The Gilbert Arenas Point Guard Puzzle


I think we can officially declare the honeymoon period after the trades over. The nine-game win streak is slowly receding into the rear-view mirror. At the midway mark of the season, the fact of the matter is, the Magic are fourth in the Eastern Conference, still becoming a team and have lost three of the last four games.

There is plenty to be frustrated with despite a strong 10-4 records since the trades. Orlando did not pass its “measuring stick” game against Boston and has been increasingly inconsistent. Poor first quarters and inconsistent defense are probably driving Stan Van Gundy mad.

And Van Gundy has suggested on multiple occasions that there may be a change to the starting lineup if things do not change. Things have not changed for a while, and the lineup remains the same.

Good money is on a potential swap of Ryan Anderson for Brandon Bass, seeing as Bass is mired in a shooting slump and Anderson has re-discovered his shooting stroke. But many Magic fans would like to see Gilbert Arenas moved into the starting lineup.

It is no secret that Jameer Nelson has shouldered (an apt pun) the load for the Magic’s failures as much as any player on the roster. With Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis gone, Nelson has been taking the full brunt of fan criticism.

When Orlando acquired Arenas, it was speculated almost immediately that Arenas would one day take over for Nelson as the team’s starting point guard. Arenas made it clear pretty early he was not there to take over Nelson’s spot in the lineup. And his play has not suggested he is not at a stage where he can take over at the starting point guard.

Yet, that has not stopped plenty of fans of putting a lot of pressure and blame squarely on Nelson. A lot of it is undeserved but it is there. And it is not going away.

If you want to argue Nelson is a problem (he isn’t) or if you want to argue he is not, Arenas still figures to be a critical player for the Magic going forward.

Gilbert represents a tremendous risk by Otis Smith and Orlando. The team is hoping the combo guard will be able to provide something resembling the dominant scorer that torched the NBA in the middle of the decade.

But so far, and somewhat expectedly, Arenas has been something of a shell of that player. The raw stats tell a pretty harrowing story: 9.2 points per game, 4.1 assists per game, 32.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc and 35.9 percent shooting overall. Those are all down from the first 21 games he played in Washington where he scored 17.3 points per game, dished out 5.6 assists per game and shot 39.4 percent from the floor.

Obviously in Washington, he had more opportunities to shoot while in Orlando he is learning a new offensive system, new teammates and (most importantly) a new defense all on the fly.

He has had some high assist game and his passing ability has certainly impressed at times. But Arenas is still thought of as a scorer, and in that role Arenas has really struggled.

A few weeks ago, Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel wrote way back around Christmas Arenas needed to attack the basket more and needed to settle for fewer jumpers. And this was back at Christmas!

McCann wrote: “Of his 40 field-goal attempts in his 99 minutes of playing time with the Magic, only nine of those shots have come within ten feet of the basket. And only one shot went in.

“To recap, Arenas has shot the ball 40 times in Orlando and made just one lay-up. He’s a perimeter player, but you’d like your point guard to at least threaten the rim a little bit. Arenas seems far too comfortable pulling up for mid-range jumpers off the dribble — he’s 7-for-22 on such shots — or passing away to his teammates rather than aggressively attacking the paint.”

Remember those stats were as of around Christmas. No one, as McCann argued back then, is doubting Arenas’ willingness or unwillingness to shoot. He is still pretty forthright about finding his shooting opportunities and trying to get others involved. But the Magic want him to be a playmaker and scorer.

He was at a 29.4 assist percentage when McCann wrote the article, now he is at a 35.3 percent assist rate. So he is getting others involved, but his shooting numbers are still pretty mediocre and below where Orlando wants him.

Arenas’ true shooting percentage is at 45.4 percent, showing that he is both missing shots and not getting to the line. He is averaging only 1.5 free throw attempts per game. That displays how he is struggling to get to the basket and, ultimately score.

His shooting numbers have not improved much but it appears at least nominally he is attacking the basket more.

He is averaging 1.4 shots per game at the rim, an increase lately. In 15 games he has 21 attempts at the rim. He has a total of 142 shots this season. Back at Christmas, 22.5 percent of his shots were at the rim. Now 14.8 percent of his shots are coming at the rim. A decrease in attempts at the rim. There may be something to this.

Also consider that throughout his career he has consistently averaged at least 3.0 shots at the rim and you can see something is still up with Arenas attacking he basket. He is shooting a career-best 62 percent at the rim this year. He has shown a lot of improvement since coming over in that area.

But the Magic want him to score. And while he is doing a good job distributing, he still does not appear to have the same lift and explosiveness we remember him having. Nothing may show that more than his turnover rate, which is at a career-high 14.5 percent. That is just too many for a guy brought in for his play-making and shot-making ability.

Arenas is going to be the answer to more than a few questions the rest of the way for the Magic. He still has to answer some questions of his own.