Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
With the Orlando Magic halfway home to their goal of winning a championship, it seems more than appropriate to conduct a progress report on each player that has been in head coach Stan Van Gundy‘s 10-man rotation (excluding Ryan Anderson, due to lack of minutes) since the start of the 2010 NBA Playoffs. The reports will serve to track a player’s performance at the midway point of the postseason.
There will be no grades handed out, just comments attached.
Today, the starters.
Rashard Lewis (36.9 minutes per game):
Lewis has been fantastic, plain and simple. Even though the Magic aren’t relying on him as heavily as they did last year in the playoffs, Lewis has made up for working with a lighter workload by being ridiculously efficient on offense. The numbers show that. And this hasn’t been the case, of course, but it just seems like Lewis has been practically making every shot he’s put up. If anything else, Lewis has shown why he’s the best stretch four in the NBA. How?
Lewis completely neutered Smith’s effectiveness on defense, just by operating on the perimeter. This is the same Josh Smith that finished second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting and is regarded as a good defender, even if his individual D is suspect at varying times. That’s why stretch fours are valued, and Lewis is ahead of the rest of the class.
Lewis has been awesome offensively and what’s been most encouraging about his stellar play is that he isn’t just shooting threes. Lewis has shown a willingness to use the jab step to create space for an open mid-range jumper, put the basketball on the floor and attack the basket, and overpower his way on the low block and nail that silky-smooth fadeaway jumper of his. Lewis has displayed his full repertoire on offense and it’s been beautiful to watch.
Vince Carter (35.3 minutes per game):
It took a few games for Carter to get his feet wet and re-familiarize himself with the postseason after being away from it for three years, but there’s no doubt that he is playing exactly like Orlando want — and need — him to be playing. More than anything else, Carter has found a perfect balance offensively … he’s aggressive but not too much, he’s picked his spots to attack, and when the Magic need him to take over a game, he’s been more than willing to step up to the task. This is the type of player Orlando envisioned acquiring when they traded for Carter in the off-season with the New Jersey Nets. Carter has been an efficient playmaker and has battled on defense, too. It took a while but there’s no question that Carter has fully integrated himself nicely with the Magic.
Jameer Nelson (33.4 minutes per game):
There’s no other way to say it — Nelson is playing the best ball of his career right now, and this is taking into account his excellent first-half campaign last season. It’s more than obvious to anyone that’s been watching that Nelson is playing (pardon the cliche) with a chip on his shoulder and trying to make up for his lackluster performance in the 2009 NBA Finals. Nelson is playing with a focus and determination that has completely carried down to the rest of his teammates, as they are each playing with a single-mindedness that has made Orlando look like an army of Terminators right now. Ruthless and efficient.
In fact, Nelson has been playing so well that all those questions about whether or not he would have made a difference in the Finals last year if he were healthy are being answered with an emphatic “yes.” If Nelson can keep up this level of play, and he’s more than capable of doing so, the Magic’s chances of winning a championship will be very good. As Nelson goes, so goes Orlando and it’s no coincidence that with Nelson playing like a man possessed, the Magic have been playing like a juggernaut. It’s also a reason why people are salivating at the possibility of Nelson and Rajon Rondo facing off against each other.
Dwight Howard (31.9 minutes per game):
It’s been an interesting postseason for Howard, to say the least. As the story goes, Howard was unable to stay on the floor consistently against the Charlotte Bobcats in the first round but it didn’t really matter, as the Bobcats were swept. However, when Howard did see minutes against Charlotte, his impact on defense was palpable. Granted, the Bobcats aided in the process with their “attack the rim no matter what” strategy but Howard showed why he was named the Defensive Player of the Year for a second consecutive season by not only blocking shots in droves but altering them, too. It was a dominant defensive performance by a dominant defensive player.
Against the Atlanta Hawks, Howard was able to finally showcase his abilities on offense and he impressed. Like the Cleveland Cavaliers last year in the playoffs, the Hawks had no chance against Howard defensively because they didn’t have the bodies to counteract whatever he wanted to do offensively. Horford is one of the better defenders in the NBA but he had no chance against Howard, simply due to his natural physical limitations. Atlanta tried to throw Zaza Pachulia, Jason Collins, and Randolph Morris at Howard to try and slow him down, but to no avail. Howard’s efficiency in the second round was astounding and his offense wasn’t just dunks and put-backs, either. Howard, as he has done all season, diversified his approach offensively by making righty or lefty hooks with relative ease.
It’s been a topsy-turvy postseason for Howard, so far, but some of the adversity he experienced against the Bobcats served him well against the Hawks. Howard didn’t get frustrated much or rattled mentally, plus he played smart and with discretion when playing with a few fouls (letting some shots go, for example). As a result, the Magic were able to benefit from having Howard on the court most of the time, rather than some of the time.
Matt Barnes (24.8 minutes per game)
Barnes hasn’t done much on offense and quite frankly, he doesn’t need to. All that is required of Barnes is to be efficient when he is looking to score and he’s been able to do that. Barnes’ primary objective is to play defense. Like Pietrus, Barnes is tasked with defending the best wing players in the league and he’s been up to the task. Look no further Joe Johnson’s struggles in the Eastern Conference Semifinals as an example of what Barnes is capable of defensively. Yes, many times Johnson fell into a lull on the perimeter and was intimidated to dribble penetrate due to Dwight Howard’s presence in the lane, but Barnes did his job against one of the more prolific scores in the NBA. Rest assured, though, the task will get harder as Orlando prepares for the Eastern Conference Finals and Barnes’ assignment will either be LeBron James or Paul Pierce.
That concludes this progress report of “The Magic Show.”