Orlando’s playoff runs the last three years have been built off of Dwight Howard for sure. But what allowed the Magic to get deep into the postseason was not only the team’s dominant center. It was more the matchup difficulties the team gave its opponents.
Few teams ahve the post players to matchup with Howard. In the past three years, really only the Pistons with Rasheed Wallace, the Celtics with Kendrick Perkins and the Lakers with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Those teams, the only three teams to defeat the Magic during the Stan Van Gundy era, were able to single cover Howard and get out to the 3-point shooters.
They also featured versatile players who could take advantage of some of Orlando’s lack of size in the post.
Those other series? Rashard Lewis proved to be an extremely difficult matchup for many teams in the NBA. Few teams could figure out how to adjust their lineups to account for Lewis. Hate the contract all you want, but when it came to the postseason, Lewis was essential to Orlando’s runs. He spaced the floor for Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter and Dwight Howard and, most importantly, he delivered.
He averaged 19.5 points per game and a 50.0 percent effective field goal percentage in the 2008 Playoffs. He also averaged 19.0 points per game and shot 52.3 percent effective field goal percentage and a league-best 52 3-pointers in the Finals run of 2009.
For the 2010 postseason, Lewis averaged 12.9 points per game and had a career-postseason-best 55.9 percent effective field goal percentage. He took only 10.2 shots per game that postseason, his lowest of his three playoffs in Orlando and a sign of how much he struggled to fit in next to Vince Carter.
Take out the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston, where he averaged 8.2 points per game and shot 37.5 percent effective field goal percentage while allegedly fighting the flu, and Lewis averaged 16.4 points per game and shot a 67.8 percent effective field goal percentage.
By looking at those numbers you can see how Lewis’ play almost determined what Orlando would do in the postseason.
Lewis is gone. A new stretch-4 is coming in and looking to prove himself in the postseason and provide that matchup nightmare that drove so many teams crazy the last three years.
Ryan Anderson very well could be that player. He very well may need to be that player.
No player likely disappointed more in last year’s postseason run than Anderson. Yes, Vince Carter was not the “clutch” player we all wanted or thought he would be, but he may never have been that player. Anderson followed up a surprise season where he unseated Brandon Bass to backup Lewis by laying a dud in his first postseason. He averaged 2.6 points per game and shot a 37.9 percent effective field goal percentage in just 9.9 minutes per game. The minutes were the big thing, moving down from 14.4 minutes per game.
This year he has been a much more important and vital player for the Magic. Especially since the Lewis’ trade.
Anderson has averaged career numbers across the board in his third year. He averaged 10.7 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting a 55.9 percent effective field goal percentage in 22.3 minutes per game. In his last four games, Anderson has averaged 17.5 points per game, 8.8 rebounds per game and shooting a 66.7 percent effective field goal percentage.
It is a small sample size for sure. But this is likely the type of play Orlando will need from Anderson off the bench, considering J.J. Redick is still recovering from injury and Gilbert Arenas is a ridiculous large question mark.
The Magic are 11-4 in games where Anderson scores at least 15 points. Much like Lewis, in the postseason Orlando may only go as far as Anderson’s shot can take them.
It is not as though Anderson needs to average around 20 points per game like Jameer Nelson might need to. He may not need even to get to 15 points per game int he postseason. The fact is, he may not get the minutes to score that much.
But when he is on the floor, it is incredibly important Anderson provide that matchup edge that allowed Orlando to get deep into the postseason. He may very well be the Magic’s new stretch-4 x-factor. And while Orlando may not rely as heavily on this position, it is still a unique advantage the team can — and must — deploy for postseason success.