In the Orlando Magic's Shaky Start, Three Causes for Concern

The Orlando Magic talked a good game coming out of their preseason and productive, positive training camp. They ought to have been able to get off to a great start thanks to the league's easiest opening schedule. But the Magic don't have the look of a team boasting four former All-Stars and 10 returning players from a Conference Finals appearance. Reasons for concern abound, especially after consecutive losses at home. A few disturbing trends:

ROLE PLAYERS NOT CONTRIBUTING

Great teams manage to get fairly reliable production from their role players, in whatever role those players are meant to fill. So far, several of the Magic's role players have come up empty.

  • J.J. Redick has missed 18 of his 21 three-point attempts and has just 8 assists in 8 games, which is especially odd, given his improvement as a passer over the last two years. Among all players to notch 150 total minutes this season, he ranks last in Player Efficiency Rating.

  • Chris Duhon appears tentative in running the offense and has turned the ball over on an estimated 31.1 percent of his individual possessions despite defenses justifiably giving him room to work. Indeed, no point guard with at least 150 minutes this season has attempted fewer shots on a per-minute basis than Duhon.

  • Quentin Richardson has also struggled to connect from the outside, shooting 24.3 percent from beyond the arc on 4.6 attempts per game. Despite his strong work on the boards--he's proven a capable replacement for Matt Barnes in that regard--he has a single-digit Player Efficiency Rating.

  • Rashard Lewis leads the team in three-point attempts, at 4.8 per game, but he's converted only 31.6 percent of them. Playing more minutes at small forward has helped to improve his rebounding, but it's also made him even less involved in the offense. More troublesome is his defense, at either position. An underrated post defender two seasons ago, Lewis has declined considerably in the early stages of this season.

These players' outside shots will come around eventually; Redick and Lewis in particular are far too gifted to shoot less than 38 percent on three-pointers over the course of the entire season. But for now, it's a problem.

If we're pointing out performances from guys who are struggling, it's only fair to laud the ones making a positive impact. Marcin Gortat has rebounded and defended exceptionally well, and has also made the most of his limited offensive opportunities, making 70 percent of his shots in the early going. Brandon Bass, an afterthought a year ago, worked his way into the rotation with great energy and a better commitment to defense. Though now out of the rotation, Ryan Anderson managed to positively impact the team despite his outside shot not dropping; on a per-minute basis, Anderson ranks second on the team in scoring and third in rebounding.

LAZY DEFENSE, PARTICULARLY IN TRANSITION

Only three teams allowed fewer points per possession in transition than the Magic did last season, and no team allowed fewer opportunities, as I documented here. While the Magic again rank near the top of the league in fewest transition chances allowed, they're also 29th in points per possession allowed in transition; only the Minnesota Timberwolves are worse.

Overall, Orlando leads the league in defensive efficiency, but it's now trending in the wrong direction. In their last two games, the Magic have surrendered 214 points on 182 possessions, or 117.3 per 100. In both games, their opponents managed to work their way to the foul line at an impressive rate.

Orlando must work harder and make smarter decisions at the defensive end. That means rotating, closing out, and boxing out on each trip. It still leads the league in defensive rebounding by a wide margin, which is instructive: if the Magic dig in and work hard defensively, there's an excellent chance they'll get the ball right back.

HORRID FREE-THROW SHOOTING The Magic's inaccuracy isn't limited to their offerings from three-point range; they're dead last at the foul line, too, and it's not only Dwight Howard's fault. Of the four Magic players to attempt more than 20 foul shots this season, only Bass is connecting at a rate commenssurate with his career average.
Player 2010/11
FT/FTA
2010/11
FT%
Career
FT%
Difference
Dwight Howard 52/102 51.0 59.7 -8.7
Brandon Bass 27/31 87.1 83.4 +4.7
Vince Carter 14/24 58.3 79.8 -21.5
Jameer Nelson 17/23 73.9 80.7 -6.7

If Howard, Carter, and Nelson were shooting their career averages from the foul line this year, the Magic would have scored approximately--we're rounding up--16 more points this season, or two per game.

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