Where Did the Depth Go?


Gilbert Arenas and Ryan Anderson have been stalwarts off the bench this year, but neither has been entirely consistent for the Magic. Photo by Sergey Rozhdestvensky/Flickr/Photoree

When Orlando raced out to the second highest payroll in the league in the summer of 2009, it came with the promise this team would be able to play any style. The Magic were literally 10 deep, often relegating Brandon Bass and Jason Williams/Anthony Johnson to the bench for long stretches of the season.

It is difficult to play a rotation with 10 guys and get everyone into a rhythm. So last year, someone was getting left out.

The Magic ran into that problem early this year while trying to manage the Ryan Anderson/Brandon Bass split behind Rashard Lewis and even a little bit in trying to find a place for Jason Williams behind Jameer Nelson and Chris Duhon. Still, before the trades, the rotation was pretty set.

Then the trades happened and some versatility went away as did some of the Magic’s depth.

The guys who have consistently come off the bench are Gilbert Arenas, Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick. All three have very specific skills and not much versatility. You don’t see Anderson playing the three often, and neither would you see Redick doing that. Quentin Richardson has been in and out of the lineup as a potential guy off the bench, playing in 56 games this season and 33 games since the trades.

The Magic have had far from a consistent rotation, especially lately when the team has struggled to keep guys simply healthy.

Still, it does not feel as though  Stan Van Gundy trusts many guys on his roster. And in the playoffs, you can pretty much expect Dwight Howard to play 48 minutes per game — the team’s adjusted plus-minus when Howard is off the floor is -0.23 according to Basketball Value — just out of necessity considering how poorly the team plays (just by the eye test) without him on the floor.

The starting lineup is set with Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, Brandon Bass and Dwight Howard. Those five are all guys Van Gundy can rely on at any point in the game — and it is shown they have affirmed his reliance by posting a plus 6.44 adjusted plus/minus rating. It is not the best numbers wise, but it is also worth considering that this starting group is usually going up against the opponents’ starting group.

The question for Orlando entering the postseason is how much the team can expect to get from J.J. Redick, Gilbert Arenas and Ryan Anderson in the postseason. Right now it does not feel like much.

Redick missed his 13th straight game last night against Charlotte. He hopes to be ready for the playoffs. But those games will be his first stint in the lineup in a month. There is no telling what he can do when he gets back.

Arenas has been up and down all season. Mostly down. He has been unable to adjust to his role as the backup point guard and play in limited minutes. Let alone keep his knee healthy. Maybe Wednesday night’s 25-point performance on 6-for-11 shooting from beyond the arc. It was the kind of game Orlando has been waiting for from Arenas. Maybe a sign that he is ready for the postseason and that he can approach what he used to be.

Anderson has the second highest PER on the team and is one of the most effective offensive players on the floor because of his work on the offensive glass and ability to stretch the floor from long range. Anderson has improved immenseley this year — pretty much making Rashard Lewis expendable — and it shows in his offensive numbers. Still, Anderson is not a great interior defender and still has room for improvement.

In the bright lights of the Playoffs last year, Anderson averaged only 2.6 points per game and shot 31.0 percent from the floor. His PER dropped from 18.1 in the regular season to 8.4 and his effective field goal percentage dropped from 53.6 percent to 37.9 percent. Anderson has to do better in his second trip to the postseason.

The Magic’s bench has been struggling mightily as the team fights its way through injuries right now. The bench has been very unproductive.

In the last 10 games, the Magic are averaging 16.0 points per game and shooting 31.1 percent (52/167) off the bench. The point total is not horrible, especially considering how much Stan Van Gundy usually relies on his starters. But the shooting numbers are just bad. It goes to show how stagnant the team can get early in the second and fourth quarters when the starters are out of the game.

Stan Van Gundy said back in November that he is not necessarily worried about how many points the bench scores, but more that they play with consistency and kind of hold things steady. It is hard to argue the current Magic bench is doing that. Van Gundy complained after the loss to Toronto that he cannot even get Dwight Howard out of the game to get a drink of water.

This is the main problem Orlando has. Van Gundy just has little trust in his bench right now.

Getting Redick back will be extremely helpful. But again, you have no clue what his ability will be to contribute significantly after a month without playing. It seems Orlando is going to have depth as a huge weakness throughout the postseason as Dwight Howard will almost have to average 40-plus minutes per game. And likely Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Jameer Nelson will join him up around 40 minutes per game once the postseason starts.

This offseason, Otis Smith is going to have to find a way to rebuild Orlando’s bench.