We're Probably Too Hard on Gilbert Arenas

Readers of this blog reacted with indifference, or positivity, when I posted the news yesterday that the Orlando Magic's Gilbert Arenas (flu-like symptoms) wouldn't travel with the team to Toronto for tonight's game against the Raptors. "I'd rather have Lewis not playing for 2 years than Arenas playing for 3," said eltharion_doa. Fellow commenter cgsimone agreed, writing: "I do approve of Gilbert Arenas when he’s not playing. It helps immensely." My guess is that Gilbert draws more ire from fans of his team than any other backup point guard in the NBA. And no, I haven't forgotten about Jonny Flynn.

I understand Magic fans' distaste for Arenas, to a degree. His individual statistics are staggeringly awful: 7.7 points in 21.4 minutes, 33.5 percent shooting, just 3.4 assists to 2.2 turnovers. Despite having the lowest field-goal percentage on the team, he takes more shots, per-minute, than everyone but Dwight Howard.

You can see how all these deficiencies in his game, especially relative to his $61 million contract, might aggravate Magic fans. Off the court, some fans have expressed displeasure with Arenas' launching of an apparel line mid-season and his saying "I sit so much [at home]; it's all I do." The idea is that he should spend more time rehabbing his knee and less time watching 24 on his iPad, I suppose.

After three knee operations, nobody expected the Gilbert Orlando acquired in December to resemble the Gilbert who averaged 29.3 points and 6.1 assists five years ago. By the same token, nobody expected him to play like a destitute man's Jannero Pargo, either.

And yet, despite his poor individual play, the Magic have done better than okay with Arenas on the floor this season, which is where I wonder if we've overstated the extent to which Gilbert hurts the team.

According to basketballvalue.com, the Magic outscore their opponents by 6.05 points per 100 possessions when he's on the court, compared to 5.64 when he sits.

By a slim margin, the Orlando Magic are a better basketball team when Gilbert Arenas is on the floor than when he isn't.

It's not a case of the Magic's being a good team--and let's not lose sight of the fact that Orlando is one of the league's better teams--boosting Arenas' on-off stats, I don't think: Marcin Gortat (since dealt to Phoenix) and, weirdly, Brandon Bass, have worse on/off efficiency differentials, despite the fact that both players are far more productive individually.

The difference goes further than that, though: four of the Magic's ten most-used five-man units this season feature Arenas, and three of them have absolutely blown the doors off Orlando's foes (note: "blow the doors off" is a scientific term). The Magic's three best units, of their ten most-used ones, all have Arenas at the point. Here's the data in a table, with the numbers cribbed from basketballvalue:

Unit Mins ORtg DRtg Eff. Diff.
Gilbert Arenas,
J.J. Redick,
Hedo Turkoglu,
Ryan Anderson,
Dwight Howard
97:41 118.23 96.46 21.76
Arenas,
Redick,
Jason Richardson,
Anderson,
Howard
88:23 124.86 101.74 23.11
Arenas,
Redick,
Turkoglu,
Anderson,
Brandon Bass
87:07 94.01 97.01 -3.00
Arenas,
Redick,
J. Richardson,
Anderson,
Bass
53:42 112.96 92.66 20.30

Those four fivesomes have logged 326:53 of floor time this season, or almost seven full games' worth of action, and three of the four have dominated; at least the one that hasn't performed as well isn't getting clowned.

I'm well aware that these groups may be succeeding despite Arenas' presence, not because of it. What I'm getting at is maybe Magic fans need to relax a bit with the Arenas vitriol. The evidence indicates he's not killing the team.

This post required more research than usual, just to say, basically, "Gilbert Arenas doesn't hurt the team as much as you might think, you guys. Honest!" I can't tell if that fact that I found this conclusion worth sharing says more about Gil, Magic fans, or my perceptions thereof.

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