Turkoglu's Magical season no surprise to Rasho

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

For the better part of seven seasons, Orlando Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu has toiled in relative obscurity.

A very serviceable combo forward and a former first-round pick of the Sacramento Kings, this 6-foot-10, 220-pound native of Turkey is in his eighth season with his third team and suddenly he's getting almost as much press as teammate Dwight Howard who sealed his media darling status at this year's all-star game dunk competition when he became the NBA's Superman.

But if Howard is what makes the Magic strong, Turkoglu is what makes them go.

His career-high 19.5 points per game this season is just the tip of the contributions Turkoglu has made this season. He also has career highs in assists per game (5.0), rebounds (5.7) and minutes played (36.5).

It is that last stat and the fact that he played in all 82 of the Magic games that has led to those other big numbers.

And if his breakout season caught everyone else off guard, it didn't come as that big a surprise to Raptors centre Rasho Nesterovic. Nesterovic and Turkoglu were teammates in the 2003-04 season in San Antonio.

Nesterovic believes Turkoglu is just taking advantage of an opportunity he never has had presented to him before.

"I think he's just comfortable with his role now," Nesterovic said. "For me he has been one of their two best players all year and that makes him a leader. It also takes away the pressure that if you make a mistake, he's going to go out like before. I think the coach must have done a good job of explaining to him what is expected of him and no matter what happens he's going to be staying in the game."

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy has had no reason to take Turkoglu out. All he has done is score, create opportunities for his teammates and force opponents to stretch their defence out to the three-point line. Of course Turkoglu, leading the league in fourth-quarter scoring, hasn't hurt his opportunities to stay in games either.

"He's so tall and good under the rim and then he's such a great shooter, one of the best three-point shooters in the league," Nesterovic said. "You can't relax on him. He knows how to play the game. He's not one way. He doesn't just shoot or post up he knows how to play the whole game."

All of which should mean matchup headaches for Raptors coach Sam Mitchell and his staff. Mitchell isn't about to leak any of his matchup intentions for fear that it might give the Magic a bit of an advantage.

The likely bet is that Jamario Moon will get the tough assignment of guarding Turkoglu, but Mitchell isn't tipping his hand.

Raptors guard Anthony Parker says the arrival of Rashard Lewis via free agency, another big forward, probably has contributed to Turkoglu's breakout season.

"He's playing aggressive," Parker said. "With the addition of Rashard, it puts one of them in the four spot so they have an advantage that way because last year I don't think that was the case so much."

Howard is going to be a handful under the basket this entire series, but at least the Raptors defenders will know where to find him. With Turkoglu's game, he could win up beating you from just about anywhere on the floor.


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