AP Photo/J Pat Carter
After general manager Otis Smith matched the Chicago Bulls’ offer sheet and re-signed J.J. Redick on Friday, the roster for the Orlando Magic is eerily similar to the one that lost to the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals. New additions like Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson look to carve out their niches in the Magic’s rotation, while rookies Daniel Orton and maybe Stanley Robinson hope to develop behind the scenes. Barring an unforeseen trade, one of the major storylines heading into the 2010-2011 season for Orlando will be a familiar one.
Who will start at small forward for the Magic?
Last year around this time, Matt Barnes signed as a free agent with Orlando and looked to compete for the starting small forward position with Mickael Pietrus. Pietrus, more or less, won the job at the start of the regular season because he was already familiar with head coach Stan Van Gundy‘s plays and schemes. However, many felt that Pietrus was better served coming off the bench for the Magic after he thrived in a sixth man role in the 2009 NBA Playoffs. As a few months passed, Barnes was inserted into the starting lineup because he, among other things, complemented the four All-Stars much better than Pietrus did and things took off for Orlando.
Replace Barnes with Richardson and you have a similar story heading into training camp for the Magic like last off-season. Richardson signed with Orlando because he was going to get a chance to start at small forward.
Should Richardson start?
Yes, he should.
A better player
It’s true that Pietrus has the upper-hand in the discussion, so to speak, since he’s been with the Magic for two years. Likewise, Pietrus is Orlando’s best perimeter defender and will be needed to slow down the likes of LeBron James, Paul Pierce, and others. But Pietrus is going to see plenty of minutes, regardless if he starts or not.
|adj. +/-||net +/-||stat. +/-||PER||WARP||Win Shares/48|
A starting lineup isn’t necessarily amassing the five best players on the roster but more so, creating a 5-man unit that complements each other. That’s why Barnes started over Pietrus. However, an argument can be made that Pietrus was the superior player between the two.
In this case, Richardson is the better fit and the better player.
Similar talents defensively
Even after recognizing Pietrus’ defensive prowess, Richardson is no slouch on that end of the floor either. Richardson is a physical defender that Orlando needs. Even though the issues with his height at the position that he plays are valid, the Magic aren’t going to lose much by having Richardson on the court as opposed to Pietrus. Neither player is going to make or break Orlando’s defense because Dwight Howard is the best defender in the NBA and he’s the anchor. Players like Pietrus and Richardson are supplements defensively to the big fella.
|net def. +/-||dMULT||opp. PER||TRB%||STL%||BLK%|
|Pietrus||+0.70||0.964||16.2 (vs. SF’s)||7.4||1.6||1.4|
|Richardson||+0.66||1.000||15.8 (vs. SF’s)||10.6||1.8||0.7|
In any case, everyone knows what Pietrus is capable of in the Magic’s scheme on defense. When Pietrus’ mind and spirit are in the game at the same time, he is one of the best wing defenders in the league. Unfortunately for Pietrus, too many times he allows his offense to dictate his energy and effort defensively. As for Richardson, no one knows what he’s capable of playing alongside Howard and having the benefit of being more aggressive and physical on defense. It can’t be understated the luxuries that Richardson will have defensively, given that he can afford to gamble a little bit more because he knows that Howard is there on the weak-side to clean up his mistakes. In a sense, the unknown factor favors Richardson in this discussion. Richardson, at best, is an average defender so the comparison between he and Pietrus is a wash.
A superior shooter
As such, the main reason that Richardson should start over Pietrus is because he is a perfect complement to Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, and Howard on offense. It starts with Richardson’s shooting ability. This year with the Miami Heat, Richardson set a career-high by shooting 39.7 percent from the three-point line as opposed to 37.9 percent for Pietrus. It’s fair to question whether or not Richardson will be able to attain that percentage with the Magic, but there’s a good chance he can. It’s ironic that Richardson and Pietrus are 35.9 percent shooters from three-point range for their careers, by the way. Go figure. Either way, Richardson is an upgrade over Barnes because he’s able to shoot threes with great proficiency and he is an upgrade over Pietrus because he’s an efficient player offensively. Plus, Richardson rebounds at a similar rate to Barnes and he takes care of the basketball like Pietrus.
Richardson, quite frankly, should have a field day with Orlando because he’ll see a lot of open looks playing with so much talent on offense. Not just receiving kick-outs from Howard on the low block directly or indirectly, of course, but also getting the ball from Nelson’s drive-and-kicks. The lone point of reference with Richardson playing with such a powerhouse offensively is in 2005, when he played with the Phoenix Suns and started alongside the likes of Steve Nash, Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion, and Amar’e Stoudemire. Granted, Phoenix played a much faster pace but Richardson led the league in three-point field goals made and attempted. Richardson’s percentage wasn’t great but it was good. It’s doubtful the same will happen with the Magic, but clearly Richardson thrives in an offense that favors the three-point shot.
Given that Richardson’s usage rate with the Heat was not very high this season, it’s evident that he’s at his best when he’s not using up a ton of possessions as he has in the past. It’s true that, historically, Richardson has never been much of an efficient player but his lone year with the Heat is an excellent indicator that he is capable of being a sharp-shooter that operates efficiently as long as he’s a low-usage player. The key for Richardson is that he needs to stay in shape and keep his weight down, but Orlando’s underrated training staff should be able to help him in that regard.
The downfall of Barnes wasn’t necessarily that he got torched by Pierce in the Eastern Conference Finals. The bigger issue was that Barnes was the weak link in the 4-out/1-in offensive system for the Magic. The Celtics, like other teams in the NBA, knew that they could gamble leaving Barnes open on the perimeter because he was a below-average shooter from beyond the arc. Sure, Pietrus could step in, start, and fix that problem. Pietrus, however, isn’t as efficient as Richardson is. Also, it’s a broken record but Pietrus is better served as a reserve and Richardson has almost always started in the league anyway. It seems like Van Gundy shouldn’t have a hard decision but who knows what he’ll decide when it’s all said and done.
If Richardson can simply duplicate or come close to his numbers with Miami, then the answer becomes clear for Orlando.