The Orlando Magic face several questions in the wake of the sprained left shoulder Glen Davis suffered against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday. Orlando finds itself without a starting power forward at a time when it should be racking up wins: the Magic have won four straight games and play six of their next eight games at Amway Center.
Davis is no bit player, either: only Arron Afflalo has logged more minutes for Orlando in 2012/13 than the LSU product, whose 16 points and 7.9 rebounds the Magic will sorely miss. The Magic have some reasonably reliable power forwards who can take Davis' place and perhaps approximate his productivity, but they'll all struggle to fill the emotional-leader role Davis occupies on this club. It's not as though Jacque Vaughn has much time to prepare for life without Davis, either: the Magic return to action Friday against the Toronto Raptors.
Bearing all of those facts in mind, Orlando Pinstriped Post surveys Orlando's roster to see to whom the Magic might turn with Davis sidelined indefinitely.
Ayón hasn't spent much time at power forward in his first Magic season, instead backing up Nikola Vučević at center almost exclusively. He'll need to share the floor with Vučević some in Davis' absence.
Though Ayón's overall statistics don't impress, he's come around in December, shooting 55.6 percent from the floor through 10 games. The biggest difference between himself and Davis is that Ayón is by no means an offensive threat. Orlando can run plays for Davis, and had done so with reasonable efficiency so far in December, during which time the veteran four-man had shot 49 percent from the floor. Ayón, in contrast, is purely a garbageman, a guy who's gonna get buckets on offensive rebounds and off-ball cuts.
Fortunately, the Magic can at least count on Ayón to hold his own on the glass: the second-year player has rebounded 20.5 percent of all available defensive rebounds on the season, a number in line with Davis' 20.2 percent figure. Ayón also tops Davis as an offensive rebounder, with a 9.5 percent rate to Davis' 6.2 percent one.
Ayón also earns his keep as a passer out of the high post, where he's done a great job finding his teammates cutting to the rim for easy deuces. His assist rate of 18.7 percent puts him in line with fellow high-low specialists Marc Gasol (18.7 percent) and Joakim Noah (18.8 percent), and 20 of his 35 assists have led to baskets at the rim, according to HoopData.
No one should expect Ayón to start alongside Vučević, even with Davis sidelined. But they should expect the Mexican-born center to take on a greater role.
As a utility forward on a team well stocked with talent at both forward positions, McRoberts has seen his minutes and role fluctuate: prior to taking the floor against Washington on Wednesday and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, the Duke product had recorded three consecutive Did Not Play-Coach's Decisions.
But McRoberts has started for Vaughn twice in 2012/13, both times at small forward, indicating that the first-year coach has some trust in him. McRoberts is even more anemic offensively than Ayón and doesn't provide the same lift on the defensive glass, but he can extend possessions with his offensive rebounding. He also has the athleticism and court vision to make impact plays in ways that his size and position belie.
Assuming that rookie small forward Maurice Harkless continues to start in Davis' absence--and there's no reason to believe he won't--then the Magic would have two offensive non-entities in the floor to open each game were they to start McRoberts in Davis' place.
Nicholson has quietly put together an impressive opening quarter to his rookie season, leading the Magic in points per minute and narrowly trailing J.J. Redick for the team lead in scoring efficiency. For a team looking to replace its co-leading scorer, he'd seem to be an obvious choice to inherit Davis' starting role.
Nicholson is pretty polished offensively, and Orlando can even run plays for him, but he doesn't contribute in other areas the same way Ayón and McRoberts do. He ranks behind even Harkless in rebounding, getting just 12.2 percent of all available boards when on the floor. However, he's improved his glass-crashing ability in December, outrebounding even Davis on a per-minute basis in the final month of 2012.
As a go-to scorer for Orlando's second unit, Nicholson ranks second on the team, behind Davis, in usage rate. Further, he's played far more efficiently than Davis has. According to mySynergySports.com, Nicholson has scored on 52 percent of the plays he's used as a rookie, posting 1.03 points per play. Davis, in contrast, has scored on just 44.3 percent of his plays and averaged 0.87 points per. In particular, Nicholson excels with his back to the basket and as a roll-man in pick-and-roll and in pick-and-pop plays.
Orlando's second-round selection in the 2012 NBA Draft, O'Quinn hasn't had many chances to prove himself as a rookie. According to NBA.com's stats tool, O'Quinn has played 35 of his 64 minutes with Orlando trailing by 11 points or more; he does not have a high leverage index, to appropriate a term from baseball metrics.
But O'Quinn has shown promise as a shot-blocker, sending back 8.2 percent of opponent two-point attempts while on the floor. His scant playing time indicates he's not really a candidate to start in Davis' place, but he could see an increased role as a backup center, especially if Ayón spends some time alongside Vučević at power forward.
None of Vaughn's options to replace Davis is ideal, but the view here is that starting Nicholson is the right choice. As an offensively minded player, he gives the Magic the best lineup continuity in Davis' absence, and he also happens to be a terrific prospect who will only improve with more playing time.
However, I expect Vaughn will call upon McRoberts, at least ceremonially, much in the same way Harkless starts but games but only logs about 18 minutes per.
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