Orlando Magic Betting Outlook
by Trevor Whenham - 11/28/2007
Though it's still early in the season the NBA has had its share of surprises - the Celtics adapted to their new lineup faster than anyone thought possible, the Bulls are way worse than they should be given their talent, and Cleveland and the Lakers have shown that you can be competitive with just one player as long as that player is of all-world caliber. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the new season, though, is the Orlando Magic. At 13-3 they have the second best record in the league, and I am only barely kidding when I say that they have almost clinched the Southeast Division. The team has been improving gradually over the last couple of seasons as their superstar Dwight Howard has come of age and become old enough to shave. Given the circus that surrounded their coaching situation in the offseason, though, even the most unapologetically loyal fan would have had trouble believing that this team would have by far the best road record in the league after the first month.
When a team starts out as unexpectedly strong as the Magic has it creates a real challenge for handicappers. Is the team really this good, are they due to come crashing back to earth like so many hot teams before them, or will they just keep winning more games than they lose and stay in the upper echelon of the league while dipping slightly from their otherworldly performance to date? Obviously, each possibility would require a much different betting approach, so determining which is most likely will give you an edge on profiting on this team over the long term. Here's a look at what the betting future of this team may hold:
Starters: This really needs to be discussed in two parts. The forwards for this team are the biggest single key to success. Dwight Howard is maturing and playing like a No. 1 overall pick is expected to play. He's well ahead of his previous career best in both points and rebounds, and he's a virtual lock for his second NBA All-Star Game. A big part of his success, aside from added maturity, has to be the solid and under-appreciated play of Hedo Turkoglu, and the outstanding addition of Rashard Lewis. Lewis' numbers are in line with what we expect from him, and Turkoglu is having a career year. The backcourt is not quite as inspiring. Jameer Nelson and Keith Bogans are both nice players, but no coach would say that their dream roster would include players of that caliber. The magic for this team definitely happens once the ball gets up the court instead of during the trip up there.
The bench: This is the massive flaw with this team. Or at least we have to assume that it is because coach Stan Van Gundy goes to great lengths to avoid using his bench. The three players who get the most time off the bench are all guards. All three starting forwards are averaging over 37 minutes per game because there is no one to trust off the bench. The lack of meaningful depth is an obvious problem if injuries affect either a key starter or one of the reserves. The bench improved somewhat with the addition of Brian Cook and Maurice Evans from the Lakers last week, but it still not among the best relief units in the league. It's clearly working for now, but the success could be fragile. On the plus side the key players on the roster are all young, so they should be less fragile than some more mature combinations (ye, I am talking about the Celtics).
Coach: Stan Van Gundy was not the first choice for the Magic, but it is quickly looking like he was the right choice. Though it is a very limited data set, past history shows us that he is very good at helping teams grow up quickly. He took over a Miami team that had won just 25 games the year before. He won 42 games in his first year, and won a playoff series to boot. The Magic, at 40-42 last year, were much better than that Heat team was, but they still have a lot of room to grow. Already we see a team that is more conscientious and consistent and which spends a lot less time getting in its own way. Though the team is obviously not going to sustain its current pace, especially on the road, Van Gundy's presence makes it a good bet that they will finish strong.
The record: The biggest plus that jumps out when you look at the record is how strong they are on the road. Eight wins in nine tries is hard to believe. Early in the season they went on a four-game trip and they swept it. A team that is that strong away from home is more believably a strong squad, and has a better chance of being strong down the road. It's not all rosy when it comes to the record, though. They've only lost three games, but the three opponents that beat them - Phoenix, San Antonio and Detroit - are a concern. All three teams have been among the elite for the last several years, and all three teams beat Orlando handily. They've beaten some good teams like Boston, New Orleans and Cleveland, but it's pretty clear from their losses that they are good, but not yet as good as their record indicates that they are. Their next road trip, which includes visits to Phoenix, the Lakers and Golden State, will be a true test of what they are made of and what we can expect.