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Examining Rashard Lewis' Struggles against the Charlotte Bobcats

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Kelly Dwyer has written extensively about how key Rashard Lewis is to the Orlando Magic's championship chances, as in this post from about a month ago, in which he describes what Lewis must do for Orlando to be the last team standing in June, and this one from earlier today:

Rashard Lewis is important because his position - a stretch power forward - is important. And unless Lewis looks for his own shot and then connects on his own shot at a high rate, the Magic are in trouble. Why? Because Lewis contributes absolutely nothing else of value. Nothing. So-so defense, league-worst rebounding at his position, no real playmaking. He has to hit shots, or he has to sit, quickly, for Ryan Anderson.

Orlando continues its pursuit--I'd say "starts," but really, that pursuit started the day after last year' NBA Finals, didn't it?--of a championship this Sunday when it opens the first round of the NBA playoffs against the Charlotte Bobcats. While the Magic are expected to advance, Charlotte could give them a tough series, and may even pull off the upset if it's able to find sustainable offense.

So here's where Lewis comes in. He had a miserable season against the Bobcats this year, as Britt Robson notes, with "as many turnovers and more fouls against Charlotte than any other opponent." On the season, Lewis averaged 10.3 points, 3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists against the Bobcats, posting a dismal 38.0% True Shooting figure. I consulted Synergy Sports Technology to figure out what Lewis' problem against the Bobcats is, and to gauge his chances of bouncing back.

The first question to ask here is, "how is Lewis getting his offense against Charlotte? Here's how his play types break down. Note that it doesn't account for 2 free throws he made or 2 of his turnovers since they occurred without him using the ball.

Play Type Poss. FG FGA FT TO Pts %Score
Spot Up 28 7 24 0 4 19 25.0%
Post Up 7 2 5 2/2 1 6 42.9%
Transition 6 0 5 0 1 0 0.0%
Pick/Pop 3 0 3 0 0 0 0.0%
Cut 1 1 1 0 0 2 100.0%
ISO 1 1 1 0 0 2 100.0%
TOTAL 46 11 39 2/2 6 29 26.1%

The poor shooting in spot-up situations is absolutely cause for concern, as spotting up is how Lewis gets 42.9% of his offense on the season, according to Synergy. That figure increased to 60.9% against the Bobcats, which makes his decline in effectiveness in those situations so jarring. He scored 7 times in 28 possessions when spotting up, or just 25% of the time for 0.679 points per possession, as the above chart shows. For the season, spotting up? He scores 45.5% of the time and produces 1.218 points per possession. What a dramatic drop-off.

Thing is, Lewis can't stop shooting. Orlando needs him to continue firing away, predominantly from beyond the arc, for its offense to work. He's going to have to spot-up against the Bobcats, and he's also going to have to convert those chances at a much higher rate. So the next question is, "how?"

Honestly, he just needs to keep doing what he's doing. I know it sounds strange, but hear me out: Lewis shot 5-of-26 in catch-and-shoot situations against Charlotte this year, in either spot-up, pick-and-pop, or transition offense. Synergy classified 11 of those attempts as "open" and the other 15 as "guarded." This chart will help me make my point:

Catch-and-Shoot Situation FG FGA Pts Per Shot
Guarded - Season 85 232 1.086
Guarded - vs CHA 3 15 0.600
Open - Season 69 146 1.356
Open - vs CHA 2 11 0.545

Even if you believe the Bobcats' hard contests will continue stymying Lewis, you'll concede that he's unlikely to continue missing 82% of his open looks. Lewis has established himself as one of the league's best knock-down shooters. He's money, if you want to put it that way. The Bobcats gambled a bit by leaving him open as much as they did, but that gamble paid off. Expect a different story this postseason.