Since the Orlando Magic joined the NBA in 1989, they’ve had several incredible players, but these eight stand out as their franchise’s best.
The Orlando Magic have only been in the NBA for 32 seasons. However, that is not to dismay the long list of all-time greats they’ve rostered. For the most part, the best Magic players to dawn the stars and stripes were found in the NBA draft. Specifically, they have had the luxury of winning the lottery three times. The ping-pong Gods were in their favor, to say the least. Additionally, the Magic have also done a phenomenal job in finding forgotten players and revitalizing their careers.
Before we jump into the list, here are some honorable mentions…
Just Missing the Cut
Of those not in the Top 8, two big names come to mind. Their absence is not due to their play itself, but rather their longevity. Steve Francis and Vince Carter both shined in Orlando. However, neither surpassed the three-year minimum to be included. In 124 games with Orlando, Francis averaged 19.4 ppg, 6.5 apg, 5.4 rpg, and 1.3 spg. Similarly, in Carter’s 97 games with the Magic, he averaged 16.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, and 3.1 apg.
Furthermore, a couple of Magic legends are missing as well. As much as I desperately wanted to include Scott Skiles and Dennis Scott on this list, it was simply not rational to do so. Skiles was the Magic’s 6th overall pick in the 1989 expansion draft and was one of the few to hang around. Skiles is Orlando’s 2nd all-time leading assister with 30 of them coming in a single night, setting an NBA record. Dennis Scott was another original Magic player after being selected 4th overall in 1990. He ultimately became the franchise’s 10th leading scorer in large part to having the most threes in team history. Moreover, both were vital factors for Orlando’s 1995 NBA Finals appearance.
Several other players could be argued, but the Top-8 below stand out as the best in the history of the Orlando Magic…
8. Hedo Türkoğlu / Darell Armstrong
Actually, make it the top 9 ever. Hedo Türkoğlu and Darell Armstrong had similar careers and roles with the Magic. Both were key members of Eastern Conference Champion teams, but neither got the recognition. The two sit at 5th and 6th in games played, with Armstrong having just 5 more, despite Hedo playing 2,001 more minutes. Lastly, each of them received the Most Improved Player of the Year during their tenures.
Back in the summer of 2004, the Orlando Magic took a risk on an unproven Turkish player. Hedo Türkoğlu was entering free agency after completing four years in the association. In that time, Hedo was a spotty shooter who had yet to average more than 10.1 points a night. Regardless, the Magic saw potential in the stretch four and took a risk by signing him to a 6-year, $39 million deal. A risk that paid off with Hedo playing career years in Orlando due his ahead of the times style of play.
In his 8 seasons with the Magic, Hedo averaged 14.5 ppg, 3.9 apg, 4.5 rpg. His tenure landed him 7th all-time in points and rebounds, as well as the 6th most assists and the 10th most steals. Türkoğlu will forever be a fan favorite in Orlando and fans will rejoice for his return this season.
Darell Armstrong, like Hedo, was a diamond in the rough. After 4 years at Fayetteville State University, Armstrong went undrafted and took his talents overseas. Only two years later, the Orlando Magic signed the crafty two-way guard. Armstrong went on to play 9 seasons with them averaging 11.7 ppg, 5.1 apg, 3.3 rpg, and 1.7 spg.
While these numbers do not jump off the page, his defensive-distributor mindset off the bench was lethal. So much so, he was awarded the 1999 6th Man of the Year trophy. Furthermore, Armstrong is Orlando’s 2nd leading stealer and 3rd in all-time assists.
7. Nikola Vučević
While Vucevic has few team accolades to back this up, he cannot be left off this list. He truly was the face of that franchise for 8.5 years. His departure last season was heart-breaking, putting an end to an entire era of Magic history. If the team around him had been more accomplished, Vučević could easily be higher up on this list. In his 8 full seasons, the Magic only ever had one winning season and made the playoffs just twice.
Nonetheless, Vučević was developing into a franchise player. He ranks fourth in games and minutes played while averaging 17.6 ppg and 10.8 rpg. Respectively, those averages are the 6th and 3rd highest in their club’s history. Additionally, Vučević is one of three Magic players to ever rank top-9 across all five major categories. The Swiss big fella is 3rd in scoring, 8th in assists, 2nd in rebounds, 6th in steals, and 3rd in blocks.
Vučević’s typical big-men skills when accompanied by a solid jump shot make for an ideal modern center. In his second-career All-Star appearance, Vučević showed off his versatility by being the runner-up to the All-Star Skills Competition. Such flexibility in a big frame has allowed Vučević to etch his name into Magic history for a long time coming.
6. Jameer Nelson
Jameer may be the most underrated player to play for this franchise as Dwight Howard had a large shadow over Nelson’s accomplishments. However, the two went hand-in-hand. Their pick-and-roll chemistry was among the hardest duos to guard in the mid-to-late 2000s. This is especially impressive when considering the dynamic duos of that time. Although his running mate ultimately departed, Nelson stayed put and ended with the 2nd most games in franchise history.
Nelson was the 20th overall selection in 2004 but was immediately dealt from Denver to Orlando. A move the Nuggets would eventually regret due to Jameer making the 2nd All-Rookie Team. His excellence would not end there either. He went on to surpass Scott Skiles as the Magic’s all-time leader in assists. Nelson also ranks 5th in scoring and steals, as well as 10th in rebounds, despite barely being six-foot.
Although Jameer only appeared in one All-Star game, his impact on the late-2000s Magic squads was undeniable. Overall, Nelson averaged 12.6 ppg, 5.4 apg, 2.6 rpg, and sunk the fourth-most threes in Magic history. Just 26 behind our next player…
5. Nick Anderson
Nick Anderson was the Orlando Magic’s first love. Following the expansion draft, the Magic were in dire need of a young star to build around. Anderson was the first franchise cornerstone after being selected 11th overall in their first rookie draft. And although this role was soon taken from him by two top picks, he lasted the longest. Anderson leads the franchise with a whopping 692 games played in Orlando. Furthermore, by doing so, Anderson holds a top-6 position in all five major career statistical categories.
Anderson is the Magic’s 2nd all-time scorer, 5th in assists, 4th in rebounds, 6th in blocks, and holds a comfortable lead for most steals. These are the biggest reasons for him making the top-5. While Anderson had a decent career, his role, and reliance upon was soon diminished. Even so, Anderson was able to average 15.4 ppg, 2.8 apg, 5.3 rpg, and 1.5 spg.
The biggest stain on his Magic career, and a possible reason to lower him on this list, was missing four straight free throws in the NBA Finals. The Magic needed just one to push their lead to four. Instead, Anderson, a typically reliable free-throw shooter, missed them all. Anderson struggled to get over this mistake as, for the remainder of his career, he feared the charity stripe and never was too efficient again. Regardless, Anderson is clearly one of the Magic’s best players ever.
4. Anfernee ‘Penny’ Hardaway
Putting Penny outside the top-3 is a painful reality. Through the first four years of his career, Penny was quickly on pace to set several Magic records. His journey from a small college into stardom was as fast as we’ve seen in basketball history. Moreover, his career was set to explode following The Big Aristotle’s departure, but injuries stripped him from ever reaching his full potential. Penny is unfortunately one of basketball’s biggest “what if” players.
The 6’9″ hyper-athletic point guard was frequently compared to Magic Johnson. Such a steep comparison is difficult to live up to, but Penny did just that. In his Magic career, he averaged 19 ppg, 6.3 apg, 4.7 rpg, and 1.9 spg. The beginning of his career was the best Penny we ever got. As a rookie, he made the All-Rookie 2nd Team but made All-NBA 1st team the next two years. Even with him being sidelined so frequently, the four-time All-Star finished his Magic career with the 9th most points, 4th most assists, and the third most steals.
Penny was the first lanky-combo guard to come to Orlando, but the 2000s reboot of him was slightly more impressive.
3. Tracy McGrady
Before heading to the Orlando Magic, McGrady was just a skinny teenager without any true shooting ability. To acquire him, Orlando surrendered yet another 2005 1st round pick, but it was certainly worth it. By only giving up 2 first-rounders of the same year, the Magic acquired two of their top-6 best players ever. However, McGrady would only stick around for four seasons, granted each and everyone was pure excellence. His immediate improvement with Orlando was so drastic that he was named the Most Improved Player of the Year.
This was just the tip of the iceberg though. McGrady was voted into four consecutive All-Star games and made the All-NBA 2nd Team and 1st Team two times each. Additionally, his scoring ability was so unparalleled in the association that he won back-to-back scoring titles. With 39 minutes a night (most in team history), McGrady averaged 28.1 ppg (also most in team history), 5.2 apg, 7 rpg, and 1.5 spg.
By the end of his tenure, McGrady’s name was already high up in the record books. He is the last member on this list to be top-9 across all five major statistics. Specifically, McGrady is in 4th for scoring, 9th in assists and rebounds, as well as 7th in steals and blocks. His dominance in such a little time is really unheard of… besides for our runner-up.
2. Shaquille O’Neal
This may come as a surprise to some. Although Shaq is widely recognized as a top-10 player of all time, as well as a top-5 center ever, he falls just short of being Orlando’s best player, let alone best center. This is not to overlook his impact, but rather emphasize how much he did so quickly. Coming out of LSU, Shaq was the clear-cut top prospect. So, when the Magic ping-pong ball beat out the field, their pick was obvious.
The Big Diesel entered the NBA with a rare combination of strength, speed, and skill. Truthfully, his Rookie of the Year campaign was a walk in the park for him. Shaq actually ended the year in 7th for MVP! Over the next three seasons, Shaq was named to the All-NBA 3rd Team twice and the 2nd Team once. While these are slightly worse than T-Mac’s, Shaq did something nobody else can say they did. He single-handedly put the Orlando Magic on the basketball map.
Shaq took a bad expansion team and made them 20 games better. Surprisingly, Shaq is actually somewhat low on the Magic’s all-time ranks. So much so, I had more difficulty deciding between Shaq or T-Mac than I did with Shaq and Dwight. If Shaq had remained in Orlando for longer, things would be very different. In O’Neal’s 295 games, he averaged 27.2ppg, 2.4 apg, 12.5 rpg, and a franchise-leading 2.8 bpg. That being said, he only scored the 6th most points, grabbed the 3rd most rebounds, and has the 2nd most blocks in Magic history. While Shaq bloomed in Orlando, his career was made out west. Ironically, the exact opposite can be said for our #1 Greatest Orlando Magic Player Ever.
1. Dwight Howard
A successor of O’Neal in more ways than one, Dwight also developed in Orlando and bolted for LA. However, instead of fortifying his all-time great status like Shaq, Dwight disappeared into mediocrity. It was a shocking and tremendous falloff too because Dwight Howard was unequivocally the best player in Orlando Magic history.
Howard joined Shaq as the second #1 overall pick on this list. Realistically, that ping-pong ball should be on this list. However, Dwight was joining the association straight out of high school and had a lot to prove. At the age of 19, Dwight didn’t quite get Rookie of the Year, but still ended up 1st Team All-Rookie. In time, Dwight grew into one of the biggest defensive threats the NBA has ever had.
Writing all of Dwight’s accomplishments with Orlando is literally too long to do, so here’s a brief list of them…
- 6x All-Star
- 6x Rebounding Champ
- 2x Blocking Champ
- 3x (Consecutive) Defensive Player of the Year
- 4x All-Defensive 1st Team (1x 2nd Team)
- 5x All-NBA 1st Team (1x 3rd Team)
- Magic’s All-Time Leader in Minutes, RPG, Points, Rebounds, and Blocks
- 2008-2009 Eastern Conference Champions
Questioning whether or not Dwight is a Hall-of-Famer is flat-out ridiculous. This guy was hands down the most dominant big in basketball for 6+ years. In his 8 seasons with Orlando, Dwight averaged 18.4 ppg, 1.5 apg, 13 rpg, 1 spg, and 2.2 bpg.
To make things even more impressive, Dwight magically took a team of misfits to the NBA Finals. Not to downplay Jameer Nelson, Hedo Türkoğlu, or anyone else from that 2009 Magic team, but they are simply not as good as Shaq’s teammates in 1995. But, the real cherry on top is who they beat to get to the Finals. Shaq went through a recently-unretired Michael Jordan-led Bulls, whereas Dwight beat prime LeBron James. To say the Magic were not supposed to be in the Finals is a total understatement.
Nonetheless, both those Magic teams fell short of being World Champs, but they do have 2 Eastern Conference Championships and it is thanks to the Orlando Magic’s Supermen.
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