In two separate trades yesterday afternoon, the Orlando Magic acquired Gilbert Arenas, Earl Clark, Jason Richardson, and Hedo Turkoglu for four rotation players, thus dramatically altering their long-term outlook on the court and in the ledger. Plenty of angles deserve our attention here, and I'll attempt to cover a few in this post. I'm sure I'll get to other topics if the need arises, but for now, here's my assessment of the four newest Magic players, as well as the frontcourt and financial situations.
The biggest name Orlando acquired, Arenas' best days on the court are clearly behind him on account of age and left-knee injuries. In 21 games for the Washington Wizards this season, the new Arenas has averaged 17.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 1.4 steals. That's solid production, but the real issue is his inefficiency, as he's connected on just 39.4 percent of his shot attempts and 32.4 percent of his three-pointers. Further, he's used 26.3 percent of Washington's possessions when on the court. At first blush, it may appear the three-time All-Star's high-volume offensive approach is a poor fit with the Magic, who prefer to spread the ball around.
And not to dismiss those concerns out of hand, but Arenas seems poised to join the Magic's second unit. Coach Stan Van Gundy said today Jameer Nelson will remain the team's starting point guard, and though Arenas himself said he and Van Gundy have yet to discuss his role with the team, he also said "I can do it here" with regard to coming off the bench.
And Orlando's bench sure could use the offensive punch. Prior to this deal, J.J. Redick was the second unit's only reliable scorer. Arenas going one-on-one, with Redick, Quentin Richardson, and Ryan Anderson spreading the floor around him, could yield solid results. Further, Arenas will take minutes from the unproductive backup point guard combination of Chris Duhon and Jason Williams, which one must view as a net positive for Orlando.
If shot-creation is the Magic's biggest offensive issue--and that's a defensible position, I believe--then Arenas certainly fixes it; no one's ever accused Arenas of lacking aggression. The issue is refining his ability to get shots off, eliminating the bad ones and maximizing the good ones. The fewer off-balance 20-footers he forces up, the better.
By all accounts, Arenas couldn't be happier to land in Orlando. Michael Lee of the Washington Post, for instance, says Arenas is "in great spirits" and "really wanted to be" with the Magic. Further, Orlando President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith said Arenas, a close friend of his, has been a Magic fan since Penny Hardaway's days with the club, and that Hardaway is Arenas' "favorite player." And indeed Arenas has selected uniform no. 1, which Hardaway made famous, with Orlando. In an interview with Holly MacKenzie, a good friend of mine and a great writer, two seasons ago, Arenas discussed his Hardaway fandom.
Smith declined to answer some questions about strategy, deferring instead to Van Gundy. But he did say the team addressed the possibility of playing Arenas and Nelson together in some alignments. He also cited Arenas' proficiency as a pick-and-roll operator as another plus. And, as he pointed out to the assembled media, "it is no secret to anyone in this room that the Orlando Magic likes to run pick-and-rolls."
Topic Index: Gilbert Arenas | Jason Richardson | Hedo Turkoglu | Earl Clark | Frontcourt Rotation | Backcourt Rotation | Finances
To me, the Magic's newest Richardson is the newcomer who has the best chance to make a difference with this team. Of the four players Orlando acquired today, Richardson ranks first this season in per-game scoring (19.3), rebounding (4.4), and True Shooting (57.4 percent). Though known primarily as a slam-dunk artist and corner three-point marksman, Richardson's more versatile than most folks credit him for. Smith said he anticipates Richardson's ability to score coming off screens to prove important in Orlando's offense: "His ability to hit spot-up threes as well as come off down screens for us in our system will probably be the best way to describe Jason." Smith also praised Richardson's comptitive spirit.
Scouting data from Synergy Sports Technology confirm Smith's assessment. Richadson is 46-of-100 (46 percent) in spot-up situations this season, including 32 three-point baskets; His 1.221 points per possession in such situations ranks in the league's 90th percentile. At 0.78 points per possession coming off screens, he's a bit more ordinary. However, that element of his game is something Orlando's lacked during Van Gundy's tenure; Orlando doesn't run many curl plays for its perimeter players except for Redick, preferring for them instead to spot-up off the catch or initiate offense via a pick-and-roll.
I'm also hopeful that Van Gundy will give Richardson, who's more powerful than his high-flyer reputation suggest, opportunities to score with his back to the basket. He's shooting 15-of-27 (55.6 percent) in post-up situations this season.
Richardson's three-point shooting makes him a natural fit here. He takes 5.9 triples per game and convert at a 41.2 percent clip; among the 13 players averaging at least five three-point attempts per night, only Kevin Martin, at 43.7 percent, is more accurrate.
Bottom line? Richardson's versatility as a scoring threat will give Orlando more options than it had with Vince Carter, whose minutes Richardson figures to absorb.
Turkoglu, who played 425 regular- and post-season games in his first five season with Orlando, is no stranger to the Magic or Van Gundy's offense. He thrived as the Magic's secondary ballhandler in 2007/08 and 2008/09, with his fantastic play in the former season earning him that year's Most Improved Player award. He's disappointed in a major way in the one-plus season since leaving Orlando, but I attribute much of that decline to the way his new coaches have used him. Turkoglu's rebounding and playmaking stats took a dive with the Toronto Raptors and Phoenix Suns as both teams looked to use him more as a spot-up shooter. He excelled at that--he shot 37.4 percent on threes in Toronto and a career-best 42.3 percent with the Suns--but that's about it.
Van Gundy sounds hopeful that Turkoglu will regain some of his prior form in his return to Orlando. "I know that he is 6-foot-10 with skill and his skills have not eroded," Van Gundy said. "We know that he can shoot the ball, he can handle the ball, he can pass the ball, and I know he is capable of defending."
Turkoglu is at his best with the ball in his hands. He can run an offense, though his shot-selection and silly turnovers can aggravate coaches, fans, and teammates alike at times. But more frustrating, I think, is how Turkoglu plays when he isn't involved in the offense. Turkoglu isn't a guy who gets jacked up to do dirty-work things like set back-picks, or box opponents out. Like Mickael Pietrus, Turkoglu needs to be involved offensively if he is to make meaningful contributions in other areas. When he's engaged, he's an electrifying player--or as electrifying as a player with his minimal athleticism can be, anyway--who creates mismatches and finds open teammates. That high pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard he runs so well will become another of the Magic's go-to plays, I suspect.
What's less clear is Turkoglu's place in the rotation. Van Gundy said he does not plan to start Turkoglu at power forward, "at least not initially," though he granted Turkoglu may man that position "against smaller lineups." He likely won't crack the 30-minute mark on most nights, but as a 25-minutes-per-night starter at small forward, he makes sense. Quentin Richardson can back him up. I can't envision Turkoglu sharing the court with Arenas very much, given that they both need the ball in order to maximize their gifts.
With a lanky 6-foot-10, 225-pound frame, the 22-year-old Clark has drawn comparisons to Lamar Odom, and not just because both are left-handed. Clark hasn't impressed in his two seasons in the league to date, and the Suns even took the unusua step of declining the fourth-year option on his rookie contract, meaning Clark comes off the books next summer.
In three seasons as a Louisville Cardinal, Clark averaged 10.6 points, 7 rebounds, and 1.7 assists. Now in his second year, Clark's career averages at the professional level are 2.8 points and 1.3 rebounds in 7.6 minutes. Van Gundy said "we have always liked his talent" though the team doesn't "know too much about him."
Clark had the best game of his career against the Magic earlier this season when he dropped 12 points and 6 boards in 15 garbage-time minutes. His totals in 8 games against other opponents? 14 points, 11 rebounds, and 57 minutes. Like rookie center Daniel Orton, Clark is a long-term prospect for this team who doesn't fit into its immediate plans. It's up to Orlando to harness his potential on the practice court, or perhaps in the NBA D-League, so he may contribute down the line.
The Frontcourt Rotation
Losing Marcin Gortat will complicate issues for Van Gundy when Howard is in foul trouble. "It will be more of a struggle" in those situations, he conceded. With Gortat moving on, Orlando has no true second center behind Howard. Brandon Bass, who will likely retain his starting power forward job, will need to slide to that position on a nightly basis now. Though undersized, at 6-foot-8, Bass is up to the task. He played center alongside power forward Dirk Nowitzki in two seasons with Dallas, and earlier this season, he told me defending centers is easier than defending power forwards:
"Playing the five, you just do a lot of zone. At the four, you gotta do a lot of moving. It's a lot of work."
Rashard Lewis' departure to Washington also opens up minutes for Ryan Anderson at power forward. The three-year veteran hasn't played meaningfully since Van Gundy abruptly yanked him from a November 10th game against the Utah Jazz, which Anderson started. A subsequent bout with the stomach flu, coupled with a sprained right mid-foot, has set Anderson back a bit. But now, really he has a great opportunity to become a rotation player on a contending team. As it stands, Howard and Bass are the only natural bigs in Orlando's rotation, with veteran insurance policy Malik Allen grabbing spot minutes if needed.
Orlando can at least be pleased it has two young, productive, talented power forwards in Anderson and Bass. How greatly Anderson's role increases as a result of these trades isn't clear, but here's what is: Orlando needs him to prove he belongs on the court, as it simply doesn't have other viable options.
Smith seems to agree. "We still need to get a big, so there will stil probably be some other changes made," he said. A smaller deal for a cheap big man, or perhaps a free-agent signing, could address this issue.
The Backcourt Rotation
Orlando won't easily fill the void Gortat's departure creates, but it can at least address ith simply by acquiring another player. Nelson and Redick, however, are two incumbent players whose roles figure to change dramatically. Though Nelson will still start at point guard, Van Gundy estimates he and Arenas, another small, ball-dominant guard, will share the court for approximately 16 minutes per game: "I'm not going to have those guys, as good as they are, just splitting 48 minutes." In response, Van Gundy said Nelson will have to play off the ball more to accommodate Arenas. "Jameer has wanted the opportunity in the laast couple of years to be able to come off screens a little bit more," he said, noting that doing so would put Nelson in position to get offense where "he doesn't have to have it off the dribble all the time."
This talk makes sense in theory, but implementing it in practice will prove quite a chore. Almost one-third of the season is in the books, and now Van Gundy is tasked with adjusting the way his point guard, a seven-year veteran overall with three-plus seasons under him directly, plays. On the fly. While integrating four new players. In a high-pressure situation, with expectations high. You see what I'm driving at here.
Nelson realizes he will have fewer scoring chances as a result of today's roster overhaul, but is committed to staying assertive, saying, "I'm still going to find a way to be aggressive" even when he doesn't have the ball.
Redick, for his part, is averaging 24.3 minutes per game this year. He may see that number drop in half. Both Richardsons, Turkoglu, and Arenas merit playing time at the wing, so Redick will feel the crunch. So too will Quentin Richardson, but his status as the Magic's best perimeter defender ought to keep him on the floor most nights.
Redick, though, isn't sweating the possible change. "I think I've been good, in all five of my years here, about playing my role. So whatever that is, I'll do it the best that I can," he said.
I began working on a post examining the financial implications for Orlando during its loss to the Philadelphia 76ers tonight, but SB Nation colleague Tom Ziller beat me to it, so to speak. You can find his exhaustive breakdown on hat front here. The Magic's long-term obligation to Arenas is remarkable, really. It's nearly unheard of for a small-market team to take on all this salary. However, Orlando saves money in the short term, which is an important point.