Evaluating the Orlando Magic's Preseason Rotation

With five preseason games in the books, with three left to play, it's time for Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy to finish making plans for his playing rotation, as the season is but nine days away. That's the focus of Brian Schmitz's feature on the Magic for today's Orlando Sentinel; in a separate notebook piece, Schmitz reports that Van Gundy estimated he has used at least 20 different player combinations so far in the preseason.

The Sentinel's emphasis on the playing rotation today, coupled with Eddy's practice report yesterday, made me curious. I investigated just how many lineups Van Gundy had used throughout (71!), noting which ones appeared most often, and especially the ones that could serve as the starting lineup on opening night. Make the jump to read my findings.

A major caveat with evaluating any of these lineups: most only appeared for portions of one game, against one opponent, so--to adapt a phrase from the advertising industry--your results against other teams may vary!

First, the most interesting information: how the two most likely starting lineups for the first ten games, during which All-Star forward Rashard Lewis will serve a suspension for steroids, fared. The first lineup, featuring Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter in the backcourt with Matt Barnes, Brandon Bass, and Dwight Howard up front, rated a +5 in 11:00 of playing time together. The variation of that lineup, which subs the Lewis-like Anderson for Bass at power forward, was a +7 in 6:24 of tick. The latter stat isn't inflated by Ryan Anderson's barrage of three-pointers against Memphis, either, as Van Gundy only used that combination in the second game of the preseason, and hasn't used it since. Based on per-minute scoring, the Anderson lineup appears to be the better choice, although we are indeed watching Small Sample Size Theater. In the extreme, even.

Second, the "conventional" lineup that many mainstream media believe the Magic will use upon Lewis' return--which puts Lewis in Barnes' place at small forward, with free-agent signee Bass at power forward--did not appear until the most recent game, a 121-86 drubbing of the New Orleans Hornets. It rated a +4 in 6:47, which is not spectacular in a game the Magic won by 35 points.

Third, the lineup that's played together longest--Nelson and Carter at the guards, with Lewis, Bass, and reserve center Marcin Gortat up front--hasn't done much damage, with an even differential of 0 in 13:29. The second-longest-used lineup is even wonkier, as it features five players who may very well find themselves coming off the bench for the entire season. That lineup has Anthony Johnson running the point, with J.J. Redick and Mickael Pietrus on the wings, and the Anderson/Gortat tag-team at the power positions. Van Gundy's used it for 12:35 over the course of 2 games, with decent results: a +/- rating of 8.

Summarily, there's probably not much for us to take from these results, as--all together now!--"it's only the preseason." However, setting aside the +/- figures for a moment, we can at least see which lineups Van Gundy tends to use, and thus which ones could log major minutes together in the regular season. That much is at least valuable, yes?

If there's any interest, I'll revisit this topic after the preseason schedule runs its course. The last game tips off Friday against Atlanta.

Meta note: the photo accompanying this post is a bit outdated (hi, Hedo Turkoglu!), but it's also the only good shot of the Magic's bench I haven't used yet.

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