- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2009

Hedo Turkoglu is the overlooked one on the Magic, the one found wanting in flair.

He is a recreation-league player of sort, nothing overtly impressive about him, not his body or athleticism. He just has a certain feel for the game. You might imagine him being the last player on the roster if you were watching the Magic in warmups for the first time.

He has none of the broad-shouldered, sparkling-eyed appeal of Dwight Howard. He lacks the fat contract and sleekness of Rashard Lewis. He never has been selected to play in the All-Star Game. Even Jameer Nelson earned that distinction this season. Remember Nelson? Remember how the Magic’s season was destined to end prematurely after the point guard underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in February?

That outcome did not come to be, of course. And it did not happen in part because of Turkoglu’s ability to reinvent himself.

A career trajectory like his is rare in the NBA. He is the spot-up shooter who eventually became a facilitator, a stat-stuffer.

He was a spot-up shooter in his first three seasons with the Kings. And he had a one-season layover with the Spurs as a spot-up shooter. And when he landed in Orlando at the start of the 2004-05 season, he was a spot-up shooter.

But the 6-foot-8 Turkoglu never forgot what his coaches in Turkey stressed long ago - namely that the combination of his size and ballhandling skill could allow him to be a point-forward version of Magic Johnson.

And that is whom Turkoglu became last season, when he averaged a career-high 19.5 points and 5.0 assists and earned the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award.

And that is who he was channeling in Game 1 of the Magic-Cavaliers series.

That was Turkoglu finding Lewis in the waning seconds, and Lewis burying the 3-point shot over Anderson Varejao’s outstretched hand.

That was Turkoglu directing the Magic’s offense in the fourth quarter, when he produced seven of his 14 assists, including the pass that led to Lewis’ game-stunner.

That was Turkoglu finishing with 15 points, 14 assists and six rebounds, much of it with LeBron James shadowing him.

And that was Turkoglu finishing with 25 points and 12 assists in Game 7 in Boston.

Earlier this week, Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld cited Turkoglu as a potential difference-maker in dissecting the Magic-Cavaliers series.

He noted Turkoglu’s triple-threat versatility and his capacity to break down the Cavaliers’ defense in a way that had not been done in their first two series.

It is not that Turkoglu is exceptionally quick. It is that defenders are obligated to push him off the 3-point line.

After that happens, it becomes a test between Turkoglu’s sight lines and a defense’s capacity to guess where the ball might go and rotate accordingly.

Turkoglu’s dribble-penetration forays to the basket come with four options: the dump pass to Howard, the kick-out pass, the skip pass or a shot attempt at the rim.

A defense that continually forces Turkoglu to make passes to the perimeter - the highest-percentage play - knows that it is flirting with 3-point danger, especially from Lewis.

That made Varejao’s hesitation on the game-winner all the more curious. The scouting report on Lewis is fairly elementary: Make him put the ball on the floor. Varejao hesitated just long enough to allow Lewis to make the decision to shoot the ball, and the Cavaliers were left to rue their collapse.

It was a collapse orchestrated by Turkoglu, who has a what-the-heck, everyman air about him, right down to his culinary tastes.

To the horror of nutritionists, his pregame meal was a cheese pizza.

Imagine that - pizza as the pregame meal of champions.

At least the erstwhile 3-point-hugger and the Magic had that championship aura about them in overcoming a 16-point deficit in one of the NBA’s most hostile environments.

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