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Orlando Magic Camp Countdown: Should Mickael Pietrus or Quentin Richardson Start?

Orlando Magic training camp opens on September 28th. Orlando Pinstriped Post counts down key questions to consider entering camp and the 2010/11 NBA season.

Four spots in the Orlando Magic's starting lineup are secure: Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter will get the nods in the backcourt, while Rashard Lewis will start at power forward, and Dwight Howard at center. For the second straight season, however, the small-forward slot is up for grabs. Mickael Pietrus and Quentin Richardson will get an opportunity during camp and in the preseason to make their cases to coach Stan Van Gundy. Who has the leg up? Who figures to be the better choice?

On the surface, perhaps it doesn't matter. "Six of one, half-dozen of the other," and all that. Here's a look at some of the striking similarities between Pietrus and Richardson over their last two seasons:

28 Age 30
6-foot-6 Height 6-foot-6
Weight 228
54.7% True Shooting % 53.8%
37.1% 3FG% 38.1%
54.8% % 3FG 55.9%
73.3% % AST 68.8%

Indeed, in addition to playing the same position, Pietrus and Richardson are roughly the same age and size. Additionally, they're both similarly inclined on offense, tending to launch three-pointers off the catch, and connecting at an above-average rate.

But there are subtle differences: Pietrus prefers the corner three-pointer, while Richardson tends to shoot from the wings. And thought Pietrus is more likely to drive, he's also more likely to settle for a bad shot attempt as a result. Another factor worth considering is Richardson's potential explosiveness: in 148 games over the last two years, he's made at least four three-pointers in 23 of them. Pietrus, in the same span? 129 games, but just 13 with four-plus treys.

Defensively, Pietrus has the upper hand. He's markedly more athletic than Richardson, who has suffered from back and knee soreness in the recent past, and more reliable when it comes to matching up against the opponent's best wing scorer. Richardson can provide a different look here due to his physical strength; he has Pietrus sorely beat in that regard. And, for what it's worth, Richardson said at his introductory presser that he anticipates having a great defensive season knowing that Howard is protecting the lane behind him.

On the whole, Pietrus has youth and familiarity with the team's system on his side, and he's joined the Magic's starting five in each of the last two season-openers. Yet he's also started just 49 of his 129 games with the Magic, and the team fared better with him as part of the second unit last year, benefitting from Matt Barnes' energy and hustle. Furthermore, a recent study suggested that the Nelson/Carter/Pietrus/Lewis/Howard configuration vastly underperformed last season; it proved less than the sum of its parts. Does Van Gundy trust that lineup to put it together this year? If the answer is no, the job clearly belongs to Richardson, despite his earning less than half of what Pietrus will this season.

The situation is, of course, fluid, and there's a decent chance the opening-night starter will shift to the bench for one reason or another as the season wears along; Barnes didn't wrest control of the starting job from Pietrus until December 30th, for instance. But overall, I'd expect Richardson to log more meaningful minutes with the four All-Stars.