Somewhat sneakily, Orlando Magic point guard Gilbert Arenas is starting to find his shot. The former All-Star, acquired from the Washington Wizards in December for Rashard Lewis, has posted some hideous shooting percentages (35 percent from the field, 27.1 percent from three-point range) since joining the Magic, but nonetheless ranks second on the team with 15.7 shooting possessions used per 36 minutes. Arenas' diminished athleticism, due to age and the three operations he's had on his left knee, has in turn reduced his ability to get good shots, and he's sometimes been forced to clear out defenders with his off hand in order to create separation.
But in his last five appearances, Arenas seems to have found a groove. He's averaging 10.2 points in just 18 minutes, going 45.9 percent overall and 45.5 percent on three-pointers, and those figures include his 0-of-5 clunker against the Chicago Bulls on Friday night, in which the Magic's poor clock management at times left it to him to unload wild shots near the end of possessions.
The Magic don't need Arenas to return to All-Star form--nor should they expect him to--in order to contend for a championship. They merely need him to score with reasonable efficiency and ably guide the offense. In this five-game stretch, he's done the former with aplomb, but has tallied 11 assists to 11 turnovers.
The strangest aspect of Arenas' play for the Magic is that it doesn't even match his reduced efficiency as a Wizard. If Arenas had simply matched his Washington percentages (39.5 percent from the field, 32.4 percent from beyond the arc, 83.6 percent at the foul line) so far in his Orlando tenure, he would have an additional 42 points to his name, which would raise his scoring average from 8.1 to 9.2. And I don't think that the 39.5/32.4/83.6 marks are too much to expect from Arenas.
That's not an insignificant leap. Those 42 points would have the Magic near the top of the scoring margin leaderboard with the L.A. Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, and Boston Celtics, instead of just slightly behind that tier. With good reason, the NBA does not seed its teams based on point differential, but as advanced statistical analysis has revealed in recent years, the figure is more useful than predicting future success than simple won-lost record. And while it's not an infallible method, it thus serves as a fair way to evaluate teams.
But the Magic won't ever get those 42 hypothetical points. They'll continue hoping that Arenas' poor-shooting days in pinstripes are behind him, and that he can maintain that point-every-two-minutes momentum throughout the rest of the season and playoffs.