Orlando Magic sharpshooters Rashard Lewis and J.J. Redick got off to such poor starts this season that ESPN's John Hollinger saw fit to include them both among his list of the league's struggling veterans. Lewis opened his first 10 games shooting 39-of-110 (35.5 percent) from the floor and 15-of-49 (30.6 percent) from three-point distance. Redick, however, started even slower during his first 10 appearances: 13-of-50 (26 percent) from the field and 3-of-25 (12 percent) from beyond the arc. Both players' foremost responsibility is to make open shots in order to apply pressure to opposing defenses, which simply hadn't happened until very recently.
Happily, both players have shown signs of life offensively in the Magic's last several games, and both enjoyed great performances against the Miami Heat in last night's 104-95 victory.
Redick's slow start to the season may be even more puzzling than Lewis'; perhaps this designation splits hairs or misses the point, but Redick seems to be a better pure shooter, while Lewis is the superior all-around scorer. "I think that's just the way it is for shooters," Redick said last night when asked about his season-opening slump. "I'm not doing anything different, and I wasn't, frankly, doing anything different during that 10-game stretch where I couldn't buy a bucket. Sometimes it happens that way."
Faith in Orlando's offensive scheme, Redick said, has kept the team going even as it's struggled to put points on the board. "The system is going to allow us to get shots. We have the big fella [Dwight Howard] inside, and Jameer [Nelson] penetrating the way he's penetrated the last few games. We're going to get looks."
Redick said he joined Magic assistant coach Bob Beyer to watch film of all his shots this season--something he and Beyer do fairly often during the season--after "six or seven games." I asked what he took away from that initial film session, and he responded, "I think it's just a matter of continuing to take the same shots, understanding where your shots are coming from."
He elaborated on that point by using an analogy about a slumping baseball player Van Gundy told him earlier: "He's hitting .188 in April and some people are saying, 'Well, I'm just going to hit my way out of it' and they're going to swing at everything. I don't want to be that guy [...] I'm just going to take the shots I'm comfortable with and eventually they're going to start falling."
In his last four games, Lewis has scored 72 points in 136 minutes, shooting 24-of-40 (60 percent) overall and 10-of-13 (76.9 perccent) on three-pointers. He's having to contend with opponents defending him differently, and a new position: though still starting at power forward on a nightly basis, Brandon Bass' emergence behind him has resulted in his playing more often at small forward. "A lot of teams are taking the three-point shot away from me," Lewis said following last night's win, in which only one of his 10 field-goal attempts came from three-point distance. "They're staying close to me and trying to make me put the ball on the floor." Data from Synergy Sports Technology show that 12.9 percent of Lewis' shot attempts this year are jumpers off the dribble, up from 9.6 percent last year. Chasing him off the three-point line has reduced his number of three-point attempts and forced him to take more "short" jump shots, which Synergy classifies as any jumper within 17 feet of the hoop.
Lewis also said coach Stan Van Gundy has called on Lewis to post-up more often, which exploits his size against smaller defenders and also "gets me going."
Though Lewis' overall offensive numbers are not up to par, as indicated earlier, he has come alive in Orlando's past four games. Not that the Magic necessarily suffered while his shooting was in the tank. "We got a lot of guys who can score," he said with a smile. "Take it away from me, the next man is gonna be open."
For Redick and Lewis, those shots have indeed started to drop of late, though Lewis' are a bit different from the ones he's taken the last three seasons in an Orlando uniform. The Magic's offense will continue to improve so long as they maintain their recent level of efficiency.
While their coming around means nothing but good for Orlando, the Magic still haven't gotten much from Quentin Richardson (34.9 percent shooting, one point every 3.5 minutes) and Chris Duhon (31.6 percent shooting, one point every 7.8 minutes), who have yet to come around on the offensive end. Orlando's offense will prove even more potent when that pair begins to connect from the floor.