Do the Magic Really Need a Backup Center?


Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard have both said they do not mind seeing Howard play all 48 minutes in a game. There was some tongue firmly planted in cheek when they said these statements. But the fact they have been reiterated makes it seem like they are completely serious.

Shortly after the trades, Van Gundy said Howard could go 48 minutes per game without problem. He has that much energy. Howard has jokingly said on multiple occasions he does everything for the team — including taking tickets, cleaning the court, the public address announcements, in-game DJ.

Without a backup center though, Howard could very well be playing 48 minutes per night in the postseason. Even if Howard can do it, because he so often gets into foul trouble, that would obviously not be ideal.

Since the trades happened, everyone has been obsessed with finding Orlando’s next backup center. Names from Marcus Camby to Samuel Dalembert (OK, that one was just me) to even Jarron Collins have been thrown about. But Otis Smith has continually said he will not settle on just bringing in a warm body. If he signs somebody, it will be someone who can actually contribute. After all, the team already has Malik Allen still working his way back from injury.

Smith appears to be pretty steadfast on this belief too. He told Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: “Why do I need one?”

Smith is always one to have his poker face on and so you take what he says with a grain of salt. But could Orlando really stand pat with the roster they have and not bring in a backup center to play the 10-12 minutes Dwight is on the bench or when Dwight gets into foul trouble?

If the right player or deal does not come along: Absolutely.

For a trade to happen, the Magic want to give up Quentin Richardson or Chris Duhon. Most likely teams want JJ Redick and the Magic do not want to give him up. You can see the problem.

But Orlando is on a franchise-best nine-game win streak and that has been with Howard playing the majority of the minutes and, often, the entire second half. This team has been able to survive this stretch without a true backup for Howard.

Howard’s numbers the last nine games read like this: 16.3 points per game and 12.9 rebounds per game in 35.4 minutes per game. He shot 56.1 percent from the floor and has had only one game in this win streak with a negative plus/minus. His true shooting percentage is at 50.3 percent for the last nine games.

On the year, Howard is averaging 21.2 points per game and 13.1 rebounds per game in 35.7 minutes per game while shooting 56.4 percent from the floor and posting a 58.9 percent true shooting percentage.

As you can see, Howard’s numbers are pretty similar with and without Marcin Gortat or a backup center option. The only difference might be that he is playing the entire second half in most recent games. And Orlando has already shown it can survive Howard getting into foul trouble — although going down by 16 in the first half to Dallas on Saturday night was pretty bad.

It is still yet to be seen whether the Magic will be able to skate by without a backup center in the regular season. They have not faced a ton of adversity since the trades — the team is 9-2 since Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson joined the team — but Howard’s plus/minus must reveal something.

In four of the nine games in the winning streak, the Magic had a negative plus/minus with Howard off the floor. That occurred in the games against Houston, Golden State, New Jersey and Boston. Take from that what you will.

Plus/minus is a very tricky stat to use and read into on a one-game basis. But it tells us something. This team is still learning how to play without Dwight Howard when it has to. And it does not appear to be something Orlando can do in the long term. And it is not likely to see Howard average 48 minutes per game the rest of the season.

So does the lineup without Howard work? Not for long stretches obviously. But you could say that about any lineup without Howard in it. According to, Orlando’s offense is slightly worse — 110.5 on the court to 106.4 off — and its defense is slightly better with Howard off the floor — 104.1 to 99.8. Obviously this is a somewhat small sample size because Howard is off the floor so little, and’s stats are always a little delayed.

When the Playoffs come along and matchups matter, a backup center will be helpful. But by then Howard will be playing pretty much every minute.

Smith has to figure out if the team has can match up with centers in the Playoffs for short periods of time (no more than four or five minutes). If it can, then a backup center is not necessary. If the team cannot, Smith has one more move to make.