Looking for a big difference between the 2009 conference-winning team and the 2010 team that fell two wins shorts? The key may be in versatility.
It is the mysterious buzz word in basketball. It is what causes matchup problems and gives coaches flexibility. You can argue in 2009 Orlando had versatility and the 2010 team did not. Hedo Turkoglu provided tons of versatility in the starting lineup for Orlando in 2009. He was 6-foot-10 playing against smaller wing players and occasionally switching with Rashard Lewis at power forward to help him out defensively. His height allowed him to be the team’s point forward and main distributor. It allowed Jameer Nelson, a small point guard, to take more of a shooting guard role and split point guard duties. It suited him fine and the team was successful. They all could fill their roles.
That changed in 2010 with Turkoglu’s departure (a move no longer worth debating). Vince Carter came in and brought an entirely new set of skills. Whereas Turkoglu could play and defend multiple positions, Carter is pretty much a shooting guard — or a small forward. it turned over the whole roster, forcing Lewis to stick to the power forward position for most of the year. It necessitated adding Matt Barnes to fill in at small forward and that was pretty much all he could do.
It pretty much seemed everyone could only play one position. That hurt Orlando as the team struggled to mix and match lineups. That will need to change if Orlando wants to win a title next season.
The most notable change may be using Brandon Bass more. And that appears to be in Orlando’s plans according to Bob Vander Weide. Stan Van Gundy was slow to insert him into the lineup after Ryan Anderson’s hot start and Bass sometimes looked lost on both sides of the floor (could never fault his effort though). But the second year is supposed to be the year everything clicks. And Bass should be more comfortable playing — or get the trade out of Orlando he wants.
The versatility starts with playing Bass a little more. Rashard Lewis is the definition of a stretch four. He has played small forward for most of his career but has settled in as a power forward — and, all things considered, has fared pretty well. He simply did not have the defensive quickness to play small forward and his unique skills at the four have transformed the Magic.
Reports though have Lewis working on increasing his agility so he can play small forward a little more anticipating some time back on the wing. The same goes with Marcin Gortat. He has apparently been working on his jumper hoping to get more time paired with Dwight Howard on the floor.
With news from RDV Sportsplex that Ryan Anderson has been doing three a days to improve his strength and it is clear the goal for the Magic has been regaining the versatility that made the team so dangerous. Everyone has to be able to provide a little more than they are used to and play multiple positions for Orlando to reach its full potential. And if Joe Rogowski can work wonders on Anderson like he did with JJ Redick, he should be in good shape, literally.
Orlando’s style is not going to change. In all likelihood Lewis will still see the majority of his minutes at the four in an effort to space the floor around Howard. But the Magic are going to need to make an effort to correct the weaknesses that cost them a title the last two seasons. And that is namely an ability to bang on the boards with two guys rather than one.
Can Bass or Gortat fill the role of the four? Can Anderson? If they can, can Lewis be a small forward once again? These are the types of questions Orlando will need to experiment with throughout the regular season in preparation for potential matchups in the postseason.
The Magic had depth last season and could play any style, but they simply did not. Whether it was because Van Gundy did not trust certain players (like Bass) or was too stubborn to try anything new since what he had was working (or experimented too late), Orlando needs to take advantage of its versatility. Discovering who can play where will not be easy since there is little roster turnover this season. But the Magic must discover the versatility within to take advantage of the matchups they can create.