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Starting Backcourts, First-Quarter Letdowns, and the Orlando Magic: Trying to Tie Them All Together

Note: Although this post is dry and stat-oriented, it should nonetheless provoke thought. I'll make a lighter post later tonight, time-permitting.

After Jameer Nelson struggled as Orlando's starting point guard in an overtime win at Miami, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy opted to insert Carlos Arroyo, who was key to the Miami win with 11 points in the fourth quarter and overime, at the point. The Magic went an unimpressive 2-3 over their next 5 games, so Van Gundy changed the lineup again, calling upon Nelson to start the next 5 games. The Magic went 2-3 in that stretch as well, and with Nelson nursing a sore foot, Arroyo became the de facto starter once more. Nelson has come off the bench in each of the last two games he's played. Additionally, although Nelson has been available for the past two games, he has received a DNP-CD both times. In the game prior to that, at Philadelphia, Nelson played just 7 minutes.

After last night's loss to Dallas, in which the Mavericks outscored the Magic, 29-16, in the first quarter, I wondered if another lineup shuffle would help the Magic. Using data from the first quarters of each Magic game this season, I attempted to find if any starting backcourt stood out.

1Q 1Q Avg. 1Q 1Q Game
PG/SG GS PF PA Diff. Diff. W L T % W L %
Arroyo/Bogans 5 132 125 + 7 + 1.4 2 3 0 .400 3 2 .600
Arroyo/Dooling 1 25 32 - 7 - 7.0 0 1 0 .000 0 1 .000
Arroyo/Evans 9 229 259 - 30 - 3.3 2 5 2 .333 7 2 .778
Nelson/Bogans 30 780 755 + 25 + 0.8 14 14 2 .500 19 11 .633
Nelson/Evans 5 137 123 + 14 + 2.8 3 2 0 .600 2 3 .400

As the table above shows, Nelson and Maurice Evans comprise the Magic's best first-quarter backcourt because the Magic outscored their opponents by an average of 3 points per first quarter in the 5 games in which they started. Oddly, the Magic have gone on to win just 2 of those 5 games. Odder still, the worst first-quarter lineup both in terms of point differential and win percentage has the best overall game win percentage. Indeed, it appears as though there is no correlation between Magic victories and which two guards started in them.

1Q 1Q Avg. 1Q 1Q Game
PG GS PF PA Diff. Diff. W L T % W L %
Arroyo 15 386 416 - 30 - 2.0 4 9 2 .333 10 5 .667
Nelson 35 917 878 + 39 + 1.1 17 16 2 .514 21 14 .600

I've covered the debate between Nelson and Arroyo ad nauseum on this site, but nevertheless sought a correlation between which point guard starts and whether or not the Magic win. Although the Magic have outscored opponents in only 33% of the first quarters in which Arroyo started, they go on to win 67% of their games. When Nelson starts, the Magic tend to win first quarters and games, but Arroyo's won-lost record is better overall. This similarity struck the Orlando Sentinel's Brian Schmitz, who wrote this entry on his blog:

Let me pull out another old football cliche about a quarterback controversy: If you have two quarterbacks, you don't have one. If you have two point guards, my, you ought to be out there trying to make a deal.

In a later entry, Schmitz asserts the Magic should make a trade for a power forward. Given that Arroyo and combo-guard Keyon Dooling have expiring contracts, and given that expiring-contract-owner Pat Garrity has seen a sudden and inexplicable return to the team's rotation, it's reasonable to believe the Magic are ready to make such a trade.

1Q 1Q Avg. 1Q 1Q Game
SG GS PF PA Diff. Diff. W L T % W L %
Bogans 35 912 880 + 32 - 0.9 16 17 2 .486 22 13 .629
Dooling 1 25 32 - 7 - 7.0 0 1 0 .000 0 1 .000
Evans 14 366 382 - 16 - 1.2 5 7 2 .429 9 5 .643

But perhaps the two-guard position is the problem. Once again, I used the data I had to discern if any starting two-guard resulted in more wins. None of them distinguished himself in terms of first-quarter performance. Further, Bogans and Evans have similar game win percentages. J.J. Redick, the team's fourth shooting guard, has played sparingly and has not made a single start. Because of his role (or lack thereof) on this team, Redick has asked Magic GM Otis Smith to trade him, which Smith is reluctant to do.

Ultimately, the results of this analysis show only that this team's first-quarter performance is not indicative of its overall success; indeed, the Magic are just 21-25-4 (.460) in first quarters this season. The team's high win-percentage when Arroyo and Evans start is clearly not due to anything that backcourt combination produces together, because among lineups with at least 5 starts, it is the one that performs the worst in the first quarter.

The inconclusive backcourt data, coupled with the fact that Orlando has used just two different starting frontcourt combinations this season, points to the bench as the unit that has the largest impact on the Magic's chances of winning or losing. If the Magic indeed trade for a power forward, as Schmitz recommends they do, they could shift Rashard Lewis from power forward to small forward (his natural position) and Hedo Turkoglu from small forward to shooting guard. The sixth-man role would depend on which players Smith included in the hypothetical deal.

Quarter-by-quarter statistical data available at PopcornMachine. Here is a sample boxscore from that site, with quarter-by-quarter and cumulative stats. Click on a player's name to see his quarter-by-quarter performance.