What follows is a general overview of the Orlando Magic's preseason performance, using general points of interest as a guide.
INTERNAL IMPROVEMENT: Dwight Howard's Offense
The Magic force-fed Dwight Howard this preseason, as he used approximately 27.6 percent of the team's possessions when he was on the court, again according to the Advanced Stats Calculator. For context, his usage rate was 23.9 percent last season and has never exceeded 26.2 percent.
So, how'd he do with increased involvement? Not bad, from a shooting standpoint. 63.5 percent from the field will get it done, but his increased turnovers made him, on a per-possession basis, less efficient than he was last regular season.
The more interesting development? 15 of Howard's 37 shot attempts in post-up situations were jumpers, and he made 10 of them, which indicates an increase in both confidence and proficiency in that facet of the game. If he's able to trim the turnovers by one-fifth or so, and get his free-throw shooting back to his usual low-60s mark--he shot 50 percent on the nose this preseason--he could indeed become more difficult to handle than ever inside. Call me cautiously optimistic that he could take the proverbial next step offensively this season.
Additionally, as a result of the Magic running more read-and-react offense, Howard managed to free himself for cuts more frequently than in past seasons. He shot 7-of-7 on his cuts to the basket and scored 19 points, thanks to prodigious and-one opportunities.
After the jump, a look at Rashard Lewis' offense, the team's play style, the performance of newcomers Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson, and the power forward battle between Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass.
INTERNAL IMPROVEMENT: Lewis' Offense
After a season in which decreased offensive opportunities submarined Lewis' production, the Magic entered camp determined to do two things: play him more often at small forward and get him the freaking ball. Well, they accomplished the first one, as he played 185 offensive possessions at the three-spot compared to 101 at the four. His usage rate went virtually unchanged, though, from 19.4 last regular season to 19.5 this preseason. But the sorts of touches he got changed, and Van Gundy made the most of Lewis' remarkable versatility. As a result, he managed nearly a point every two minutes while shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 47.4 percent from three-point territory.
The simplest, most telling stat? Only 19 of Lewis' 52 shot attempts were three-pointers, or 36.5 percent. In his first three seasons with the Magic, 50.5 percent of Lewis' shots came from long range.
How'd the Magic do it? In the half court, they posted him up more, and he delivered by making 7 of his 10 shots in the post. They also found him more often in transition than they did last season. He won't keep converting shots at such a high rate, but as is the case with Vince Carter, the manner in which the Magic used Lewis this preseason is every bit as important as his overall productivity.
STYLE: Stretch Power Forward vs. Traditional Power Forward
|Pts||Poss.||ORtg||Opp Pts||Opp Poss.||DRtg||Eff. Diff.|
Surprisingly, the Magic were 16.5 points per 100 possessions more effective with a traditional power forward in their lineup, mostly due to their work on defense in those alignments. Lewis, the incumbent starter at power forward, wound up taking most of his reps at small forward this preseason, but he proved effective playing both positions.
Lineups with Gortat at power forward--which is to say, lineups in which Gortat played up front with Dwight Howard--were potent on both ends of the court. Oddly, in prior years, that jumbo pairing fared better on offense than on defense. Gortat must have made strides in learning power forward this summer and in training camp, however, for the numbers here to be so impressive.
NEW ADDITIONS: Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson
As outlined in our general preseason stats wrap, backup point guard Chris Duhon has some turnover issues to address. Approximately 35.8 percent of the possessions he used resulted in a turnover, according to Pick And Scroll's Advanced Statistics Calculator. Orlando's a markedly better team with Jameer Nelson on the floor as opposed to Duhon, as we'll soon see. Coach Stan Van Gundy told the Orlando Sentinel he wants Duhon to be more willing to take open jumpers, and that might not be such a bad idea, given how often he'd pass on those to drive into traffic instead. Then again, he shot 33.3 percent from the field in the exhibition campaign. On the whole, unless he was using the pick-and-roll to create offense for his teammates, as he did on 41 of his 87 possessions, according to Synergy Sports Technology, Duhon was kind-of a disaster.
Duhon's former Knicks teammate, Richardson, proved a nice contrast. He seamlessly blended into the starting lineup alongside the Magic's four All-Stars and showcased a balanced all-around game. He had the team's best Pure Point Rating among non-point guards, managed a rebound more often than every five minutes, and drained open three-pointers. He's going to thrive in the Magic's offense: 18 of his 24 trey attempts came off the catch, and Synergy classified 16 of them as "unguarded." There should be no doubt that he's earned the starting small forward job, especially given his work defensively: he drew three charges in 11 tries defending opponents in isolation settings, and overall yielded 29 points in 45 possessions as the primary defender. That'll do.
POSITIONAL BATTLES: Anderson and Bass for Backup Power Forward
Van Gundy ended the drama surrounding this debate when he announced both players will get minutes on a nightly basis, although the media immediately met that claim with skepticism.
On a per-minute basis this preseason, Bass ranked fourth on the team in scoring, second in rebounding, and fourth in shot-blocking; he also placed seventh on the team in True Shooting, which is misleading, because he posted an incredible 60 percent in that area.
Bass is primarily a mid-range shooting specialist on offense, and he was dialed in. He shot 15-of-22 on jumpers, including 12-of-16 off the catch. He's not a bad safety valve there, but when plays are called for him, he tends to get in trouble, typically by losing his handle while trying to create for himself. Another shortcoming? He scored on just 5 of his 15 post-ups.
As outlined in the table atop this post, the team defended well with Bass in the game, but his individual defense needs improvement. His man scored on 46.2 percent of his overall possessions, and 55.6 percent of the time in spot-up situations, suggesting he needs to close out better. But it's hard to knock his effort, I suppose; his engagement on that end is markedly improved.
Anderson bests Bass as a shooter, but my favorite statistic about Anderson? 19 of his 21 shots off the catch--90.5 percent of them--were classified as "unguarded." He enjoyed warm-up jumper after warm-up jumper within the Magic's offense, which expanded his role by involving him in more frequent pick-and-pop action.
Anderson's defense? Solid, though opponents rarely tried bringing the ball inside against him; 28 of the 36 shots he defended were jumpers, with only 8 of them dropping.
Bass really impressed his teammates, the coaching staff, and Magic fans this preseason; he exceeded expectations to a greater degree than Anderson did his. But I still believe Anderson's a better fit for the team, on both ends, than Bass is. But then again, Bass' on/off differentials top Anderson's by a wide margin. It truly is a tough call, much tougher than last year.