Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
On Monday in the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers, head coach Stan Van Gundy was forced to use a second unit that consisted of Larry Hughes, Von Wafer, Quentin Richardson, Earl Clark, and Glen Davis. Van Gundy briefly utilized that 5-man unit in the fourth quarter as well.
If it hasn’t become clear by now why Dwight Howard wants out or why the Magic aren’t very good at the moment, witnessing Hughes, Wafer, Richardson, Clark, and Davis play on the court at the same time should put things into focus. Orlando is bad because there’s a lot of bad players on the roster right now.
The funny thing is that it wasn’t too long ago when the Magic were one of the deepest teams in the NBA, if not the deepest.
During the 2009-2010 season, Orlando trotted out — by all accounts when looking at the numbers — the best team in franchise history. Literally from top to bottom, the Magic had quality players at each position. The point guards were Jameer Nelson, Jason Williams, and Anthony Johnson. The wing players were Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, J.J. Redick, and Mickael Pietrus. The bigs were Rashard Lewis, Ryan Anderson, Brandon Bass, Dwight Howard, and Marcin Gortat. For Van Gundy, this was Noah’s Ark on steroids — he didn’t have everything in twos, but in threes and fours.
And give general manager Otis Smith credit at the time. With a savvy trade and ownership’s blessing to spend, Orlando was setup nicely that year until they ran into the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Unfortunately for Smith, what he built he also destroyed (with some help from guity parties like the Celtics).
Out went Williams, Johnson, Carter, Barnes, Pietrus, Lewis, Bass, and Gortat. In came Chris Duhon, Hughes, Jason Richardson, Wafer, Hedo Turkoglu, Quentin Richardson, Clark, and Davis. And let’s not forget the Gilbert Arenas experiment either.
In case you’re keeping score, this has what the Magic have become.
|J. Nelson||65||1860||15.5||J. Nelson||18||519||9.7|
|J. Williams||82||1703||12.9||C. Duhon||21||425||9.3|
|A. Johnson||31||406||12.4||L. Hughes||8||100||-5.6|
|V. Carter||75||2301||17.1||J. Richardson||17||481||11.8|
|J.J. Redick||82||1808||15.0||J.J. Redick||21||554||16.4|
|M. Barnes||81||2097||13.6||V. Wafer||14||179||12.1|
|M. Pietrus||75||1687||11.9||H. Turkoglu||19||590||13.8|
|R. Lewis||72||2369||14.0||Q. Richardson||14||227||5.1|
|R. Anderson||63||910||18.1||R. Anderson||20||598||23.3|
|B. Bass||50||648||16.5||G. Davis||21||469||8.2|
|D. Howard||82||2843||24.0||E. Clark||13||121||9.8|
|M. Gortat||81||1088||13.9||D. Howard||21||785||24.0|
Let’s get this out of the way. PER is not an end-all, be-all stat. Like any other linear metric, it has its flaws. That’s why when evaluating a player, it’s best to marry scouting (the eyes) and statistics (the numbers) together. That being said, it’s the advanced statistic that’s probably the most publicly visible. In this case, PER will be used to offer a snapshot look at the transformation of Orlando from an elite team and championship contender to an also-ran.
Warning: it’s not a pretty picture.
In 2010, every player for the Magic was rotation-quality. For example, when Nelson tore his meniscus in his left knee, Williams filled in as the starter, Johnson stepped in as the back-up point guard and Orlando didn’t miss a beat. That type of depth is a luxury any head coach would like to have in the league during the regular season (depth doesn’t matter as much in the playoffs). For Van Gundy, he had a harder time finding minutes for Bass and Anderson as the 10th man in the Magic’s rotation. It was an embarrassment of riches.
Not so much in 2012.
For those that have played more than 100 minutes in the regular season so far, Orlando has six players with PERs under 10 (the league average is 13.8 this season; for those that are curious, the league average was 12.7 in 2010). Six. And in Hughes’ case, he has a PER in the negatives. Oh but there’s more. Granted, he’s played in roughly 300 less minutes this season but Wafer has a higher PER than Jason Richardson. The same Wafer that was a throw-in to the Davis-Bass trade. It’s true that Richardson is nursing a sore knee but still.
Again, PER isn’t perfect. There are other linear metrics out there, like WARP, that are also valuable evaluators of a player’s worth and should be used in conjunction with PER. But let’s liken PER to the first layer of many that reveal the inner-workings of a player or team. In the case of the Magic, it doesn’t take long to realize there are a lot of bad players on the loose. Van Gundy is being forced to use six players that shouldn’t be seeing any minutes.
Not to mention that, in the case of Turkoglu, he’s playing like he doesn’t care right now. As for Howard? It’s more than obvious that he’s regressed compared to last season, whether it’s due to him coasting at times or whatever. As for Anderson and Redick, they’ve played well up to this point but it’s not enough for Orlando to be competitive.
When the Magic were winning, it was because Howard, Anderson, Redick, and Turkoglu were performing close to or up to their standards simultaneously with sporadic support from the others. During Orlando’s recent slide, it’s been Howard and little else. And when Howard’s been bad, you get a 56-point clunker against the Celtics on January 23.
People may want to point the blame on Van Gundy but he didn’t trade away nearly the entire roster or offer 4-year contracts to Jason Richardson and Davis during the offseason (what was the point of the NBA lockout again?). This is the bed Smith has made. Unfortunately for Van Gundy, he has to sleep in it.
Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.