As the games go by for the Orlando Magic, it's becoming increasingly apparent that Mickael Pietrus could provide a nice boost for a team struggling to find some consistent production off the bench at the moment.
Since Pietrus went down with a broken wrist against the Detroit Pistons on December 29th, the Magic reserves have done an admirable job of picking up the slack a bit with Air France on stand-by but they've been thriving against average-or-worse defenses* (Chicago, Toronto, Washington, Atlanta [x2], Sacramento). Yes, the reserves performed well against above-average defenses (Miami [at home], San Antonio, Los Angeles Lakers), but two of those games occurred during the team's ridiculous shooting tear on its West Coast trip. Since then, the Magic (its bench, especially) have cooled off a bit shooting-wise, partly due to the fact the team has faced good defensive squads (Denver, Miami, Boston).
It's safe to say that the bench play has been deceivingly good overall in Pietrus' absence but given that the reserves for Orlando can't feast on sub-par defenses forever in its current state, this is certainly a moment where Pietrus' eventual return can help remedy the problem.
When healthy, Pietrus has proven he can produce. The key phrase is when healthy.
In 20 games (minimum 300 Minutes Played):
Minutes Per Game (25.3)
PER (14.3) - 6th on team
TS% (59.4%) - 2nd on team
eFG% (55.1%) - 4th on team
Offensive Rating (110) - 5th on team
USG % (20.8%) - 5th on team
As you can see, Pietrus this season has been an efficient scorer. There's no doubt that, given the stats he's putting up, he deserves to start over rookie two-guard Courtney Lee. But given the Magic's desperate need for some instant offense off the bench, Pietrus would be best served coming off the pine as a sixth man.
The argument against that rationale is that, given the fact Orlando tossed its full Mid-Level Exception at Pietrus this past off-season, he should be starting so that the team isn't "overpaying" for a bench player.
I present San Antonio Spurs' Manu Ginobili, to counter that line of thinking.
Here's a telling stat highlighting the importance in the offensive productivity of the Magic's reserves.
For the season, the Magic are 28-4 when its bench scores 15+ points per game.
Since Pietrus, for the season, averages 11.7 points per game on roughly 25 minutes a night, it's not unrealistic to think he could account for the bulk of the scoring load off the Orlando bench.
The question is, where would the minutes come from?
Probably at the expense of Keith Bogans (22.9 minutes per game). Given how poorly Bogans has been playing this season, it's possible Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy could give the bulk of Bogan's minutes to Pietrus. Or the minutes could come from J.J. Redick (17.4 minutes per game). Or the minutes could come from both Bogans AND Redick. The possibilities are endless for SVG.
The next question is, how much would Pietrus help as a reserve?
For the season, Orlando's bench is actually better than people realize.
If you were to use strictly points per game to measure how good/bad a team's bench is, then the Magic are terrible - averaging 6.8 points per game in 21 minutes per game (27th in the NBA). However, if you were to use points/per 100 possessions, the Magic are decent - averaging 106.4 points per possession (13th in the NBA**).
With all that said, if Pietrus comes back from injury as a 6th-man, than the Magic's bench play is certainly better off.
*defenses are being determined by efficiency
**As a rule of thumb, it's always better to calculate how a team does per possession