Rashard Lewis has been a puzzle wrapped an enigma in his three years with Orlando. After signing a max contract in the summer of 2008, a lot of expectations were heaped upon Lewis.
Was he truly the type of player to throw that much money at? Could he produce at those kinds of levels? These have been the questions asked of Lewis throughout his tenure in Orlando.
It is safe to say that compared to other max contract players, Lewis is on the low end of the spectrum. He averaged 14.1 points per game, the lowest of his career since his second season in 1999-2000. He shot 39.2 percent from the 3-point line, the lowest in his three years in Orlando.
He averaged 4.4 rebounds per game, the lowest again since his second season since 1999-2000. By all accounts, this was one of the worst seasons in Lewis’ career.
As Orlando fans have known all too well, Lewis’ worth is not always measured in his statistics. His ability to stretch the floor has been what has separated Orlando from other teams and has been a catalyst to the team’s meteoric rise to (near) the top of the NBA. Otis Smith had a simple idea to surround Dwight Howard with four shooters and Lewis, as the stretch four, is a key cog to that puzzle.
Jameer Nelson has been front and center in this postseason, leading the team in scoring and putting up big numbers in individual games. It could be easy to see his return to the lineup after last year’s playoff run to the Finals as the difference between this year and last year.
But Lewis has been a big difference for Orlando in this year’s 8-0 playoff run.
Remember those above stats? Well, they have gotten better now that the games have started counting. Lewis’ averages are up to 16.4 points per game, 54 percent shooting, 46.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc and 5.5 rebounds per game. They are not near his career numbers, but they are a significant jump from his regular season numbers.
Lewis is stepping up when it matters.
His matchups have arguably been the key to both sweeps and will continue to be the key in Orlando’s future matchups (except, perhaps with Phoenix). Lewis topped Boris Diaw against Charlotte with 15.8 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game and 46.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Then Lewis won the matchup Orlando absolutely had to win against Josh Smith of Atlanta with 17.0 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game and 46.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Lewis has been steady and effective throughout this postseason and has stood out on the big stage.
Those numbers though do not tell the whole story. Lewis has been dialed in on all aspects of the game and that is why he has been truly effective this postseason.
During the Playoffs, Lewis has a PER (according to Basketball Reference) of 19.1, the highest of his career and well above the 14.0 PER he had this season and his career average of 17.6. He has an astounding 70 percent True Shooting Percentage and 67.8 percent Effective Field Goal Percentage.
More interestingly, he has a 15.2 percent Defensive Rebounding rate. Lewis has consistently increased his rebounding percentage in the postseason. He had a 12.1 percent Defensive Rebounding rate this season (his lowest since 2006). Even for an undersized power forward who has little penchant for rebounding, Lewis is working the board a little more this postseason.
Here comes the interesting stuff. Granted Lewis has been on the floor for the most with Dwight Howard, but Lewis has some pretty impressive defensive numbers too. First he has a 129 offensive rating (meaning the team scores 129 points per 100 possessions he is on the floor). That is an impressive number to begin with.
But the Magic are based on defense. Lewis has delivered there with a 99 defensive rating (99 points per 100 possessions he is on the floor). The spread is quite bigger.
Back to basic stats. The guy Lewis is defending is struggling too. Josh Smith did score 15.8 points per game, but shot 44.1 percent from the floor. Smith’s field goal percentage was well below his season average. Smith reached his average in points, but was wildly inefficient to do so.
Lewis has had plenty of moments in this postseason. but he will need to keep it up in order for Orlando to achieve its ultimate goal and win a title.
In the next two series, the power forward matchup will be key to victory — whether it is Antawn Jamison, Kevin Garnett, Andrew Bynum/Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom or Channing Frye. Either way Lewis has to keep up this strong play.