Coming off a first-round playoff exit, the Orlando Magic entered the 2011/12 season with modest expectations, and have mostly met them: their 19-11 record would put them on pace for 52 wins in an 82-game season, and they trail the Miami Heat by four games for the Southeast Division lead with 36 left to play.
There is, however, room for improvement on both sides of the ball. Orlando is tied with the Atlanta Hawks for the league's 13th-best offense, scoring 103.6 points per 100 possessions. It's not much more impressive defensively, ranking 12th by yielding 101.2 points per 100 possessions. On the whole, the Magic have the profile of a good team, but not one that presents much of a threat to the league's elite.
In his Thursday PER Diem column, ESPN analyst John Hollinger offers one explanation in particular for Orlando's good-but-not-great season: point-guard play. Hollinger introduced his Below Average Dependency (BAD) rating Thursday to explain how the New York Knicks managed to start winning once they began playing Jeremy Lin: the point guards he replaced in the rotation--namely Mike Bibby, Toney Douglas, and Iman Shumpert--were all well below replacement-level. When Lin took the majority of their minutes, the Knicks began a seven-game winning streak.
In Hollinger's words, BAD illustrates "how much non-production teams are getting from replacement-level or worse players." Overall, the Magic rank second in the league in BAD rating--only the Los Angeles Lakers are worse--and it's due largely to play at point guard.
Jameer Nelson, Chris Duhon, Ish Smith, and Larry Hughes all have a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of below 12. As Hollinger calculates BAD by subtracting a player's PER from 12, and then multiplying it by the minutes that player has logged, having four players at one position tallying BAD points contributes to Orlando's poor showing in the league-wide BAD ratings. Importantly, the Magic have since waived Hughes, who had a -4.84 PER in 114 minutes.
But the news for Orlando isn't entirely grim: as Hollinger notes, adding a league-average point guard such as Ramon Sessions to its rotation would change its fortunes for the better.
Here's a look at the Magic players with sub-12 PERs, sorted by position, and how they affect the team in terms of BAD rating.
|* statistics current through Thursday, February 16th, 2012|
Though Orlando's worst position overall, in terms of BAD rating, is point guard, its least productive individual player is power forward Glen Davis. However, power forward is less of a concern for Orlando, as it boasts Ryan Anderson in the starting role. Anderson's 23.25 PER ranks tops in the Eastern Conference and third in the NBA.