This summer, 3QC will take a look back on each Magic player's 2007-2008 season. The first nine posts will evaluate, on an individual basis and in alphabetical order, the players who played in at least 20% of the team's total minutes; the final post will briefly evaluate the five players who appeared in less than 20% of the team's minutes.
Today, our focus is Rashard Lewis.
Lewis uncorks a three-pointer against the Bulls.
File photo by Fernando Medina, NBAE/Getty Images
|Points Per Game||Rebounds Per Game||Blocks Per Game|
|Points Per 36||Rebounds Per 36||Blocks Per 36|
|PER||Rebound Rate||Block Rate|
All statistics in this table from Lewis' player page at basketball-reference. Career-high statistics highlighted in gold.
Rashard Lewis faced more scrutiny last season than any other Magic player had in recent memory. Fresh off signing the largest contract in team history, Lewis entered the 2007/2008 season facing high expectations. The Magic hoped Lewis would become the top-flite scorer the likes of which they hadn't employed since Tracy McGrady last donned blue-and-white.
The result? Mixed.
There's no telling what sort of season Lewis would have had if Tony Battie, Orlando's incumbent power forward, hadn't suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in October. With Battie out, the Magic had no choice but to start Lewis, a natural small forward, at power forward. At 6'10", Lewis has the height to defend most other power forwards, but not the strength or skill-set. As a result he had to expend most of his energy on the defensive end, muscling up against the likes of Zach Randolph, Chris Bosh, and Kevin Garnett. As one might expect, Lewis finished with poor rebounding and block numbers for his position.
Offensively, Lewis played a game more in line with his skills. He roamed the perimeter and launched three-pointers with impunity, keeping defenses honest. But apart from the very infrequent post-up on the left block, Lewis showed little offensive versatility and became the team's third option on most offensive sets.
Not that he seemed to mind. He never complained publicly about his role with the team, recognizing that Dwight Howard is, unequivocally, its cornerstone, and Hedo Turkoglu is its savviest scorer since McGrady. But as much as we appreciate Lewis' being a team player, we still wish he'd assert himself more often. Because of Turkoglu's emergence as a playmaker, the Magic rarely called on Lewis to win games for them, but when they did, the result was not always pretty:
- 30 November 2007: Losing to Phoenix by 2 points with 9 seconds to play, Stan Van Gundy draws up a play for Lewis, shooting 6-of-18 (3-of-11 from beyond the arc), to take a three. Lewis might have been fouled, but it doesn't matter. The shot misses. Magic lose.
- 21 January 2008: With the game versus Detroit knotted at 100, the Magic have 3.6 seconds and the ball coming out of a timeout. They go to Lewis at the top of the arc. He dribbles to the right side of the key, gets Richard Hamilton in the air with a great fake, and hoists a 15-footer at the buzzer. Money. Magic win.
- 8 February 2008: Trailing the Lakers by 3 with 14 seconds to play, Lewis gets the ball in the right corner and shoots what would have been the game-tying basket. Lamar Odom gets his fingertips on it. Magic lose.
- 1 April 2008: Down 1 to New Orleans, the Magic go to Lewis at the top of the key, as they did against Detroit two months previous. Lewis once again dribbles right, only this time he passes to Keyon Dooling on the wing. Dooling, who did not appear ready to receive the pass, rushes his jumper and misses. Magic lose.
If the Magic expect to become elite, they need to get more offense from Lewis, especially in late-game situations now that opposing teams expect them to go to Turkoglu. The answer might be to move him to small forward, which should boost his scoring average and, perhaps, his confidence in the clutch.
But overall, Lewis was the ideal third banana, if we use Bill Simmons' description:
he ideal "third banana" should be someone who isn't consistent enough to be great, but good enough to have a game-to-game impact and occasionally carry you for a game.
Looking simply at Lewis' statistics and skills, there are plenty of GMs who would love to add him to their teams, but certainly not at the price Otis Smith paid him. Fairly or unfairly, the media judge players based on their salaries, as if they somehow expect players to show humility by turning down nine-figure salaries. Lewis would've needed an MVP-caliber season to justify his contract. Magic fans had to settle for him being their team's third-best player. They probably weren't okay with that, but somehow, I think Rashard is.