Last night’s loss to Denver was pretty ugly and revealed a lot of the Magic’s weaknesses from throughout this year. While everyone is looking for a scapegoat to explain the Magic’s inconsistent play — whether it be blaming a specific player like Vince Carter or Jameer Nelson or blaming the influx of new players — something is definitely off kilter.
It has been good enough to get out to the third best record in the Eastern Conference (and possibly “sleeping giant” thoughts throughout the NBA) and the lead in the Southeast Division. It has not been good enough to satisfy Orlando players and fans.
That frustration has been vented out many times throughout the season already and it came out once again last night.
Rashard Lewis told OrlandoMagic.com’s John Denton his frustrations over the amount of shots he is getting and the extreme pressure he has been under this year: “Every night in order for me to have a good game I feel like I have to make every shot, every last one of them because I’m not getting very many of them,” said Lewis, who had just six points on 3-of-9 shooting last night against the Nuggets. “Not to blame it on me not getting shots because we’ve still got to play defense, but we’re just not getting in a good offensive rhythm as a team.
“It’s a different feel,” Lewis continued. “I don’t like to complain too much about not getting shots at the offensive end, but if you’re losing ballgames and struggling then you might have to go say something.”
Clearly there is a lot of frustration from everyone on the Magic, but no one seems to be struggling as much with the transition to this year’s team like Lewis has.
Last season, Rashard made the all star team by leading the league in 3-point makes with 220. He averaged 17.7 points per game and shot 43.9% from the floor and 39.7% from beyond the arc last season and his averages upped to 19.0 points per game and 44.8% on field goals in Orlando’s run to the NBA Finals.
This season is a much different story. Lewis is averaging 14.2 points per game, a low for him since his second season in the NBA with Seattle in 2000, and is shooting 41.7 percent from the floor, on pace for a low since his rookie season.
The decrease in Lewis’ production has been unsettling for the Magic. I think most would agree with Denton when he wrote after Wednesday’s game that Orlando needs Lewis and Jameer Nelson to play well if Dwight Howard is struggling. But Lewis’ decrease has been the most puzzling. Nelson at least has his injury to lean on (which he apparently is not completely healed from). Lewis really does not have an excuse.
First to analyze Lewis’ claims. Rashard got around 14 shots per game in his first two seasons in Orlando (13.7 in his first year, 14.1 last year) including about seven 3-pointers again (6.8 and 7.0 per game in his first two seasons). This year, Lewis is taking 11.5 shots per game and still 6.1 of those shots are from beyond the arc.
That tells us a few things. First, Lewis’ shots are down from last year, but not by a whole bunch. More stunningly though, Lewis is taking more 3-pointers, in relation to the amount of shots he takes, than he did last year. As Ben Q Rock of Orlando Pinstriped Post noted from his study of numbers on HoopData.com, Lewis is converting on less than half of his shots at the rim.
That stat is just staggeringly scary. Lewis is not known for attacking the basket with reckless abandon. Orlando signed him for his ability to hit 3-pointers and stretch out defenses. But Lewis also has shown he has the ability to get to the basket and finish as well as post up smaller players.
Maybe the Hedo Turkoglu-Vince Carter switch is having a bigger effect than we know. Turkoglu looked to attack the basket more than Carter has so far. That opened up more space for Lewis to operate. Lewis certainly does not have that same advantage now and is continuing to adjust to Orlando’s new personnel.
But Lewis is a good player — a for better or worse a max-contract player — and his performance this year, which includes a 14.5 PER (that is down from 16.8 last year and this year is his lowest since his rookie season) and 20.1 usage rate (down from 22.0 last year and this year is his lowest since 2001), is simply not going to cut it for a team with title aspirations.
The important question for the Magic to answer as the season continues is whether Lewis needs to take more shots or if they can survive at his current pace (which is not up to par with Lewis’ career averages).
Orlando is 14-4 this season when Lewis takes at least 10 shots. And Lewis is shooting 41.4 percent from the floor and averaging 16.6 points per game in those 18 games. Remember correlation does not necessarily mean causation.
But it appears that good things happen when Lewis does get his shots. This is not to say Lewis should just chuck the ball every time he touches it. But it does mean that Lewis is an important cog to Orlando’s general and sustained success and that Stan Van Gundy needs to find a way to put him in positions to score. It also means that Lewis has to be more assertive and look to create shots on his own too.
Lewis’ problems this season are clearly one of the many puzzles the Magic will have to solve if they want to do well in the postseason this year.