Dr. Van Gundy to Experiment in Preseason

May 26, 2010 - Orlando, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES - epa02174709 Orlando Magic's Rashard Lewis (C) shoots between Boston Celtics defenders Paul Pierce (L) and Ray Allen during the fourth period of game five of the NBA Eastern Conference finals at the Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida, USA, 26 May 2010. The Celtics hold a three games to one lead in the best of seven series.
Rashard Lewis has been preparing to play the 3 this summer, but should still be seeing ample time at the 4.

When Orlando signed Brandon Bass last summer, the team stated it was bringing him in to beef up the front line and allow the team to play any style. But when push came to shove last season, Bass was sitting on the bench and Rashard Lewis was almost exclusively the team’s power forward. It was a frustrating occurrence and after three months, the Magic are admitting a mistake was made and Lewis should play a little more at the 3.

“Probably we would’ve been better off if I did play the ’3′ in the Boston series,” Lewis said.

That is a pretty big admission. One that I am sure many Magic fans will be exasperated about discovering this far past the end of the Eastern Conference Finals.

In fact, Lewis has been preparing all summer to play more at the 3. It appears last year taught the Magic a more traditional lineup can be merited when the matchups dictate. And that was what the Brandon Bass experiment was supposed to solve. But Van Gundy fell in love with Ryan Anderson and his shooting ability and Bass never seemed to get a grasp of the offense or the defense. It became an issue of trust and Van Gundy trusted Anderson at the four more than Bass.

That proved to be the wrong decision. Anderson struggled to find his shooting touch in the Eastern Conference Finals and throughout the postseason putting a lot more pressure on Rashard Lewis to perform (and remember he was playing almost the entire Eastern Conference Finals with the flu). Flu or no flu, Lewis failed to perform and the Magic found themselves in a 3-0 hole and ultimately lost in six games.

Lewis even seems excited about the prospect of moving back to small forward: “Of course I would love to play the 3, my natural position,” Lewis said. “I think it would help us. But at the same time, it helped us with me playing the 4; we were the second-best team in the league last year.”

Lewis admitted that the problem with him playing the 3 would be the need to improve his defense to shift from guarding guys like Kevin Garnett to guarding guys like LeBron James. Matchups would largely dictate whether he would make the shift and I think against the Heat he would stay at power forward for the majority of the time.

The hope in Orlando is that Bass will feel more comfortable in the offense and defense in his second year in Van Gundy’s system. It is often said that it takes a year to figure out exactly what Van Gundy wants. It appears either way Bass — or Marcin Gortat — will get their chance playing at the four. And a lot of this experimenting will be done in the preseason to figure out exactly whether this lineup will work.

Undoubtedly the Magic are better suited for Lewis to be at the four. 50 wins the past three seasons unequivocally shows that. However, it is also clear in certain situations that Orlando needs to have that big body. This shift is not so much a testament to Lewis’ abilities or lack thereof but a testament to Van Gundy finally experimenting with the lineup.

If there is one criticism that could be made about Van Gundy in his tenure in Orlando it is his unwillingness to experiment with lineups. Van Gundy has steadfastly stuck to certain lineups. This happened with Bass last year and, to a certain extent, happened with Jameer Nelson when he returned during the 2009 NBA Finals.

The preseason (and the early season) could be a perfect time for Van Gundy to figure out if the team can play a different style. Also helping him is the familiarity all the players have with each other already. In this case, Van Gundy can shift the lineups around because he will not have to spend as much time installing the offense (since most everyone knows it already).

It is a good sign Van Gundy is willing to try Lewis at the three — and the Twin Tower lineup that features Dwight Howard and Marcin Gortat together. If it does not seem to work in the preseason though, it would be no surprise to see the experiment abandoned. Hopefully Van Gundy will see it through enough to make a good conclusion.

Lewis has always claimed small forward is his natural position. And he has the skills to be a deadly offensive option at small forward. His size should allow him to post up most small forwards and that should get Lewis to do more than be a spot-up shooter. Lewis actually has a pretty refined post game, but has never been able to show it since he has typically been defended by much taller players in his time with the Magic.

Part of the goal of moving Lewis to the 3 is to use his offensive skills — all of them, not just his shooting — more effectively. Lewis naturally defers to others, it is in his laid back demeanor and personality. So when he was told to stand beyond the 3-point line and fire away, that is literally all that he did. It will be a very good thing to put him in different positions on the floor and let him post up or drive and kick a little bit more.

Ultimately though, I think Lewis’ place is at the 4. He should play the 3 in stretches and should see a lot more time at that position. But he should be starting at power forward and seeing the majority of his playing time there.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily