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Changing of guards? Magic could shake things up

Between the draft and free agency, the Magic could have a different look in the backcourt next season.

The Orlando Magic began the 2012-13 season with Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo as their starting guards, with J.J. Redick coming off the bench and demonstrating how he had developed into more than just a 3-point shooter.

By April, both Nelson and Afflalo were shut down because of injuries and Redick had been traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. In their places were a veteran point guard who has spent most of his nine seasons as a backup (Beno Udrih), a 19-year-old rookie forced to play out of position at shooting guard (Maurice Harkless), and two other young players trying to carve out an identity (E’Twaun Moore and Doron Lamb).

Chances are excellent that there will be more upheaval in this area before the start of next season. Aside from Harkless, who appears more in his element at small forward, the Magic have no one they can project as a contributor for many years to come.

Strengths

While their record wouldn’t seem to suggest this, the Magic ranked in the top half of the NBA in assists-to-turnover ratio. Nelson averaged 7.4 assists and only 2.8 turnovers in 56 games prior to spraining his right ankle. Udrih’s 3.0 ratio in his 27 games with the Magic was better than the figure turned in for the season by big-name point guards elsewhere such as Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams.

Before a hamstring injury ended his season, Afflalo averaged 16.5 points and 36 minutes a game while ranking among the league leaders in free-throw accuracy. Afflalo, Nelson and Udrih all shot better than 85 percent from the line.

Nelson became the franchise’s all-time leader in assists on Jan. 7, passing Scott Skiles to move into first place. He now has 3,205 assists in nine seasons with the Magic.

Weaknesses

The Magic finished near the bottom of the league in both steals and 3-point shooting percentage. Even in a win at Charlotte in December, they came up with just one steal (by Moore) over 48 minutes. And the 32.9-percent average from 3-point range includes the 117 made by Redick, who had connected on 39 percent of his tries before being dealt away.

Nelson shot a career-low 39.2 percent from the floor. While he has never been one to rack up a lot of points at the free-throw line, the number of foul shots taken over the past two years represents a noticeable drop.

As the injuries to Afflalo and Nelson showed, the Magic aren’t very deep here. That situation could become even more precarious if Udrih, who is a free agent, chooses to sign with another team over the summer.

Player breakdowns

Jameer Nelson: His first season in Orlando without Dwight Howard – the two of them broke in with the Magic as rookies in 2004 – was a challenge on several levels. Point guards can still be quite productive past the age of 30, but Nelson knows that as the last link to the 2009 Eastern Conference championship team, he could also soon be gone.

Arron Afflalo: He brought a calming veteran presence to a locker room full of young players. While he led the Magic in scoring, his 3-point shooting numbers were down from the three seasons he spent in Denver. He also set a single-season career high in turnovers. His future could hinge on whether they take a shooting guard with the No. 2 pick in the draft.

Beno Udrih: The Bucks had all but given up on him, so he was thrilled to revive his career with the Magic. He averaged more than 14 points and eight assists in nine starts after Nelson got hurt. His connection to coach Jacque Vaughn from the season they spent together with the San Antonio Spurs could be a factor in whether he re-signs with the Magic.

E’Twaun Moore: A sprained left elbow that he suffered in late December caused him to become far less effective in the second half of the season. Moore was only a 36.4-percent shooter after the injury. He must improve on that, especially since he is better equipped to play off the ball rather than run an offense.

Doron Lamb: After being acquired with Udrih and Tobias Harris from Milwaukee, the Magic saw glimpses of what he can do given adequate playing time. He doesn’t turn 22 until November, so he remains very much a work in progress.

Top players available in the draft

Ben McLemore, 6-5 SG, Kansas: Some draft boards have him going ahead of Nerlens Noel with the first pick, which belongs to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Magic are among the many teams impressed with his athleticism and scoring ability, although there are questions about his consistency and ball-handling skills.

Victor Oladipo, 6-4 SG, Indiana: If the Magic hope to establish more of a defensive presence at this position, he could be what they’re looking for. He’s relentless and versatile enough to play some at small forward. His jump shot could use a bit of work, and he can be foul-prone at times as well.

Trey Burke, 6-1 PG, Michigan: A clutch shooter who helped the Wolverines reach the NCAA championship game this spring before losing to Louisville. He can also run an offense and make plays for others, although some scouts are concerned that his lack of size will result in a high number of deflected passes.

C.J. McCollum, 6-3 PG/SG, Lehigh: He has drawn comparisons to Damian Lillard, the reigning Rookie of the Year, and Stephen Curry for his skills and ability to stand out in a mid-major program. He’s adept at getting to the free-throw line and also has the strength to go after and get rebounds.

Top players available in free agency

Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers (unrestricted): If he was available next summer, the Magic would likely be in hot pursuit of him. But after capturing the first division title in franchise history, the Clippers aren’t about to let him depart for Houston, Dallas or Atlanta.

Monta Ellis, SG, Milwaukee (unrestricted): Between Ellis, restricted free agent Brandon Jennings and former Magic fan favorite J.J. Redick, the Bucks have a lot of tough decisions to make. Ellis is at the point in his career where playing for a winner might take precedence over the number of touches he gets.

Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, Sacramento (restricted): He was thought of as the face of the franchise after his rookie season. But now that the Kings are staying put, Evans is expected to be on the move.

Jeff Teague, PG, Atlanta (restricted): At 24, he is coming off his best season (14.6 points, 7.2 assists) for a playoff team. Will a coaching change in Atlanta make Teague inclined to stick around for at least another year?

Final thought

The direction in which the Magic are headed at this position should come into focus two weeks from now. If they draft McLemore, Oladipo or Burke, the willingness of Nelson or Afflalo to accept fewer minutes and perhaps a role off the bench becomes an issue. The odds are against the Magic finding help in the second round with the 51st overall selection.

You can follow Ken Hornack on Twitter @HornackFSFla or email him at khornack32176@gmail.com.