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A Look at the Orlando Magic's Third-String Point Guard Options

The Orlando Magic's search for a third-string point guard continues in earnest. The team must fill two roster spots to meet the league minimum of 13 players, and GM Otis Smith only has minimum deals at his disposal. Indeed, the Magic must now go bargain shopping after their early-summer spending spree, which included trading for Vince Carter's $16 million contract, matching Dallas' $5.8 million offer to Marcin Gortat, and splitting the mid-level exception on Brandon Bass and Matt Barnes.

C.J. Watson has the perfect combination of youth (he's 25), skills (a career 39% three-point shooter), and desire (he openly campaigned for the Magic to sign him), but the Magic's current financial state means they can't make him an offer Golden State wouldn't match. It's a bummer. Now, Smith has to dig deep. Remember, the Magic can only offer minimum deals. For comparison, the Magic used the $1.9 million bi-annual exception on Anthony Johnson last summer. Depending on the new point guard's NBA experience--minimum deals are based on years of NBA service--he could stand to make less than half of what Johnson does.

After consulting ESPN's list of this summer's free agents, I've come up with a handful of options, each with his own pros and cons. We'll take a look after the jump.

A brief note on methodology: first, I excluded D-League players, since Smith has never made a D-League call-up since taking over as Magic GM. (Orlando's last D-League call-ups were Desmond Penigar and Britton Johnsen, both in 2003/04). Second, I excluded Jason Hart and Mike Wilks, since their agent told the Orlando Sentinel the team has yet to express an interest in either of them.

I've listed these guys in alphabetical order. You can jump to a specific player's assessment by using the links below:

Carlos Arroyo | Anthony Carter | Juan Dixon
Royal Ivey | Bobby Jackson | Damon Jones
Brevin Knight | Tyronn Lue | Ronald "Flip" Murray
Mike Taylor | Jamaal Tinsley | Jacque Vaughn
Jason Williams

Carlos Arroyo:

  • The Good: Despite his less-than-stellar reputation in Orlando, which employed him from the 2006 trading deadline until last summer, Arroyo's a decent NBA point guard. He shot 34.5% on three-pointers in his only year under Stan Van Gundy, and is an above-average passer for a backup.

  • The Bad: He fell out of favor with Van Gundy late in the 2008 season, which resulted in his appearing in only 4 playoff games, for a total of 30 minutes. Losing the backup job to Keyon Dooling is nothing of which to be ashamed, but the abrupt manner in which it happened suggests that Van Gundy reached the end of his rope with Arroyo fairly quickly. Not much has changed, in terms of the offense, since Arroyo bolted for Israel last summer, which is to say the same challenges he faced two seasons ago are still in place.

  • The Verdict: Part of me thinks Arroyo would be a solid, safe choice. The other part of me recalls his at times poor decision-making--we're calling Hedo Turkoglu-esque levels of befuddlement here--and wonders if there's really a role for him in Orlando. After being top dog with Maccabi Tel Aviv for a year, would he happily settle into a backup role behind Jameer Nelson? And would Nelson react negatively to Arroyo's waiting in the wings? With Arroyo, there are more questions than answers, which leads me to believe Orlando would do well to look elsewhere.

Head back to the top.

Anthony Carter:

  • The Good: One of the best distributors and defenders on this list, even at age 34. He's heady and hardworking, and dished 4.7 assists to just 2 turnovers per game off Denver's bench last season. He'd also be willing to play for the minimum, which is the salary he earned last season.

  • The Bad: Expect to read the following sentiment often in this list - he's a bad three-point shooter, with a career conversion rate of 23.8%. About the best analagy I have for him is that he's like Anthony Johnson, without the range. And yes, it's totally reasonable for that sentence to turn you off a bit. We saw last season, particularly in the playoffs with Rafer Alston running the show, what happens to the Magic's offense when its point guard isn't a three-point threat. Carter, we think, would perhaps make the wiser play and drive the ball, rather than settle for the open trey--and thus play into the opposing defense's hands--as Alston frequently did.

  • The Verdict: There's something to be said for consistency, and Carter provides that. Orlando could do worse than to sign Carter, and all told he's probably the best option, poor shooting be darned.

Head back to the top.

Juan Dixon:

  • The Good: It's hard for me to get a read on him. His size (6'03", 164 pounds) indicates he's a point guard, but his career body of work suggests he's more of an off guard. Either way, about the best we can say for Dixon is that he's improved as a passer in each of the last two seasons, with assist rats of 23.3% and 22.7%. He's also a decent three-point shooter, with a career mark of 34.1%, and he shot 41.7% two years ago.

  • The Bad: Defense. A PER of 20.5 allowed to opposing point guards last season. As it is, his size makes him a liability on that end. Couple that with his declining athleticism--he'll turn 31 in training camp--and you have a small point guard who can't move laterally. A disaster defending the pick-and-roll.

  • The Verdict: Dixon doesn't bring much to the table, at least as far as the Magic are concerned. He was hardly good enough to take minutes away from Mike James in point guard-depleted Washington last season, which speaks volumes, given how bad James is. As I understand it, though, Dixon is a positive locker-room influence. So he has that in his favor too.

Head back to the top.

Royal Ivey:

  • The Good: Ivey's billed as a top-notch defensive specialist and a solid third-string point guard. He can also toss in the occasional three-pointer, with a career percentage of 33.6%, which is hardly great.

  • The Bad: It appears as though Ivey doesn't live up to his reputation. 82games says Ivey didn't even play 1% of Philadelphia's point guard minutes last season. Two years ago, with Milwaukee, he logged 22% of the Bucks' point guard minutes, and yielded a PER of 22.4 on 55.6% eFG%.

  • The Verdict: We know he isn't much of a passer. And if he's not a great shooter, and if he can't defend, then what does he bring to the table? Very little, which is why Ivey is little more than a last resort for many NBA teams.

Head back to the top.

Bobby Jackson:

  • The Good: Even after 12 seasons, Jackson has a little bit left in the tank. He averaged 7.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2 assists per game for Sacramento last season. His toughness has earned him respect throughout the league. An added bonus: his defensive rebounding rate of 12.5% would help him ignite fast breaks by himself. For comparison, Mickael Pietrus posted a DRebRate of 10.9% last season. And after spending last season in 17-win Sacramento, I'm sure he'd leap at the chance to join a contending team.

  • The Bad: It is entirely possible that Jackson's production would plummet. He'll turn 37 in March, and his respectable three-point shooting (35.4% career) took a huge dive last season (30.5%). As I said with Ivey: if he's not shooting, passing, or able to play defense, then there probably isn't a place for him in today's NBA. Then again, even with his poor shooting last season, he posted a Player Efficiency Rating of 12.4. Lowest of his career? Yup. Better than that of Anthony Johnson or Courtney Lee? Also yup.

  • The Verdict: If Smith is convinced that BJax has another productive season left in him, he'd be a nice addition to the end of Orlando's bench. There's very little risk involved with any minimum-salary player--not to put too fine a point on it, but they're only earning the minimum--but especially little with Jackson, given his track record.

Head back to the top.

Damon Jones:

  • The Good: An absolute assassin from long-range, Jones has connected on 39% of his triples, and is just one season removed from canning 41.7%. The man was born to shoot. And to wear goofy suits, apparently, but that's another matter.

  • The Bad: Jones isn't much of a passer or a defender, which would appear to relegate him to situational duty. That's what a third-stringer does anyway, sure, but he's such a defensive liability that coach Stan Van Gundy could ill-afford to play him for more than a few minutes at a time before other teams start running plays designed specifically to attack him. Another issue is Jones' ego, which may not let him accept a third-string role, even for a contender. It's a shame, since Boston's Eddie House has proven that scoring point guards can help championship teams, even if they don't play great defense.

  • The Verdict: Assuming Van Gundy--who coached Jones in Miami during the 2004/2005 season--could keep Jones' ego in check, he'd be a decent signing. Not great, or even good, but decent. Orlando's offense needs three-point shooting, and Jones can provide that above all else.

Head back to the top.

Brevin Knight:

  • The Good: Well, he can pass the ball on offense, and the can take it away on defense. His Pure Point Rating--John Hollinger's improved assist-to-turnover ratio stat--of 6.5 last season would have led the Magic.

  • The Bad: A complete and utter offensive zero. Here's Hollinger on Knight's 2007/08 season:

    Knight led the league in the percentage of his shots that were long twos for a second straight season, with his total increasing from 62.0 percent last year to 69.2 percent this year.

    Looked at another way, Knight was one of 10 players to take fewer than 30 percent of his shots from inside. The other nine all made at least 96 3-pointers -- Knight didn't make any. Layups and 3-pointers are the game's most rewarding shots, and he couldn't generate either, which helps explain his brutal TS% (which ranked 66th out of the league's 71 point guards).

    Knight also rarely created shots -- he had the second lowest usage rate at his position. And while he ranked second in the NBA in assist ratio, it was largely because he couldn't create a shot for himself.

    And if he's lost yet another step? Yikes.

  • The Verdict: If I'm going to discount Jones for being a defensive liability, I must also discount Knight for his offensive shortcomings. The idea of having arguably the best distributing backup point guard in the NBA might entice Otis Smith, but I'm not sure it'd be enough to offset Knight's inability to score. It's not like he's going to get hot from long range one night. In 729 career games--more than 18000 minutes--he's made exactly 16 three-pointers. What it boils down to is a calculated risk. Do you bank on Knight's veteran savvy compensating for his diminished physical skills? Or do you play it safer with another pass-first, shoot-second guard?

Head back to the top.

Tyronn Lue:

  • The Good: He spent half of last season on the Magic's sidelines, as Orlando acquired him two days after Nelson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Zach McCann says he's a good influence in Orlando's locker room, a sentiment with which I agree. Additionally, the man can shoot: 39.1% on three-pointers for his career, and he's getting better with age, connecting on 45.3% in his last two seasons combined.

  • The Bad: The Magic must not have seen much in Lue, as they traded for Rafer Alston at the deadline, thus relegating Lue to the end of the bench on most nights.

  • The Verdict: Apparently, the Magic don't think as highly of Lue as I do, as all signs here point to the Magic's letting him go. It's a shame, because his three-point shooting and intelligent play make him a better third-stringer than most, in my estimation.

Head back to the top.

Ronald "Flip" Murray

  • The Good: Murray just turned in his best professional season, scoring 12.2 points per game in a reserve role for the Atlanta Hawks. He matched franchise two-guard Joe Johnson in three-point shooting (36%, a career-high) and exceeded him in overall field-goal shooting (44.7%, also a career-high). And although he wasn't much of a playmaker for Atlanta (14% assist rate), he's just one year removed from a 27.5% assist rate in a season he split between Indiana and Detroit. Hooray for versatility.

  • The Bad: His percentages have "fluke" written all over them. Plus, after a great season in which he earned $1.5 million, he might seek a raise.

  • The Verdict: For the right price, he might be a decent pickup. Orlando could use some scoring off its bench.

Head back to the top.

Mike Taylor:

  • The Good: He's young (23) and athletic (dunk of the year). That athleticism helps him get into the lane, where he takes 42% of his shots, converting at a 45.9% clip while also getting blocked 14% of the time.

  • The Bad: Absolutely, positively, cannot shoot unless it's a layup. 32.5% on threes, 69.1% at the foul line, and a 41.2% mark from the field overall. His turnover rate of 19.4% would have been the worst mark on last year's Magic team by far, worse even than Johnson's 16.4% figure. And his playmaking ability leaves much to be desired.

  • The Verdict: Were it not for his age, we probably wouldn't even be discussing him right now. There's a chance that, with the proper guidance, he could turn into a fairly decent point guard. However, Orlando is in win-now mode, and doesn't have the time, in my estimation, to try to bring its third-string point guard up to speed.

Head back to the top.

Jamaal Tinsley:

  • The Good: He's a tremendous passer, with a career Pure Point Rating of 5.9 (Jameer Nelson's is 3.5). If nothing else, he can run an offense. And he's nothing if not in shape, having sat out all of last season as the Indiana Pacers, his then-current employer, banished him from the team and shipped the contents of his locker to his Atlanta home. He and the Pacers recently reached a buyout agreement, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent.

  • The Bad: Stop me if you've heard this before: he's a poor shooter, especially from three-point range. Although people who have seen him swear he's in great shape, sitting an entire year out, at age 31, means he might have some catching up to do in training camp no matter his destination.

  • The Verdict: If his character issues are indeed behind him--you'll recall his involvement in the 2004 Pacers/Pistons brawl, his participation in a barfight in downtown Indianapolis, and his being the target of a drive-by shooting (which in itself is not a crime)--if he's willing to play for the minimum, and if he's in shape, then he might be the best option on this list. You'll notice, though, the abundance of qualifiers attached to that statement. Smith is a risk-taker, sure, but he's yet to roll the dice by acquiring anyone with Tinsley's sort of reputation, which leads us to believe he won't start now. And he went on the record last year as saying Tinsley wasn't an option then.

Head back to the top.

Jacque Vaughn:

  • The Good: Vaughn is a tremendous passer with good offensive instincts, with a career assist rate of 24%, including 27.6% last year. And even at his advanced age--he'll turn 35 in February--he's a decent defender.

  • The Bad: He's coming off a season in which he shot 32% from the field in 292 total minutes. Even before that, he wasn't much of a scoring threat, as he's 8 years removed from his career-high scoring average of 6.6 points per game. The Spurs demoted him in favor of the rookie George Hill, which paid off fairly well.

  • The Verdict: He fits into the Carter mold as a pass-first, pass-second, shoot-third type. That San Antonio--an organization as worthy of emulation as any other in professional sports--essentially deemed him not worth playing much speaks volumes. Then again, he was last year what he'd be this year: an emergency point guard. He's not a great option for Orlando, but an okay one.

Head back to the top.

Jason Williams:

  • The Good: He was the starting point guard on the Miami Heat's 2006 championship team. And in spite of his reputation as a poor decision-maker--"too much French pastry," as Dick Vitale might say--he actually takes decent care of the ball.

  • The Bad: The man has practically nothing left to offer. I defer to Kelly Dwyer for more:

    Don't try it, because I'm going to laugh in your face if you try to tell me he can make up for [his poor defense] on the other end, not when he's two years removed from shooting 38.4 percent from the floor. I'd love to see him try one more 45-foot bounce pass before riding off into the sunset, but the Knicks would be well-served to try the D-League first to round out their roster.

    He's the most recognizable name on this list, sure. But if you didn't know it were him, but instead only knew that he'd turn 34 in November and that he can't shoot, you probably would dismiss him immediately.

  • The Verdict: With all that said, he's probably not the worst defender on this list, and is probably one of the better passers. Signing him to be the third-stringer wouldn't be an utter disaster, I don't think, but he's not the most attractive option.

Head back to the top.

It's become readily apparent that Smith won't find a perfect candidate. None of these guys is a home-run, even at a minimum salary. The ones who can shoot don't pass, the ones who can pass can't shoot, and very few of them play defense. Not a great situation, sure. Then again, Orlando's done quite well for itself this summer, and it's hardly the only team looking for point guard help. All Otis needs to do is to sign the one he feels is the best possible fit to a minimum deal. Then he can move on to that 14th roster spot, likely a big man, and call it a summer.