If you haven't heard by now, the NBA suspended Dwight Howard for Game 6 in Philadelphia. Certainly this news is going to carry legs, more so, than the fact that Courtney Lee will be out for Thursday's game and possibly longer*.
Since Howard will not be available in two days, it's no secret that the Magic will suffer a big statistical drop-off when you consider what he brings to the table, what Marcin Gortat brings to the table as a replacement, and so on and so forth.
However, with Lee, the answer is a bit more ambiguous because this is the first time he has been sidelined with an injury this year. Granted, one knows what to expect from Mickael Pietrus and J.J. Redick when referencing their performances in the regular season, but what type of statistical drop-off (specifically, on offense) should one expect in the playoffs when comparing the three players?
Before Lee got hurt, the rookie was playing the best basketball of his young career. The numbers certainly backup this claim.
|MPG (25.2)||MPG (33.4)|
|PPG (8.4)||PPG (12.6)|
|TS% (55.6%)||TS% (54.8%)|
|eFG% (52.6%)||eFG% (51.9%)|
|USG% (15.5%)||USG% (17.9%)|
|Offensive Rating (107)||Offensive Rating (113)|
Don't be alarmed by the dip in efficiency. That's to be expected when a player increases his minutes and usage rate (there are certainly exceptions, though). Instead, note the increase in points and, more so, Offensive Rating. To put the latter number in perspective, Lee's Offensive Rating is currently second-best on the team in the playoffs (behind Howard, of course). Granted, Offensive Rating doesn't reveal whether or not players are detrimental to their teammates but it's a great measure of individual offensive efficiency. We'll get back to this particular point in a second.
Now, let's take a look at what Pietrus and Redick bring to the table.
|MPG (24.6)||MPG (18.8)|
|PPG (9.4)||PPG (3.4)|
|TS% (53.8%)||TS% (43.0%)|
|eFG% (50.7%)||eFG% (44.4%)|
|USG% (18.4%)||USG% (13.3%)|
|Offensive Rating (106)||Offensive Rating (77)|
|MPG (17.4)||MPG (14.0)|
|PPG (5.9)||PPG (2.7)|
|TS% (55.9%)||TS% (38.8%)|
|eFG% (50.0%)||eFG% (27.8%)|
|USG% (16.4%)||USG% (14.3%)|
|Offensive Rating (107)||Offensive Rating (78)|
Now let's take a look at some supplemental statistical information, which can help gauge the overall impact of all three players (stats are during the regular season).
As you can see, Lee was the best amongst the trio during the regular season. The disparity between the three numbers-wise has been exacerbated in the playoffs, given Lee's excellent play in comparison to his teammates. The dip in offensive output between Lee and Pietrus & Redick during the postseason is large. Defensively, both Pietrus and Redick should be okay (against Philadelphia at least; Boston and Chicago are a different story altogether) when compared to Lee.
But offensively, the jury is out.
Redick is useful only when his shot is falling, when it's not, then he becomes a liability on the court. As for Pietrus, he certainly has the capability of scoring in bunches but his problem is his inconsistency, as well as his penchant for falling in love with his jumper (further complicated when he shoots long twos instead of stepping back behind the line and attempt threes). Pietrus would benefit more if he slashed to the basket for easy buckets and earn trips to the free-throw line, but then there's the possibility of him getting hurt (seriously).
So what should everyone expect on Thursday? Well, the defensive gameplan for the Sixers will alter a bit. Instead of letting Howard get his, while accounting for Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu, and daring the Magic guards to beat 'em, Philadelphia doesn't have to worry about him (he's having a monster series). Instead, the Sixers will probably shift their main focus to shutting down Lewis and Turkoglu, which won't be as difficult of a task. Compounding potential problems on offense for the Magic is the fact Lee is out, which takes away another threat.
In the end, it's going to come down to players like Rafer Alston, Tony Battie, Marcin Gortat, Anthony Johnson, and the aforementioned Mickael Pietrus & J.J. Redick to pick up the slack on offense (each player needs to do so in different ways) in case Turkoglu and Lewis don't have big offensive games. Right now, the numbers stack in the Sixers' favor for Game 6 and it will truly take a team effort if Orlando wishes to escape Philadelphia with a series-clinching victory.
Dwight Howard will be back for Game 7, if necessary, but definitely keep an eye out on the play of Pietrus and Redick for the time being. If neither can improve their play on offense dramatically, that will put a damper on the Magic offensively as long as Lee is out and if Orlando advances to the second round.
*Anquan Boldin of the Arizona Cardinals had a fractured sinus, too, and he was out for several weeks. This is something worth referencing to with Lee's timetable.