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Josh McRoberts was due for a bounce-back season. After a solid campaign on the upstart 2010-11 Pacers, the Duke product signed a two-year deal with the Lakers and was expected to help offset the loss of Lamar Odom as the team’s third big man.
Yes, the idea of McRoberts replacing the Odom coming off a career year in L.A. (in which he won the Sixth Man of the Year award) may draw the ire of quite a few pro-Lamar readers, but while there’s a vast difference between the two in quality, the idea is similar. McRoberts is an excellent passer for a big and can capably stretch the floor. While he lacks Odom’s creativity and versatility, his athleticism was projected to be a huge boon for the aging Lakers and optimists everywhere could reasonably envision him being a good fit in a system built around ball movement.
Well, optimists everywhere were disappointed. McRoberts’ playmaking abilities were more than offset by his propensity for infuriating turnovers — the Pacers-Bulls first round series in the 2011 NBA Playoffs still conjures up ghastly images of Josh giving away crunch time possessions to any and every applicant –- and any other offensive benefits were lost as an unspectacular True Shooting percentage of 51.6 percent was enhanced by an infuriating reluctance to take shots. McRoberts took just 5.9 field goal attempts per 36 minutes, essentially taking himself out of the game on the one end where his contributions were a positive.
And so Josh arrived in Orlando, a throw-in in a blockbuster trade playing for his reputation and his next contract. So far, the results have been encouraging.
It starts where the Laker tenure ended: the turnovers. Josh’s reluctance with the ball in his hands and the rim straight ahead stands in sharp contrast to his passing game, with which he is very trigger happy. Between fancy passes and an iffy handle, McRoberts’ career is plagued by a turnover percentage of 15.5 percent.
This season, though, McRoberts has only six turnovers in 13 games for a turnover percentage of 10.0 percent, which would easily be a career-best. Meanwhile, he continues to pass well with 15 assists.
Instead of forcing the issue, Josh has done a good job of fitting in –- cutting off the ball, mostly on the baseline, spotting up, and moving the ball when the shot isn’t there. His usage rate is still a laughably low 12.4 percent, and as much as one appreciates the willingness to share, he could pose much more of a threat if he ditched the Mike Miller Syndrome of wanting to pass all the time. But unlike last year, his prudence has resulted in above-average efficiency, with a True Shooting percentage of 56.2 percent and a 14.7 Player Efficiency Rating, which is definitely the stronger point of the trade-off.
So, should McRoberts play more? It’s hard to say. Orlando’s power forward situation is tangled and tricky, and McRoberts has struggled historically with the size of centers. Jacque Vaughn has experimented a bit with playing him at the 3, but he’ll have to show that he’s capable of taking and making perimeter shots for such constellations to survive offensively. The defense becomes even more of a concern once added movement enters the equation.
And, more than anything, we must point out that the minutes just aren’t there to reach any solid conclusions. We are but 188 minutes into McRoberts’ season at this point, and while different stats can be messier or cleaner, this is pretty much low enough to be universally skeptical.
With all that said, things are looking up for the one known as McBob. The limited numbers we have are showing a return to form, and as bad as the Magic project to be this season, it’s very possible that they’re just a better situation for McRoberts than whatever it was that happened in L.A. last year.
At 25 years old, McRoberts’ prime years are still ahead of him and there seems to be reason to believe that they will be better than the failings of the past.