Addressing the Gilbert Arenas Conundrum | Magic Basketball

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Jun 30

Addressing the Gilbert Arenas Conundrum

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Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Gilbert Arenas.

At the peak of his powers, Arenas was — regarded by many — as a quirky and eccentric player that had many memorable moments on and off court. Unfortunately for Arenas, he made some bad decisions this season when he brought unloaded firearms into the Washington Wizards locker room en lieu of a gambling dispute with teammate Javaris Crittenton, which forced commissioner David Stern to suspend Arenas indefinitely while the NBA investigated the issue. Eventually, Arenas was suspended for the rest of the year by Stern and sentenced to two years probation, in addition to serving 30 days in a halfway house (he was released on May 7).

With Arenas looking to reboot his career, there have been rumors circulating the internet that general manager Otis Smith might look to acquire him in a trade involving Vince Carter. But according to Michael Lee of The Washington Post in a report on Thursday, “the talks didn’t get very far” and it appears that the Wizards were the ones to initiate the conversation with the Orlando Magic. Since Smith has history with Arenas, dating back to their days with the Golden State Warriors, it’s easy to conjure up the possibilities of a reunion taking place with the Magic. And given that Carter, for all intents and purposes, is on the trade block, a swap involving him and Arenas seems plausible in theory. Even though a trade with Carter and Arenas would be easy to pull off because of their matching salaries, there’s no question that the move wouldn’t make much sense from Orlando’s perspective because Arenas has four years left on his max contract.

WARP projection 2011 2012 2013 Total
Gilbert Arenas 7.3 5.2 4.1 16.6

Click here to see how Arenas’ projections compare to the 2010 free agent class.


For all of Carter’s faults as a player (can’t question him as a person), one of the main reasons why Smith acquired him last year was because his contract expires this year. Smith has the flexibility, despite Carter’s diminishing value, to tweak and adjust the Magic’s roster as he sees fit. If Smith traded for Arenas, that flexibility would be destroyed. However, let’s ignore the issues of Arenas’ contract for a second.

From a basketball perspective, is Arenas a better fit than Carter?

No.

High-usage, low efficiency player
In 32 games with the Wizards this season, Arenas was not an efficient player offensively. Arenas’ true shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage, and Offensive Rating were all below-average compared to the rest of the NBA. Yes, there was a time during Arenas’ three-year zenith from 2005 to 2007 when he was a relatively efficient player on offense. Times have changed, though. It is possible that with a lower usage rate in Orlando, Arenas’ efficiency could improve. Given Arenas’ history, though, that seems like asking too much from him. The only way that Arenas has been truly successful is when he has the basketball in his hands all the time. That’s the way Arenas operates.

2009-2010 regular season TS% eFG% USG% ORtg
Dwyane Wade .562 .500 34.9% 113
LeBron James .604 .545 33.5% 121
Carmelo Anthony .548 .478 33.4% 110
Kobe Bryant .545 .488 32.3% 109
Kevin Durant .607 .514 32.0% 118
Gilbert Arenas .511 .462 31.9% 103
league average .545 .501 18.9% 108

In his prime, Arenas routinely used up more than 30 percent of his team’s possessions, which is similar to the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and others that are high-usage players offensively. The same was the case this year, as Arenas’ usage rate was over 30 percent. Excluding his injury-plagued seasons in 2008 and 2009, the last time Arenas’ usage rate was under 30 percent was in 2005. The problem is that the Magic can’t afford for Arenas to use all those possessions because the other primary weapons on the team, namely Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Jameer Nelson, need the ball in their hands. It throws Orlando’s balanced attack on offense out of whack.

That was the issue with Carter and the Magic for the first couple of months this year. As Orlando entered their swoon in early January, they struggled in large part because Carter was too much of a focal point offensively. The Magic’s offense is designed to be centered around Howard, not Carter. Head coach Stan Van Gundy did instruct Carter, when he first came to Orlando, to be aggressive and play like himself but that suggestion wasn’t working out. Carter took his aggressiveness to an extreme, and it took a while for him to find a balance and pick his spots accordingly. Thing is, there was rarely any concern that Carter wasn’t going to “get it” because he’s shown to be an unselfish player, almost to a fault.

Can Arenas do the same? Who knows.

Injury problems
When Arenas kept getting hurt the past two seasons prior to this season, one of the more popular topics that ran rampant on message boards was whether or not he was going to be the next Penny Hardaway — a great player that was hobbled by knee injuries and had his career derailed prematurely. Magic fans know too well Hardaway’s fall from grace, and Grant Hill’s too. That being said, it doesn’t seem to make much sense for Orlando, a team that is contending for championships and has no margin for error, to take a risk and rely on a player that has an injury history with his knees. Though it’s worth pointing out that, when Arenas did play this year, he was healthy even though it seems like he’s lost most of the explosiveness in his legs. The decrease in field goal percentage at the rim and a dip in free-throw attempts per game are the tell-tail signs for Arenas.

At Rim FGM-A At Rim FG% FTM-A FT%
2006-2007 (74 games) 2.9 – 5.0 .580 8.2 – 9.7 84.4%
2009-2010 (32 games) 2.0 – 3.9 .516 4.8 – 6.5 73.9%

A potential disaster defensively
Even if the Magic ignored some of Arenas’ red flags, it has to be assumed that Arenas would play at shooting guard with Nelson in the backcourt. If so, that would have the makings of being a disastrous alignment on defense. Not so much because of Nelson, who has his weaknesses defensively but isn’t a liability, but because Arenas has never really been regarded as a good defender and coupled with the fact he’d be an undersized two-guard, opposing teams would have a field day against him. They already did when Arenas played point guard and put forth an inconsistent effort defensively.

Via Synergy Sports Technology:

2009-2010 regular season Time Poss. PPP* Rank Rating
OVERALL DEFENSE 100% 385 1.03 7% Poor
P&R Ball Handler 37.1% 143 0.92 21% Below Average
Spot-Up 28.8% 111 1.05 29% Below Average
Isolation 13.2% 51 1.20 3% Poor
Off Screen 7.3% 28 0.93 41% Average


net def. +/- dMULT opp. PER TRB% STL% BLK%
-0.51 1.000 19.4 (vs. PG’s) 6.5 1.8 0.6

Howard is the best defender in the league, but even he can’t conceivably cover the holes that would open up with Arenas at shooting guard. Howard has his own responsibilities on defense that he has to worry about, let alone someone else’s.

There was a time when it didn’t matter what Arenas did defensively, because he was an extraordinary scorer and one of the best players in the NBA. That’s no longer the case. Yes, even this year, Arenas averaged roughly 23 points per game but it took him approximately 19 shots to reach that number. Arenas still has the gift to score, but he’s not helping his team when he’s taking up more than one-third of the possessions. If Arenas were to join Orlando, he would have no choice but to relinquish his ball-dominating ways and be content being the second option offensively. However, it’s been years since Arenas wasn’t the focal point of an offense and it’s fair to question whether or not he would be willing to defer to Howard and company. To be frank, Arenas would have no choice in the matter. Maybe Arenas can adjust and become a more efficient player offensively in a lesser role. That’s assuming a lot from Arenas, though, and his issues defensively wouldn’t be going away.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Magic are looking to acquire a prime-time talent, but Arenas isn’t the answer. At the end of the day, there’s too many question marks, unknowns, and red flags surrounding Arenas.

*points per possession

12 comments
BigMike21
BigMike21

@Eddy Rivera

Yeah it's not the worst after the contracts handed out today for sure.....

Billy (slickw143)
Billy (slickw143)

Yikes. I forgot he's still in the league... How quickly he fell off.

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Billy (slickw143)

Don't forget Elton Brand.

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@BigMike21

Lewis' contract is steep, but it's not the worst in the NBA.

BigMike21
BigMike21

We'd have the two worst contracts in the NBA if we acquired Arenas

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Eyriq

I see your point, but I don't think the risk is worth it given that Arenas has four years left on his max contract.

@Billy (slickw143)

... and that's the crux of the problem. Arenas is clearly past his peak. There's no question he was healthy when he played this year, but he isn't the same player he once was.

@hulKK

Bosh is probably not coming. Nowitzki is DEFINITELY not coming. McGrady would be lucky to have Otis Smith talk to him, let alone sign with the Magic. The only scenario that has any chance of working out is a trade for Chris Paul. That's it.

@Majed

Well, Arenas would be theoretically playing at the shooting guard position so the issue isn't that he's a shoot-first guard. There are other red flags.

Majed
Majed

Arenas would be terrible in Orlando. He's a shoot first guard (even more so than Jameer) and so it would not fit in at all!

hulKK
hulKK

I think Orlando only have about 4 good moves that would ACTUALLY work.
1. Sign Chris Bosh 2. Sign Dirk Nowitzki 3. Trade Nelson for Paul and if all 3 of those options can't/don't happen then sign Tracey McGrady and get everybody back in the gym to just work harder next yr. That's the safest/best move Orlando can make this summer.

Billy (slickw143)
Billy (slickw143)

Arenas is past his "3 year peak". He's had quite a few knee surgeries and isn't the same player. He's played hardly at all the last 3 seasons.

Eyriq
Eyriq

I actually like the Arenas gamble. The knees do scare me and the deal would be contingent on a thorough checkup would be in place, but if that clears than bring the man in. A 115 ORtg with 31% usage is just godly, which is what Arenas was doing during his three year peak. Tone that usage down to what would fit with the Magic, 24% or so usage, and that peak Arenas would have a ~120 ORtg potentially. His court mileage is low due to his injuries and behavior, so if his knees do check out he could still be expected to be in his prime. I think that would be a significant upgrade over Carter for the next two years, and he would still be a valuable offensive cog from the ages 32-35. That back court would be dominant offensively, and yes Dwight could mitigate the defense from going into a spiral. That is what big defensive studs do.