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Rashard Lewis Needs to Improve Offensively if the Orlando Magic Want to Challenge the Boston Celtics

Through the first two rounds of the NBA Playoffs, Orlando Magic forward Rashard Lewis was dialed in. In 37 minutes per game, he averaged 16.7 points and connected on 46.2% of his offerings from beyond the arc. Bobby Oster of Stats By Numbers named him "The Sharpshooter" of the midpoint of the playoffs, writing, "To this point, Lewis has exemplified everything you could want from a shooter this post season."

But Lewis' showing--can you even call it showing if someone hasn't arrived?--against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals makes his scorching start against both the Charlotte Bobcats and the Atlanta Hawks seem like part of the dim and distant past; at this point, I welcome you to insert your own punchline about the length of the NBA Playoffs.

In 84 minutes this series, Lewis has scored 11 points on 4-of-16 shooting, including 1-of-9 from three-point range. That's a rate of 4.7 points per 36 minutes, which is about on par with what Jason and Jarron Collins contribute. The Collins twins, you may recall, are defensive specialists at center who only draw an NBA paycheck because they know how to a) give a foul and b) flop.

To be fair to Lewis, he's contending with a case of the flu, and he's matched up against Kevin Garnett, who's just two years removed from winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award. It's not like he's a no-show against, say, the Phoenix Suns.

But regardless of the opponent, at this level of competition, with just 6 wins separating the Magic from their first NBA championship, and two losses dashing their hopes for another year, Orlando needs its top marksman to find the range. In a hurry. Coach Stan Van Gundy took responsibility for Lewis' ineffectivenes after Game 2 he would work on ways to get him involved. That's a solid idea.

Kelly Dwyer has written before about what Lewis means to the team, and I've linked to these stories before--and quoted this very paragraph before--so pardon my redundancy. But Dwyer's nailed this point, and it bears repeating:

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.

(You may notice that neither Anderson nor Brandon Bass has played at all against Boston, with Van Gundy electing to play backup center Marcin Gortat at power forward against the Celtics' physical frontline.)

Again, to be fair to Lewis, he's done an OK job of hitting the boards in this series (11 in 84 minutes, which is about his per-minute average), he's made good entry passes to Dwight Howard from the top of the key. Anderson's not quite there yet as a passer. And he's played good defense on Garnett, who's scored 18 points on 30 shots through the first two games.

But Dwyer's point from several months ago still stands: if Lewis' shot isn't falling, he's not doing much for Orlando. Spacing the floor for Howard against the Celtics doesn't much matter because Boston isn't going to send a double-team at Howard anyway.

So how can Lewis get it going? There's no easy answer. He's struggled to finish in the paint, shooting just 1-of-3 on layups in this series. The conventional wisdom going in was that he'd be able to use his quickness advantage on Garnett to get by him for easy buckets. But with the likes of Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace, and Glen Davis waiting to body Lewis up in the paint, that hasn't happened. Lewis tends to avoid contact on his drives, which only compounds the problem, as he's yet to shoot a free throw in this series.

So he can't hit a layup, get to the line, or make a jumper. And he's not breaking down the Celtics' defense off the dribble, because that's not his role. In the past, Van Gundy has called for Lewis to post up, usually on the left block, if he wants to jump-start his star forward's offensive game. We see that most often in third quarters, if Lewis has had a rough or invisible first half, and not at the start of games, but we could see it in Game 3 on Saturday. When he gets that fadeaway from the left block going--the one where he posts up, spins over his right shoulder, and lofts the ball into the basket with a smooth stroke--he's hard to guard. In case you're curious, data from Synergy Sports Technology show Lewis has shot 11-of-24 on that particular type of play this season.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter how Lewis gets his points; it's that he scores. Period. Over the last three seasons, and counting the playoffs, Orlando's record is 69-23 (.750) when Lewis scores at least 20 points. Specifically against Boston, the Magic are 5-3 (.625) when Lewis scores at least 20. Now, 20 points may seem like an arbitrary cutoff, but it nonetheless illustrates the positive impact Lewis has for Orlando when he manages to put the ball in the basket.