Mickael Pietrus was the Magic's top free-agent signing in the summer of 2008, but in a lot of ways, he didn't announce himself until the 2009 playoffs. Injuries and mediocre play meant his first regular season in Orlando hardly registered. He lost minutes to a rookie (Courtney Lee) and a three-year veteran in a horrid shooting slump (J.J. Redick), so you'll forgive everyone for being surprised when he went nova in the playoffs. This season, though, he was healthy, and only missed 7 games. How'd he do?
|Points Per Game||Rebounds Per Game||Assists Per Game|
|Points Per 36||Rebounds Per 36||Assists Per 36|
|PER||Rebound Rate||Assist Rate|
All statistics in this table from Pietrus' player page at basketball-reference. Career-best statistics highlighted in gold.
Not terribly, as it turns out. Pietrus is eerily consistent, especially offensively. You can make a case for his having the worst shot selection on the team--how many times did he pass up an open the so he could pump fake, step in to the close-out defender, then step back to take a fadeaway three instead?--yet he actually isn't such a bad offensive player, converting at a solid 55.5% True Shooting rate (the second-best mark of his career) and only turning the ball over on 10.5% of his possessions.
Indeed, Pietrus epitomizes the "three-and-D" small forward role that Bruce Bowen made famous for the San Antonio Spurs in the early part of the last decade. He attempted 56.7% of his shots from three-point range, a split which became even more pronounced in the playoffs, when he launched 61 of his 80 shots (76.3%) from beyond the arc.
And the "D" part of the equation? It might surprise you to learn that Synergy Sports Technology data show Pietrus to be merely a "good" overall defender, yielding 0.887 points per possession and ranking in the league's 52nd percentile. But that's not Pietrus' utility. What makes him, to me, Orlando's best perimeter defender is his on-ball skills in isolation situations. Think about the league's best wing players. When they need a bucket late in a game, their coaches will abandon their set offense an instead call that player's number, and have everyone else clear out. And in these situations, Pietrus is among the best in the business. Pietrus ranked third in the entire league in defending isolations at the top of the key, allowing 0.647 points per possession. Opponents scored on just 30.9% of their possessions when matched up against Pietrus there. And that's where Pietrus earns much of the mid-level exception Orlando gave him in 2008: at the top of the key, forcing his opponents to Dwight Howard's help defense while contesting whatever offering they make.
But Pietrus isn't without weakness on that end of the floor. He's got a nasty habit of ball-watching on the weak side, which the Boston Celtics exposed on one particularly memorable alley-oop to Tony Allen in the playoffs. And his slight frame is at times an issue. Though lithe, athletic, and skilled, more physical offensive players like Paul Pierce can take him wherever they want to on the court.
Despite all that, though, Pietrus is a valuable role-player on this team. It doesn't matter that he takes horrible shots, or gets lost away from the ball on D. He does enough, on both ends, to cover for the mistakes he makes. You'd like to see Orlando use his athleticism more; Pietrus made a name for himself in Golden State for his acrobatic finishes on the break, and those skills go unused in Orlando's halfcourt offense. But what doesn't go unused? That silky three-point stroke that makes it look as though he's just pulling a string on a slingshot as he lets the ball fly, fading slightly onto his back foot. No, he lets us see that a lot. Which is for the best.