minutes. In fact, Van Gundy recently said that Lewis was going to play even more. Without consistent playing time, Anderson’s shot hasn’t been falling like it was earlier this season.
Remember also that Anderson is also a very young player - he’s 21, is in his second year of the league and is trying to find a role on a team who has their sites set on a championship.
Anderson is a better player than I originally thought. His rebounding (Anderson has a rebounding rate of 12.3%) and ability to get to the basket (34% of his shots have been close, dunks or tips) are better than most thought.
Anderson’s youth, Bass’ athleticism and Rashard Lewis’ extended minutes are the reasons that Anderson’s minutes have been limited.
NAS: Besides Cleveland, do you see any other legitimate threats to the Magic in the Eastern Conference as we head into the playoffs? Any first round match-ups that could pose a problem?
It’s too early to completely rule out the Boston Celtics. It does however, seem like the Magic are better equipped to deal with them this season. The Magic have used their depth and at times they have matched Boston’s size (playing Howard alongside Marcin Gortat) to wear Boston down, which has resulted in two come-from-behind Magic victories in their last two games against the Celtics.
Sure, the Celtics are old, Rasheed Wallace has been a terrible signing and KG’s knees look like they can fold at any time, but if Boston enters the playoffs with their starting five of Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett, Paul Piece, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo intact, they are still a dangerous team.
Atlanta is another team that is much improved and you can’t rule them out, but Orlando has dominated the Hawks this season, blowing them out in all three meetings so far. The Hawks have no answer for Dwight Howard and the Magic have good athletes and great depth to match the Hawks in that department.
From talking to the players, it is obvious that the Magic would prefer not to have to deal with Dwyane Wade in the postseason. John Salmons has also been a great addition for the Milwaukee Bucks, who have been playing very well lately. The Magic have played more consistent basketball lately and if they do that in the first round, they shouldn’t have anything to worry about, but if they don’t they will be in for a fight. Remember, the Philadelphia 76ers took the Magic to six games last year (even though it did take two buzzer-beaters).