Evaluating Rafer Alston

This week, 3QC will take a look back on each Magic player's 2008/2009 season. Each day focuses on one position: Monday for point guards, Tuesday for shooting guards, Wednesday for small forwards, Thursday for power forwards, and Friday for centers. I'll evaluate each individual player at that position at regular intervals throughout the day, while Eddy will make a general survey of the position later in the afternoon.

Rafer Alston kicks off today's slate. Anthony Johnson and Jameer Nelson are on deck and in the hole, respectively.

Rafer Alston
No. 1 Point Guard
Points Per Game Assists Per Game Turnovers Per Game
12.0 5.1 1.8
Points Per 36 Assists Per 36 Turnovers Per 36
14.6 6.2 2.2
PER Assist Rate Turnover Rate
15.6 28.9 13.2
FG% 3FG% FT%
41.3% 31.7% 70.7%
eFG% TS%
46.6% 50.9%

All statistics in this table from Alston's player page at basketball-reference. Career-best statistics highlighted in gold.

The story of how Rafer Alston came to join the Orlando Magic is well-worn by now, so I won't bother anyone by telling it again. Suffice it to say the Magic needed a competent, stop-gap starting point guard to man the controls for the team's stretch run, as Jameer Nelson was thought to be out for the year due to injury. With the season over, Alston became expendable, and the Magic shipped him to New Jersey, along with Tony Battie and Courtney Lee, for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson. Not bad for a point guard rental, no?

By and large, Alston played the stop-gap role capably. His highs were high, his lows were low, and on the whole, he was an average point guard who happened to start for a team that made it to the NBA Finals. We know how that series played out, of course, with Nelson abruptly returning to the rotation as a reserve, which threw Alston off his game... according to Alston, anyway.

An 11-year veteran, the book on Alston's strengths and weaknesses is essentially finished at this point. Offensively, he's a decent distributor and playmaker, albeit one who struggles at times to make a proper entry pass to the big man inside. It was a problem in Houston when he continued to miss Yao Ming, and it became a problem in Orlando as he struggled to thread the needle to Dwight Howard. With that said, his mistakes--such as not getting the ball to Howard on time--usually didn't result in turnovers, and for that he should be commended.

He is, to be charitable, an offensive liability with regard to shooting. The biggest difference between Alston and Nelson is that Nelson can knock down shots when defenses either go under screens or otherwise sag off him; Rafer is far less consistent. In the playoffs, Boston, Cleveland, and the L.A. Lakers dared Alston to beat them, rightfully paying more attention to, well, everyone else on the floor. Sometimes, Rafer came through. Other times, he was an absolute no-show, which brings me back to my earlier point about his high highs and low lows. Every outing was an adventure with Rafer, which led me to nickname him the "Rafercoaster." This nickname did not catch on.

Understand that I don't mean to trash the man here. His defense, at least empirically, is well above-average. He's quick, he makes the right decisions, he's rarely lost, and he forces the odd turnover every now and again by carefully playing the passing lanes. He is, in other words, an asset to the team defensively. And if you consider his passing to mitigate his poor shooting, then you have what is, at best, an average NBA starting point guard, all told.

Magic fans should be grateful for Alston's play more-or-less saving the Magic's season. With no offense intended to Anthony Johnson or Tyronn Lue, who would have split time at the position were Alston not brought aboard, the Magic would not have made it to the Finals. And, in the Magic's lone Finals win, Rafer scored 20 points. Nifty.

But also understand that he is not without fault. Sure, he started for the Magic in the Finals, but he can't hold a candle to Nelson, the 27-year-old All-Star who is every bit the defender and playmaker Alston is, while far exceeding him in offensive productivity and efficiency. Poor play in the Finals aside, Nelson is the team's point guard for the foreseeable future, which is as it should be.

Back to Rafer: the standard grade for an average player is a C, but doling him such a mark would be unfair, given the circumstances. He came up big in certain games, as I previously mentioned, and without him the Magic's season might have ended a month earlier than it did. He is by no means the only reason the Magic made it as far as they did, but he is a reason. And for that, he is fairly compensated.

Grade: B
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