Arenas Still Learning Defense

Gilbert Arenas played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter Monday against the Warriors as Jameer Nelson sat on the bench. Since his acquisition, the debate about when Arenas would replace Nelson in the starting lineup has been bandied about. Even when Arenas denied wanting to even be in the starting lineup.

Stan Van Gundy has repeated the biggest thing the Magic will have to improve upon since the trades is defense. His first task is getting Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas into a defensive mindset and to worry more about defense than offense. Orlando is still re-learning what Van Gundy wants his team to do defensively and there have been plenty of hiccups on the way there.

But no one is complaining with the team on a six-game win streak.

Van Gundy has continually said building this team is a process and that results will come gradually and not all at once. Orlando came out flat after two consecutive practices Monday night, but ratcheted up both its offense and defense in the second half.

The guys Orlando acquired are not exactly known for their defense though, and so Van Gundy has his work cut out for him to get these guys to play at a high level defensively. Changing the defensive mentality of guys who have spent the majority of their career focusing on offense is a difficult task in itself.

Slowly though they are learning. And no project may be bigger than Arenas, who has spent the majority of his career carrying offenses and doing what he can to put the ball in the basket.

“I had two reasons for finishing the game with Gil [Monday night],” Van Gundy explained. “One, obviously, the unit we had on the floor was playing real well. the second thing was I thought he made a far greater effort defensively tonight to get over picks and to get into [Stephen] Curry a bit. I wanted to reward him a little bit on that because I think he’s capable of playing good defense. I think he has been playing guys too soft, giving them too much and tonight I think he made a great effort defensively. So we were playing well. The group on the floor was playing well. I thought he was playing very very hard defensively and I wanted to reward him.”

It was interesting that Van Gundy made this statement almost unprompted. Van Gundy wanted to make sure everyone knew about Arenas’ effort defensively in this game. Or perhaps send a not so subtle hint to Jameer Nelson to get his defense in better shape as Van Gundy hinted last week.

Arenas, according to Basketball-Reference’s box score of Monday’s game, had a defensive rating of 99 points per 100 possessions. that was fourth best on the team behind Dwight Howard, JJ Redick and Jameer Nelson. After the horrible first half, everyone put in a real good defensive effort to slow down the Warriors in the second.

Learning how to play defense the Magic way is definitely a different challenge. With Dwight Howard playing safety, defensive mistakes can be easily covered up.

“I’m trying to get the old system out — basically, don’t let them drive and protect the middle,” Arenas said. “So now he’s telling me run at the guy. It’s just in the old system because a lot of people hit shots because I’m stopping short. With shooters, he wants me to run them off the line because we’ve got the big fella.”

Dwight Howard definitely changes the game defensively and Stan Van Gundy has tailored his defensive scheme to fit Howard’s presence.

Arenas said the focus change is in staying unconcerned with the player in front of them beating them but running the player off of easy shots and recovering and rotating. he said he thinks the guards are getting in trouble in reaching in for the ball as guards might do in other defenses.

According to Basketball-Reference, arenas’ defense has gotten better as he has posted a 99 defensive rating in his eight games with Orlando. Of course, with Washington his rating was 110 and he has never had a defensive rating lower than 105. Obviously the team you are on matters… and so does Dwight Howard.

After Monday’s game, it is becoming clear what kind of defender Arenas can potentially be with the Magic — and Howard behind him. It is not going to be surprising when things click for Arenas on both ends of the floor.

“I’m just trying to play and feel and see where I can get my shots. Right now, I’m not as aggressive as I’m going to be later on. Right now, I’m just trying to feel through the game and see where I can pick my shots up. You’re going to see me more aggressive later on.”

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

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