Ask a number of Orlando Magic fans, and you'll likely find they hold these tenets to be true: if Vince Carter's shortcomings this season reflect poorly on his game, then Rashard Lewis' shortcomings this season reflect poorly on the team's system. Prior to signing with the Magic, Lewis averaged 22.4 points per game on 58.7% True Shooting, albeit as the top option for a mediocre Seattle squad. Since then, though, he's shifted to power forward, turned almost entirely into a jump-shooter, seen his usage rate drop 20.5%, had to bear more clutch shooting responsibilities, and shouldered a ton of blame for Orlando's playoff failures. That's a lot to ask of a guy, although obviously he's well compensated.
|Points Per Game||Rebounds Per Game||Blocks Per Game|
|Points Per 36||Rebounds Per 36||Blocks Per 36|
|PER||Rebound Rate||Block Rate|
All statistics in this table from Lewis' player page at basketball-reference. Career-high statistics highlighted in gold.
Lewis is not without blame for his poor season. I like the way he plays and believe he's a great fit for Orlando, but there's just no way to look at his overall body of work and argue that he had a successful season.
His game is pretty simple: if he's not putting the ball in the basket, he's not doing much to help the team. He's a poor rebounder and not a guy who can create for his teammates off the dribble; almost all his assists, I'd wager, go to Dwight Howard underneath, and I credit Lewis for learning to throw a mean entry pass. But that's not the same thing as, say, driving to the rim, drawing defenders, and kicking the ball out to the open man, you know?
And that's the problem, really: for whatever reason, Lewis struggled to score this year. One explanation is the 10-game suspension that he served to start the year forever took him off his game. Another is that he's just getting old, and that at age 30, he can't score like he used to. The most likely explanation is that he and new addition Vince Carter didn't work well together. Lewis' usage tumbled to 19.4% this season, its lowest since the 2000/01 season, when he ended 18.4% of the Sonics' possessions. In his first two years with Orlando, he was never worse than the third option on offense. This year, with Carter in the fold and Jameer Nelson healthy, Lewis became the fourth option. And when you rob a guy of opportunities to do the one thing he does well on the basketball court, well, yeah, he's not going to have a great year.
None of this is to say that Lewis stinks, or anything like that. Jason Kidd and Channing Frye were the only two players to shoot jumpers more efficiently this season, for instance, according to Synergy Sports Technology. And he came up huge in the first two rounds of this year's playoffs, before the combination of Kevin Garnett and a stomach virus rendered him ineffectual in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Again, Van Gundy has come under fire for his offense, which I don't understand. Surrounding Howard with three-point shooters makes sense, and Howard's about the last guy in the league who needs "protection" from a "true" power forward. No, Lewis is the right fit at that position. My issue is that Van Gundy needs to find ways to get Lewis more touches. He's a brilliant scorer, but too often gets lost in the shuffle. Whether that's Carter and Nelson calling their own number too often, or Lewis not making himself available, or Van Gundy not getting him involved, or some combination of the three, I'm not sure. But Lewis is too talented to keep loitering on the weak side, waiting for a kickout, for 33 minutes a night. Going forward, that's the biggest concern about Lewis.
Regarding this year, though, he didn't get enough chances to really make his mark. The last time he was this uninvolved in his team's offense, Antonio Davis and Latrell Sprewell were All-Stars, so I think you can cut him a break for looking a bit lost.