Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE
I sat down with the task of writing about the Orlando player who most needs to redeem himself, but frankly, I just can’t do it.
As far as the major players on the roster, there just isn’t much sense in talking about “redemption.” We know Dwight’s situation. We’ve covered the bejeezus in the past out of Hedo’s slippage, and while I know Nate disagrees, I think his play suggests not so much the need for him to redeem himself as it does the fact that he ain’t that good anymore. Jameer has proven himself steady, with one outlier season of excellence. Jason Richardson is an aging leaper, and Glen Davis’ struggles weren’t really on the Magic and also I’m tired of talking about him, too.
You see what I’m saying? Most of the roster on this team has a floor and a ceiling that are about exactly the same. However, when you start looking at the reserves, you notice that how little contribution the Magic got last year from certified role players whose names aren’t Ryan Anderson. And so, while the failures of last season aren’t exactly on their heads, I think the players who most need to step it up this year are J.J. Redick, Chris Duhon and Earl Clark.
One of the best things about Van Gundy Ball is that the team system is able to absorb players with fairly limited skill sets and ask them to perform roles which accentuate their abilities, which allows the team to put players on the court who bring definable positive skill sets to their position at all times. This is a sharp contrast to an approach of trying to “steal minutes” — when Magic reserves are on the court, ideally, they are put in a role where their abilities are accentuated much more than their weaknesses are masked. In 2010, and even the season before that, this was often the case, but last season, the bench was populated with players either performing well below their career averages or failing to cultivate the one skill they could use to change a game.
Clark is a perfect example of the latter case, and the largest enigma currently on the roster.
When the Magic re-signed Clark as an unrestricted free agent a few weeks ago, my Twitter was awash with delight. Magic fans are excited about him, and it’s easy to see why — he has prototypical size and leaping ability, is an exceptional ball-handler for a 6-foot-10 player and shows every evidence of wanting to play strong defense. And yet, alas, he has to date been precisely the sort of player who doesn’t do all that well for Van Gundy. As a power forward, he is an above-average and intelligent defender, but he’s too weak and bad at rebounding to bang while not shooting well enough to be a stretch player. His handle and passing are fantastic, but he can’t make himself a viable enough threat to create for others. Thus, he’s a talented combo forward with more turnovers than assists, and an appalling career True Shooting percentage of 43.8 (a reminder, as always, that the league average, is just north of 53 percent).
If Clark is going to be a consistent factor off the bench, he is either going to have to develop a viable offensive strength, like a high-post point-forward set of skills, or accept the mantle of defensive stopper and finisher.
Of the three players I’m discussing here, I’m least sure of what Clark will look like by season’s end.
Chris Duhon, on the other end, came to the Magic with a defined set of skills and seemingly forgot it or left it in New York. Duhon was supposed to be a steady veteran presence who could knock down shots — remember how handy Rafer was? — but was instead a slow-footed turnover machine. Duhon should be precisely what works in Orlando, since he’s more of a mind to distribute than score and ostensibly is effective knocking down open shots.
Out of the three players here, Duhon is the one most clearly in need of redemption, as he is an able veteran with a decent history on a massive contract. That said, I can’t see huge reasons for his precipitous decline last year, so I’m not necessarily real sunny on the prognosis. I’ve read that his conditioning was lacking, and that could be a good thing, if he finds himself motivated to change, or a terrible thing, if it’s habit.
Finally, and most optimistically, I come to J.J. Redick.
Now listen, y’all. I have made no secret across the interbotz of my Carolina fandom, and I have loathed few athletes in my life more than Redick. For this reason, it pains me to say that he is an eminently likeable NBA role player, a guy with one above-average skill who has tailored his game around the knowledge that defenses will counter that skill and who has made himself a stalwart defender. He could be the third or fourth guard on a contending team, as he showed three seasons ago when he was both offensively effective during the playoffs while showing the requisite intelligence and determination to make life hard on Ray Allen.
Redick I’m including in this article because his play did indeed slip last season, and his presence would substantially improve the bench, but I don’t really pin his troubles on him. For starters, there was that injury at the end of the year which prevented him from seeing the playoffs, where he had sort of broken out the year before, and his performance before that injury was only marginally worse than it was the season before. In sum, I think we’ll see a Redick we’re familiar with, and of the guys I’m talking about here, I think he’s the most likely to put together a season we’re used to seeing.
So none of these players, in and of themselves, are major roster forces who need to up their production. But, if each one of them improves upon last season, the Magic may be able to feature a bench unit that includes an athletic, defensive-minded forward, a relatively versatile shooter/scorer and a distribution-minded reserve point guard. Those are real pieces that could be put to use in a cohesive team identity off the bench.
All of which is to say, if these three players improve as a unit, it may have a more positive effect than any single player “redeeming” himself.