Examining the 2012 Magic in the clutch


There is a lot of hand-wringing about who is and is not clutch at the moment. Some would say that is what the playoffs are all about. It is certainly how the public continues to sum up LeBron James and his career (never mind that he is absolutely incredible and unstoppable the rest of the time and is actually pretty good late in games too).

The Magic are not one of the teams people around the league probably think of as decnet in late-game situations. The Magic’s offensive rating held steady at 15th in the league this year, which is smack-dab in the middle of the league.

Orlando’s offense does not scream either efficiency or the ability to create when defenses tighten up. After all, the team’s best player (Dwight Howard) is a free throw liability. Its best dribble penetrators are inconsistent (Jameer Nelson) and inefficient (Hedo Turkoglu). Its best shooters (Jason Richardson, J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson) require screens to get them open.

This is not the picture of a team you rely on much in the clutch.

The Magic do not have anyone that ranks in the tops of the league as far as points per 48 clutch minutes, with clutch defined as the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with neither team ahead by more than five points. But they do have multiple players on that list before several other teams.

Orlando’s top clutch scorer was J.J. Redick, who posted 27.0 points per 48 minutes in clutch situations. He shot 50.0 percent from the floor in those situations too. Now he only did this in 66 minutes, but he was +54 in those minutes and +39 per 48 minutes. In a short sample size, Redick had a positive impact late in games.

Hedo Turkoglu and Ryan Anderson were similarly solid in clutch situations. Turkoglu score 26.8 points per 48 clutch minutes, and was +60 in 84 minutes — +34 per 48 minutes. He also shot 50 percent from the floor in clutch situations, further feeding his reputation of stepping up in big moments.

Similarly, Ryan Anderson was on the floor for a lot of the Magic’s “clutch” moments, but, perhaps as a preview to some of his struggles in the Playoffs, did not shoot nearly as well as he did throughout the rest of the game. As defenses tighten, you expect shooting percentages to go down and players to fall off their season averages.

Take a look at the two tables below comparing clutch minutes and regular season minutes (stats courtesy of 82games.com).

PlayerMin.Pts./48FG%+/-+/- per 48
J.J. Redick6627.050.0+54+39
Hedo Turkoglu8426.850.0+60+34
Ryan Anderson8126.638.5+63+37
Jameer Nelson9720.332.6+48+24
Dwight Howard10420.253.8+56+26
PlayerMPGPts./48FG%+/-+/- per 48
J.J. Redick27.220.442.5+29+0.8
Hedo Turkoglu31.216.741.5+132+3.8
Ryan Anderson32.224.043.9+274+6.7
Jameer Nelson29.919.042.7+169+4.8
Dwight Howard38.325.857.3+178+4.1

As you can see from these two tables, several of the players you would think should have the ball late in games struggled to live up to their regular standards.

Dwight Howard saw a decrease in field goal percentage and a decrease of 27.7 percent in his scoring average over 48 minutes when the game got tight. Similarly Jameer Nelson’s production stayed about the same, but his field goal percentage and efficiency went down.

It was players like J.J. Redick and Hedo Turkoglu who stepped up and made plays, significantly increasing their field goal percentage late in games when scoring was suddenly at a premium. This is probably not what you would expect.

Thinking back on the season, the painful losses are easier to remember. There was the overtime loss to San Antonio, the buzzer-beating loss to Dallas, a late-game comeback and collapse against Denver. There were plenty of moments when late-game execution was not great — who can remember how many times Stan Van Gundy ran the Jason Richardson curl play, executed to perfection only to see Richardson miss the shot.

Richardson, by the way, played in 51 percent of the team’s clutch minutes and posted 16.4 points per 48 minutes while shooting 33.3 percent from the floor in clutch situations. Yet, the Magic kept going to that well it seemed time and time again (hey, it paid off in Game One against the Pacers).

This is all part of the larger debate on how to attack late-game situations. Is it more efficient to give it to the star and let the game devolve into one-on-one play or should the team retain some of its normal principals? The Magic’s numbers seem to suggest that having guys playing off of stars creation is the way to get efficient offense. The guys that typically handle the ball do not play up to their regular season stats.

So while the Magic may not have a closer that the team can go to on the “final possession” this is still a team with a lot of options when it needs to execute. And it seems Orlando does get to those third or fourth options, there is success. Of course, you want option No. 1 and No. 2 to work more often than not — and the goal is to avoid close game situations altogether to get a win.

We will see what a new coach does with his late-game patterns. And it will be interesting to see how a new team fits together. But as the Playoffs draw to a close and late-game situations become even more pressure-packed, remember that the stars are often the ones taking the most inefficient shots — and sometimes the better play is to pass.