(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Orlando Pinstriped Post recounts the Orlando Magic's season on a player-by-player basis, providing narrative evaluations and a subjective letter grade for each.
The Orlando Magic scored a coup when they landed Jason Richardson from the Phoenix Suns on December 18th. The efficient, high-scoring guard was less than a year removed from a brilliant playoffs against the Portland Trail Blazers (23.5 points in 32.3 minutes, 52.7 percent shooting), and had posted 19.3 points in 31.8 minutes as a Sun this season. He'd provide the Magic with efficient scoring, albeit not at that volume--not at the pace Orlando plays, anyway--and serve as a reliable second offensive option to Dwight Howard. Otis Smith, the man responsible for the trade which brought Richardson to Orlando, offered his assessment at a press conference announcing the deal:
"His ability to hit spot-up threes as well as come off down screens for us in our system will probably be the best way to describe Jason."
Armed with a more explosive offensive force on the wing--Vince Carter simply wasn't getting things done at that end, was he?--the Magic soared to
the top of 14th in the league in offensive efficiency. Richardson averaged 17 13.9 points per game on a scorching 60.2 an okay 54.3 percent True Shooting, and helped did not help the Magic make a deep playoff run.
|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 Richardson's player page at basketball-reference. Career-high statistics highlighted in gold; career-worst statistics highlighted in silver.
Enough snark. I took that approach above the fold to outline the extent to which Richardson disappointed in Magic pinstripes. One may not have noticed that he played so poorly because, well... he tended to go invisible. It's telling, for instance, that he scored 20-plus points in consecutive games exactly once with the Magic.
20 is a pretty arbitrary benchmark, so I understand if you don't put a lot of stock into that fact. But check his game log if you're not convinced of that methodology's fairness or validity: he scored 18-plus points in five games from January 7th to the 15th; had three straight 18-point games from January 31st to February 4th; and scored 16-plus in five consecutive games spanning March 3rd to March 11th.
Other than that? Up and down. Inconsistent. Minimal impact.
You'll notice is scoring is really all I've mentioned so far. Obviously, there's more to analysis than simply evaluating a player's point total. But Richardson was brought in to score. The team's offense had stagnated and needed a boost. Richardson was meant to provide that. He didn't. He was merely adequate; 13.9 points on league-average efficiency is decent production, but not for a player of Richardson's caliber. And when one considers that he, not Hedo Turkoglu, was the centerpiece of the trade from Phoenix--as I've mentioned on this site before, an informed source has assured me the Magic called Phoenix to see if Richardson was available, and the Suns' price was including Turkoglu in the deal--"adequate" and "decent" don't cut it.
As Magic coach Stan Van Gundy and his brother, the broadcaster Jeff, like to say, the NBA is "a make-or-miss league." Ultimately, everything--between winning and losing, how we define a player's career, all of it--comes down to making shots. And here's where Richardson had a problem in Orlando: he missed a lot of shots he should not have.
Synergy Sports Technology indicates that Richardson posted an effective field goal percentage of 52 on open, catch-and-shoot jumpers with the Magic, which ranks below the league average and far below his 63.3 percent figure as a Sun. Bizarrely, in Orlando, Richardson shot better with a defender near him (effective field goal percentage: 58.9).
But I don't think the blame lies squarely with Richardson here. No, he did not play well. He did not provide the lift Orlando was looking for when it traded for him. But I do think Stan Van Gundy might be at fault. He never found a way to integrate Richardson into his offense; Richardson didn't seem to fit. It was unreasonable to expect him to continue producing the way he did as a Sun--the Magic play a slower pace and wouldn't ask him to do nearly as much as Phoenix did, plus the Suns had all-world point guard Steve Nash passing to him--but there's no way he should have plummeted like this. The drop-off is too stark for me to lay it all on Richardson. And from there, the coach is the next place to look.
To wit: Richardson drove to the basket less with the Magic than as a Sun, and consequently his foul-drawing rate plummeted almost 33 percent. His decreased accuracy on long two-pointers (34.4 percent to 33.3 percent) and threes (41.9 percent to 38.4 percent) also led to his decline. I'm more interested in the shot mix than the accuracy.
So: did he drive less because he just didn't feel like it, or was it Van Gundy's offense that neutered him? This is a question I'll grapple with for a while and never answer satisfactorily.
Maybe Richardson's body just wore down. He didn't miss any games due to injury, but given his drop in percentages, productivity (note the career-lows in rebounding and assists, indicating more was wrong with him than his shot), and defensive ability, that's a question worth asking. It's one I ask because I have a hard time accepting Richardson could be so thoroughly underwhelming if he were fully healthy.
It'd be unfair to say Richardson played poorly, though if you limited your analysis to the postseason (10 points per game, 33.3 percent shooting, a one-game suspension--the less said, the better), it would be fair. At worst, he was a neutral presence. The Magic didn't trade for him to be neutral. Because he played below expectation, and because he played so many minutes (34.9 per game) as a second offensive option, a mere average grade would be too generous. So I've docked him half a letter-grade.
Things could have been, and should have been--so much better, given Richardson's track record. It didn't work out, and he'll soon be free to sign elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent. The Magic may be interested in retaining him, betting on a bounce-back performance next year, but if not, they will have given up their best trade assets for 60 games' worth (counting the playoffs) of C- basketball at a crucial position. And I don't think it's a stretch at all to argue they'd have been better off keeping Carter instead of sending him to the desert for Richardson.
I always thought the acquisition of Richardson was the surest of Smith's December trades. Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas, quite plainly, aren't what they used to be, and they use a lot of money. Even Van Gundy, as meticulous a coach as there is in this league, had trouble describing Earl Clark's game when he first arrived. But getting Richardson, still productive and in his prime, as arguably the best player involved in the deal? That's a can't-miss move.
Well, it missed. Not horribly, but it missed.