When Rashard Lewis is draining shots and the Magic are winning, his lucrative contract is the farthest thing from anyone’s mind. Then there are times, like his past two games, where it seems like Otis Smith belongs on Shutter Island with the rest of the criminally insane patients for offering him so much.
This post is not about justifying Lewis’s contract, or criticizing it for that matter. It’s about what Lewis has to do for the Magic to be a championship team and how he has done virtually the exact opposite over the past two games.
Lewis’ role is clearly defined. He is a catch-and-shoot player who is expected to hover around the perimeter to stretch the floor, open things up inside for Dwight Howard and wait for the kick out.
When he puts the ball on the floor, disaster is sure to follow. Creating his own shot off the dribble is not his specialty, nor is it expected from him in the Magic offense. His entry passes are subpar. He tends to watch Howard battle under the boards rather than join in. He is exploited on the defensive end when paired up against a more physical and athletic traditional power forward.
His job, albeit an expensive one, is simply to hit threes and draw the defense away from the middle. One-dimensional? Perhaps. But when he is hitting from beyond the arc, it’s the perfect dimension in the Magic’s inside-out offense.
However, this weekend we saw Lewis reduced to a zero-dimensional player. He followed Saturday’s three-point, 1-for-4 shooting performance (full disclosure, he played 18 minutes because of foul trouble and his inability to defend Andray Blatche), by going 1-for-7 from the field on Sunday, with his only field goal coming in the final minute during garbage time. Over his last three games, Lewis has shot a dismal 5-for-18 for 12 total points.
His field goals attempted and made have dropped considerably this season (6.1 attempted and 13.8 made last season, to 4.9 made and 11.6 attempted this season) and he is shooting 42.5 percent from the field — the lowest since his rookie year.
But who’s to blame for Lewis’ numbers being down? Is Stan Van Gundy not calling his number enough? Is Vince Carter the anti-Hedo Turkoglu? Has Orlando’s added depth had a negative impact on Lewis? Is Lewis feeling pressure with Brandon Bass proving his worth and climbing up the depth chart?
Earlier in the season Lewis was vocal about not getting enough shots and admitted that he pressed on those he did take because of his limited opportunities. Lewis may in fact deserve more touches, but when his outside shots aren’t falling it’s his responsibility to find his rhythm elsewhere. Rather than trying to shoot his way out of bad night or becoming too passive, he needs to be more aggressive in the post and use his advantage against slower defenders to work for some buckets, get to the foul line and build his confidence.
With critics focused on Howard’s so-called limited offensive repertoire, Lewis’s limitations go mostly unnoticed. At 6-10, Lewis should be looking for more opportunities to play with his back to the basket, especially when he is having an off night.
In his defense, Lewis is in a tough situation when it comes to demanding shots. There aren’t many players getting paid max money to be a third – and occasionally fourth – option. With more looks, Lewis could easily be averaging more than 20 points per game. But that’s not what is asked of him on this team and he deserves credit for accepting his role and not acting like a prima-donna with a max-contract.
During the playoffs last year, Lewis proved how valuable he could be in the Magic’s system by creating match-up nightmares and hitting clutch shots (like this one) that helped propel Orlando to the Finals.
After two of the worst games of his career, it’s up to Lewis to reestablish his role, find alternate ways to put the ball in the basket when his shots aren’t falling, and prove that the Magic didn’t pay for a Lamborghini only to get a used Ford Taurus in return.
The Magic will never get equal value for the Lewis contract from him individually. The return on investment will be seen, not in Lewis’ stats, but in his contribution to Orlando’s success come May and June.