The play of journeyman two-guard Von Wafer has proven pleasantly surprising for the Orlando Magic during the 2011/12 campaign. Acquired from the Boston Celtics, essentially as a throw-in, in the sign-and-trade deal involving Glen Davis and Brandon Bass, Wafer is averaging 6.1 points per game in just 13.2 minutes. He's scored in double-digits on four occasions, and when he plays 10 minutes or more he averages 8.4 points on 47 percent shooting.
So how has Wafer, an unheralded, undrafted player out of Florida State with just one notably productive NBA season in six years, managed to make the most of his spotty minutes in Orlando?
First, some statistics to lend context to our efforts here. Wafer leads all Magic wings in points per minute--he averages 16.5 per 36--and leads all Magic players in True Shooting, the best measure of scoring efficiency. Further, among shooting guards and small forwards, only Vince Carter, Jamal Crawford, and Carmelo Anthony are assisted less frequently in their shot attempts at the rim, according to HoopData. In other words, only three of Wafer's positional peers are more effective at getting their own shot off right at the basket.
That information is helpful, but it only tells us about his raw productivity. I wanted to know what specifically about Wafer makes him such a potent scorer, so I consulted the stat- and video-logging service Synergy Sports Technology to watch all of Wafer's offensive plays in Magic pinstripes.
In scrutinizing Wafer's possessions--which, for the uninitiated, refers to shot-attempts, free-throw attempts, and turnovers--one aspect of his game stood out most: his willingness to go hard once he gets the ball. Wafer isn't a guy who's going to spend a lot of time, if any, sizing up the defense. No, he's going to launch toward the rim, shedding defenders with a crossover dribble and a Eurostep in the process.
Decisiveness isn't the only factor that makes Wafer an effective offensive player, however. Dude's quick, too, by far the quickest and most dynamic wing scorer Orlando's had since Steve Francis. He punishes defenders who close out on him too hard by beating them with his devastating first step. When he builds up a full head of steam, it's lights out:
The speed with which Wafer plays makes him tough to guard, but also makes him a bit sloppy. On many of his turnovers, he simply lost track of the ball when trying to split defenders, especially in pick-and-roll situations. The fact that he's not much of a playmaker--he has 11 assists in 225 minutes as of Tuesday's action--means when the ball winds up in his hands, he's going to fire up a shot or turn the ball over.
But Wafer can get away with that, really, because he tends to take good shots. Few of the Wafer possessions I watched ended with him taking a suspect shot off the dribble. High-usage scoring guards with low assist rates tend to have awful shot-selection: look at Nick Young, for perhaps the most obvious example. Yet Wafer's hoops IQ seems to be higher than what his positional DNA might indicate.
Wafer is also effective away from the ball as a catch-and-shoot threat, going 6-of-13 on three-pointers off the catch this season. That's less than one attempt per game, but it nonetheless indicates he's not merely a shot-creator.
It's possible Wafer's effectiveness will wane as the year progresses, as he's shooting 52.7 percent on two-pointers, compared to a 45.7 percent career mark on shots inside the arc. And he'd have to make a bigger defensive impact to begin eating into J.J. Redick's minutes. But for now, he's playing brilliantly at the offensive end, and coach Stan Van Gundy needs to find some way to keep Wafer on the floor. He's far too productive to remain on the bench, as he did Monday against the Los Angeles Clippers.
More importantly, he's the Magic's most dynamic and explosive scoring option. He provides something different, something that the likes of Redick, Jason Richardson, Quentin Richardson, and Hedo Turkoglu can't. And he provides those elements within the framework of Van Gundy's offense.