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Orlando Magic Free-Agent Point Guard Primer, Part Two: Restricted Targets

In his post-NBA Draft media availability session, Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith twice mentioned that one of the roster needs he will address via free agency is a backup point guard for starter Jameer Nelson. In anticipation of the free-agency negotiating period, which starts Thursday, I thought it'd make sense to look over some of the restricted free-agent-to-be point guards who might be available. These players are, alphabetically, Will Bynum, Jordan Farmar, and C.J. Watson. We previously went over the unrestricted crop here.

As I said in that post, none of those guys can put the Magic over the top. That's not the idea here. This is a player who will ideally only log 15 minutes a night behind Nelson, and do so without undermining the team's chances. To use a baseball analogy, Smith doesn't need to hit a home run with this signing; he merely needs to reach base, and if that means an infield it, that's OK.

Additionally, there's risk in trying to sign another team's restricted free agent, as the Magic's money would be tied up for a week while the other team decides to match. Other free-agent targets could come off the market during that time, and if the original team decides to match the offer, you've wasted a week, not gotten your guy, and let other guys sign elsewhere. To make an offer, you have to have confidence that the other team won't match. It's tricky.

With that risk comes reward. In landing a young backup, the Magic could end the three-year game of musical chairs between veteran point guards behind Nelson. Carlos Arroyo, Keyon Dooling, Anthony Johnson, and Jason Williams have all held that role during Stan Van Gundy's tenure as Magic's coach, and though "backup point guard" is far down the list of reasons why the Magic have yet to win a championship, signing a young backup to a multiyear deal would bring some consistency to the position and add another piece to the Magic's long-term core.

Again, the ideal point guard in the Magic's offense can accomplish the following tasks, listed in no particular order:

  • Run the pick-and-roll efficiently;

  • shoot the three-pointer;

  • create his own shot;

  • and take care of the ball.

Youth and the ability to defend are important factors to consider as well.

I've included jump-cuts to make navigating this post a bit easier.

Will Bynum | Jordan Farmar | C.J. Watson


Will Bynum

At 27, Bynum isn't exactly the ideal age for a young backup, and he's nearly as polished as he's going to be. But that's not necessarily terrible, as he averaged 10 points and 4.6 assists last year for an admittedly awful Detroit team. He made headlines with this monster dunk early in the season, but he can do more than merely score. During one three-game stretch in March, he dished 33 assists, including 20 in a win over the Wizards. A 5'10" with a career usage rate of 22.5, he fits the "small, scoring guard" profile, yet can create for his teammates as well.

Bynum ran the pick-and-roll quite often last year for the Pistons--they accounted for 48.8% of his possession usage, counting passes, according to Synergy Sports Technology--but with mixed results. See, 54% of his passes went to spot-up shooters, at a 0.752 points-per-possession clip, which rates as "poor." There's an explanation for that, however: the Pistons had no shooters of whom to speak. As a team, they scored 0.910 points per possession in spot-up situations, which ranked 27th of the league's 30 teams. In short, his teammates didn't do him many favors with that whole "putting the ball in the basket" thing, which hurt his assist totals and pick-and-roll efficiency. With the Magic, who ranked second in spot-up shooting, those stats would improve.

And unlike a lot of the players surveyed in Monday's post, Bynum can get his own shot. He was assisted on just 21.1% of his shots, according to Hoopdata, which puts him behind only Steve Nash, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook among players who averaged 25+ minutes per game and appeared in at least 40 contests.

The biggest drawback to Bynum is that his range doesn't extend beyond the arc. 83 three-point attempts in his career, out of 928 total attempts; teams can just play him for the drive and live with it. And though he can create his own shot, he's not always efficient with it. It's encouraging to see a guy so small get to the rim thrice a game, and convert at a 60% clip, but his 51.2% career True Shooting mark (51.3% last season) is well below average.

I do think, though, that he'd be more efficient in the Magic's offense. Not having to carry as much of the load would curb his usage, which tends to lead to an increase in efficiency. And a point guard who can break the defense down off the dribble and remain a scoring threat, backing up Nelson, who's much the same way with a three-pointer to boot? That's enticing. Really. Williams and Johnson couldn't get into the lane (though when Johnson did, he made his presence felt), so it'd be a luxury.

Again, the man can pass. His 4.4 Pure Point Rating is in line with Michael Conley's and surpasses Kirk Hinrich's 4.3 mark. Don't think of him as merely a short gunner.

It's worth noting that the Pistons are "expected" to retain Bynum, according to Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News. He's their only true point guard, assuming they've caught on, as everyone else has, to the fact that starter Rodney Stuckey is more of a two-guard.

If the Magic can overlook/live with the fact that Bynum can't shoot the three, and can live with the risk of the Pistons matching their offer, I believe he could be a good fit. Or about a good a fit as a point guard with range that only extends to about 19 feet can be, anyway.

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Jordan Farmar

Farmar is a tougher nut to crack. He's toiled behind Derek Fisher, the All-Time Super Clutch Magical Awesome Champion of Grit and Valor, with the Lakers for three of his four professional seasons and a times seems wasted in the Lakers' vaunted triangle offense. There, he's mostly a spot-up shooter, which limits his opportunities to showcase his impressive athleticism and to, you know, run a typical offense, particularly the pick-and-roll. Only the Jazz ran pick-and-rolls less often than the Lakers, which is a fact to consider whenever anyone tries drawing parallels between today's Carlos Boozer/Deron Williams pairing and the legendary pick-and-roll combination of Karl Malone and John Stockton.

So really, we have to make the most of the limited data we have in evaluating Farmer's pick-and-roll chops. First, he tends to look for his own shot--60.6% percent of the time--though he's no wizard when it comes to actually making it. 0.753 points per possession in those situations, though his 19-of-45 showing on jumpers off the dribble ranks "very good." On the limited occasions when he did pass, he had mixed results, with the Lakers' roll-men blowing layups, but their shooters converting at 1.167 points per possession. With more pick-and-roll usage, and a dialed-down tendency to look for his own shot, he would make a nice cog in the Magic's offense. Maybe.

Indeed, he's a solid outside shooter, connecting on 35.9% of his three-pointers in his career, and a career-best 37.6% last season. According to Hoopdata, 56.4% of those were assisted, and 58% of his field goals overall.

But he's a risk. Are his unimpressive passing statistics, and his reliance on his teammates to set up his shots, due to the constraints the triangle places upon him, or are they indicative of a lack of ability? That's the question the Magic and the rest of the league faces this summer in evaluating whether to commit any money to him. According to Lakers beat writer Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, "[t]he hope for Farmar to remain in L.A. seems far more unlikely." He'll turn 24 in November, yet has started just 2 of the 301 games in which he's played, and wants an expanded role. If he's not happy with 18-20 minutes per night behind Fisher, he certainly won't be satisfied with 15 minutes per night behind Nelson. If the Magic offered him a long-term deal, would he even sign it, knowing he has no chance to supplant Nelson?

Questions for both parties involved here make Farmar an iffy fit in Orlando.

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C.J. Watson

The Magic tried and failed to sign Watson last year during his first restricted free-agency go-round, and then made a generous trade offer that the Warriors inexplicably rejected. All indications are he's still on the team's radar. The Magic were indeed quite interested in him, but couldn't find the money to make him an offer that Golden State was certain not to match, having already spent $4 million of their mid-level exception on Brandon Bass. Ultimately, Watson took the Warriors' one-year qualifying offer rather than take a multiyear deal for guaranteed money, a risky move for an undrafted player coming off his second season, which attests to his strong desire to leave Golden State.

But his performance this past season hurt his stock. After shooting 39% from three-point range in his first two seasons--the aspect of his game which most influenced my opinion that he would fit in nicely her--he slumped to 31% last year. It's not as though he lost his jumper completely, as he connected on 46% of his long two-pointers, according to Hoopdata, which makes his three-point dive puzzling. Which was the aberration: the 39% rate in 146 attempts during his first two seasons, or the 31% rate in 145 attempts last year?

And if you thought making sense of Farmar's work in the triangle offense was complicated, well, at least he was in an offense. The Warriors, under gonzo head coach Don Nelson, aren't much for tradition.

Last year, Watson was a transition initiator first, a spot-up shooter second, and a pick-and-roll ballhandler third. And his work in the pick-and-roll leaves a lot to be desired. Though a willing passer--49.7% of the time, by far the highest of the players surveyed here--his results didn't always pan out. Like Bynum, the spot up shooters he found on the perimeter in the pick-and-roll missed their mark. But unlike Bynum's Pistons, the Warriors have some elite shooters; at third in the league, they ranked just behind Orlando in spot-up efficiency last season.

It's not just a pick-and-roll issue either, as Watson's dishes to teammates in isolation sets also led to missed shots quite often. Could all these indications be red herrings or flukes, or is there something about Watson's ballhandling, passing, and court vision that means he struggles to create open looks?

As a result, Watson's assist rate is less impressive than Farmar's, though his lack of turnovers--a definite advantage for him overall--gives him a Pure Point Rating of 2.9. For a secondary playmaker, that's not bad, but you'd like to see your backup point guard's figure closer to 4.

The evidence points to Watson being miscast as a point guard, and instead indicates he'd be best served as a designated shooter on offense, with a more skilled passer initiating it. Maybe he has it in him to be a lead guard, though, and his responsibilities with the Warriors--imagine that! The Warriors and responsibility!--masked his passing skills. Is that a chance Smith is willing to take, on top of the aforementioned risks associated with pursuing any restricted free agent? Is it something he can afford to?

I don't expect the Warriors, who made Watson a qualifying offer, to let Watson go cheaply.

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Each of these players offers more risk--independent of the general restricted problems--than any of the veterans in Monday's post. Bynum lacks size and an outside shot, while the systems in which Farmar and Watson have played complicate analysis of their ability to run a team. Yet the appeal of finally adding a backup point guard who can hold a job for more than a year is undeniable; if I'm sick of writing about options at that position for the third straight summer, imagine what Smith feels like, having to actually sign one.

If pressed, I'd rate Bynum highest among this group, as he's the best passer of the three and a threat to score as well. Watson is next, because even if his three-point stroke returns, there's no guarantee he'll ever develop as a passer. Farmar's a distant third, as I'm not sure he'd accept another backup role, and he's never done much to impress me anyway. I always caution, though, that Smith may feel differently.