The All-Star break is upon us, and for the Orlando Magic, it couldn't come at a better time. Just a few weeks ago, the main question concerning the team was - can Orlando win an NBA Title? One torn right labrum later, and that inquiry has evolved into - can Orlando win a playoff series?
How funny is it that a player once deemed replaceable (Jameer Nelson) is now deemed irreplaceable? That's the nature of the NBA, where stars are born due to the strangest of circumstances (Paul Millsap and Utah, for example).
With Nelson out, it was to be expected that the Magic would take a hit offensively, given the limitations Anthony Johnson and Tyronn Lue present at point guard. However, it's been disturbing to watch an offense go from "finely tuned" to "sputtering disaster" over night. If Orlando fans have anything to fear, it's that the Denver Nuggets have come up with a blueprint for future opponents on how to defeat the Magic in the team's current state.
Double and triple Dwight Howard, rotate defensively, and challenge the shooters. It's that easy.
With either Johnson or Lue at the helm at point, neither player has the offensive skill-set to keep defenses honest. Neither penetrates and creates havoc in the lane. Neither kills you with pin-point shooting. They're both the antithesis of Nelson.
You may be asking, is there anyone that can step in as the floor general for Orlando and keep the ball rolling as best as possible? Yes, there is someone that can fill that role and his name is ...
If you think that Lee can't step in as the starting point guard for the Magic, think again. My colleague, Ben, noted a week ago that he found it curious that Orlando head coach Stan Van Gundy continued to place Lee as the primary back-up point guard to Anthony Johnson, even after Tyronn Lue had already been acquired via trade from the Milwaukee Bucks. What gives, right? Well, it dawned on me after I spoke with David Thorpe last week, I may have an idea what Van Gundy is doing.
Look. Van Gundy is a smart guy. After watching him lead the Miami Heat to the Eastern Con ference Semifinals in 2004 with a promising rookie (Dwyane Wade), a troubled youngster (Lamar Odom), and an aging veteran (Eddie Jones), I've never again questioned Van Gundy's ability to coach a basketball team to its fullest potential. The man can flat out coach and I think he's going to prove that, yet again, in the second half of this regular season.
Lee could start at point guard very soon, maybe immediately after the Magic reconvene to begin its stretch run. It's obvious that Van Gundy was giving Johnson a chance to see what he could do as a starter again. Johnson succeeded previously when Nelson was out earlier in the year (went 4-1 filling in for him), so it's justifiable that Van Gundy goes back to him this time around. However, those four wins were fool's gold, as they were against teams that played no defense (Washington, Indiana) or teams that struggled at the time (Minnesota, Philadelphia). It's no surprise, now, that the cat is out of the bag in Johnson's case. As for Lee, it's clear that Van Gundy wanted to prepare the rookie a bit with some part-time burn at point guard before possibly upgrading the rookie to full-time duty.
Here's a quick advanced statistical metric to chew on:
Minutes ON Court: 944
Minutes OFF Court: 1460
Anthony Johnson's Net Points per 100 Possessions: -10.5
Now compare that number to ...
Minutes ON Court: 999
Minutes OFF Court: 1405
Courtney Lee's Net Points per 100 Possessions: +2.5
As you can see, the Magic have a net loss when Johnson is on the court but a net gain when Lee is on the court. Both individuals have played nearly an identical amount of minutes, so the above statistics aren't skewed by any means.
It's fairly obvious that Lee deserves to start at point guard. At this point, what does Orlando have to lose? Lee may not change the team's seemingly inevitable second round exit in the Playoffs, but he'll certainly help the Magic have a fighter's chance against either Boston or Cleveland, assuming each team wins their respective first round series. You can't say the same thing about either Johnson or Lue .
Lee isn't Nelson by any means, either, but given the type of skills he brings to the table, the rookie is pretty darn close. Just ask Thorpe, who's worked with him personally this past off-season.
"I know the guy that I saw on the court all summer is someone that can beat people off the dribble, shoot the three, mid-range game is strong, transition game is strong, his handle is very tight, he's a very, very good ball-handler, a very good slasher."
Sounds a lot like Nelson, doesn't it?
With Lee at the helm at point, he has the offensive skill-set to keep defenses honest. He penetrates and creates havoc in the lane. He kills you with pin-point shooting. He's the antithesis of both Johnson and Lue.
More importantly, Courtney Lee maybe the answer at point guard.