Revisiting a Potential Orlando Magic Frontline Featuring Dwight Howard and Marcin Gortat

The Orlando Magic could play centers Marcin Gortat and Dwight Howard together more often this season, says OrlandoMagic.com writer John Denton, with Gortat shifting to power forward to combat the league's bigger frontlines. The potential for a Gonzo, tall-ball lineup featuring those two has intrigued me since the 2009 NBA Finals, when coach Stan Van Gundy used the two in tandem surprisingly often against the L.A. Lakers, which in turn prompted my first post on the topic. And in this serendipitously-timed FanPost, OPP community member Mikeyho suggested Orlando go to that lineup next season against the Boston Celtics. So, armed with another season's worth of data, I decided to take another look at the strengths and weaknesses of the team's going huge.

However, the only constant in the data I will present here is this: Gortat and Howard at the Magic's power positions. The data do not account for the other eight players on the court. Thus, it's difficult to draw any conclusions from them. But they can give some indication about which questions to ask in a future investigation.

A few notes before posting the data. First, they're all from basketballvalue.com, where I found Gortat's player page, ran a ctrl+F search for Howard to find the lineups in which they both appear, and plugged the data for those lineups into an Excel spreadsheet. I used the "Year" dropdown menu, located in the upper right, to toggle between the various seasons available. Although Gortat joined the Magic three seasons ago, he and Howard did not share the floor until the 2008/09 season.

To clarify terms in the table: "Poss." stands for "possessions," "ORtg" stands for "Offensive Rating," "DRtg" stands for "Defensive Rating," and "Eff. Diff." stands for "efficiency differential."

As you can see, the data are limited insofar as they don't include rebounds and turnovers.

With those things covered, here are the data, split by season:

Yr Mins Poss. For Poss. Opp. Pts For Pts Opp. O
Rtg
D
Rtg
Eff. Diff.
2008/09
Reg.
39.22 72 68 88 74 122.2 108.8 13.4
2009/09
Post
20.32 36 39 33 35 91.7 89.7 1.9
2009/10
Reg.
63.67 112 110 127 123 113.4 111.8 1.6
2009/10
Post
33.33 59 59 65 70 110.2 118.6 -8.5
TOTAL 156.54 279 276 313 302 112.2 109.4 2.8

Here's a list of things that jump out at me:

  • Check out the efficiency differential column, which suggests the law of diminishing returns is in effect. What started as a dominant pairing in the 2008/09 regular season has declined successively, and proved to be a liability in the most recent playoffs.

  • In the Magic's run to the Finals in 2009, the stints Howard and Gortat played together were slugfests, with horrid offense for both teams. That's what one would expect when playing two bigs with their skill-sets together. But that postseason is the outlier. The Magic tend to play good offense and mediocre-to-awful defense with those two otherwise. How was the Magic's offense able to stay potent despite having two non-shooters on the court? More importantly, how can a team playing two top-notch low-post defenders simultaneously turn out to be so ineffective defensively?

  • The minutes column might be most telling. 156 total minutes together is, rather conveniently, exactly 13 quarters' worth of basketball. Over two seasons, including the playoffs. It's not a look that Van Gundy has gone to often at all, which raises caution about trusting the data too much. The point I'm banging my head against the wall trying to convey is that it's a small sample size.

As I said earlier, this topic needs more attention and investigation. I intend to keep looking into it periodically. I nonetheless thought it' be useful to at least share the raw Gortat/Howard data, as the subject is one in which I believe many Orlando fans are interested.

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