AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
With injuries to both stars and role players plaguing the league, I wonder if Orlando is lucky to be close to full strength 13 games into the season. I mean everyone has injuries, right? So what gives? Is Orlando lucky, or are they well coached?
Stan Van Gundy, though working with a less-than-lethal roster, is doing some clever coaching this season. We know all about Van Gundy’s defensive schemes, his offensive genius, and his ability to inspire — but another layer of the Van Gundy onion is seen in his ability to manage minutes on this sub-standard roster.
In this season, more than others in recent history, minute distribution is of the utmost importance, because unless you are named Dwight Howard (or Superman or Captain America), you’ll be hard pressed to log 37-40 minutes per game in this bang-bang season and not pull a hammy (or get trench toe).
So it’s not so surprising that an astute veteran like SVG would make adjustments for the shortened season. In fact, the lowering of minutes is not uncommon league-wide. But what SVG is getting, and perhaps better than other coaches in the league thus far, is productivity and efficiency from unpredictable guys in the context of minute shaving.
Look at Ryan Anderson as a great example. Anderson’s minutes are up from his previous year (he’s close to 30 minutes per game as opposed to 22 or 23) as a starter. Guess what else went up for Anderson? His points, rebounds, and virtually every other stat.
So what we’re seeing is SVG using Anderson to preserve legs elsewhere (Glen Davis, for example), but simultaneously getting extra production on the offensive and defensive ends. Part of the equation here is having a guy who you can trust with more minutes, though. Not every team has a Ryan Anderson — a guy who had the game to expand if he were given more minutes.
Now look at what Vinny Del Negro is doing with the Clippers right now. They don’t have a guy like Ryan Anderson who can take minutes from the starters. So Del Negro has to push and push and push guys like Chris Paul until guess what happens? Tweeked the hammy, bro. Too bad. The Clippers currently have five guys averaging above 30 minutes per game, topped by Griffin and Paul, who each average 37. To contrast, the Magic only have two guys averaging above 30 minutes per game — Turkoglu and Howard.
That’s the difference at the early stages of this young season. Van Gundy surely understands this, and so long as he can keep getting production from Anderson, Turkoglu, and Redick, things should be fine.
It’s clear that balance is the key. Thus, you have to have a semi-balanced roster to pull this off. Redick is filling minutes, Anderson has stepped into some more minutes, Glen Davis is logging some time, and so on. This allows Jameer, J-Rich, and Turkoglu to cut back a bit and preserve their bodies.
The big question is what happens when these guys stop producing at this stellar clip? The responsibility will fall back to Jason Richardson and Jameer Nelson, for one thing. J-Rich averaged close to 35 minutes per game last year with Orlando. This year he’s a hair under 30. So a lot could change for this Magic team if he doesn’t improve but is forced to start seeing more minutes.
Similarly, Jameer has been off to a slow and unprecedented start. Chances are he’ll bounce back, but hopefully before the probable shrinkage from Anderson.
The best part about how things are working for Van Gundy right now is that legs are being preserved, injury is being avoided, and the team is winning games. So at the very least, at this rate the Magic might be one of the healthier teams heading into the playoffs. So is it luck? Sort of, yeah. It’s nice to get such production out of Anderson, to be sure. But it’s more than just that. Van Gundy has a hawks eye on the future of this season, and he’s doing everything he can to maximize the Magic chances in the postseason. For now, it’s working.
Nate Drexler is a contributing writer for Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.