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Volatility Undermines Orlando Magic Offense

As the Orlando Magic's recent stretch of six losses in eight games illustrated, they aren't a terribly good offensive team. They scored a franchise-low 56 points in a loss to the Boston Celtics, but also had outings of 67 points (against the New Orleans Hornets) and 69 points (against the Philadelphia 76ers) in that span. On the season, the Magic's average of 102.5 points per 100 possessions ranks 19th in the NBA.

Some new research might illuminate why a team stocked with such talent sometimes struggles to score. Tom Ziller, SB Nation's NBA editor, recently posted a story examining what he called offensive volatility, a measure of a given player's scoring average relative to his standard deviation from his scoring average. Among the 15 players averaging 20-plus points per game this season, Magic center Dwight Howard is the second-most volatile, with a rating of 41.5 percent. That means, in general, that Howard has a 41.5 percent chance of having an extreme scoring performance (eight points above or below his average) whenever he takes the floor. Contrast that figure with LeBron James', which leads the 20-plus-point scoring crowd at 20.8 percent, indicating James is almost exactly half as volatile a scorer as Howard. Phrased another way, James is almost exactly twice as reliable.

Ziller speculates that his high-volume, low-accuracy shooting from the foul line explains Howard's volatility. "Seeing a big man so high on the list fights conventional wisdom, which is that since big men tend to have higher shooting percentages, their production is more reliable," he writes. "While Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge all seem to bolster that hypothesis with relatively low volatility marks, Howard -- a regular near the top of field goal percentage rankings -- is a blinking signal of doubt."

Howard's inconsistency on offense hurts the Magic enough, but it gets worse: He and Hedo Turkoglu are tied for the best volatility mark on the team. An Orlando Pinstriped Post study of the Magic's roster shows it's a collection of inconsistent scorers. The data are below the jump.

I've sorted the data in order of ascending volatility. I limited the survey to the team's eight most frequently-used players.

Player Scoring
Dwight Howard 20.1 40.5%
Hedo Turkoglu 12.3 40.5%
Ryan Anderson 16.5 44.5%
J.J. Redick 11.9 49.2%
Glen Davis 7.3 57.0%
Jason Richardson 9.9 60.0%
Jameer Nelson 8.1 69.3%
Chris Duhon 6.1 89.0%
TEAM 92.0 16.2%

Until someone does more research into scoring volatility, it's hard to know precisely how much bearing to put on the numbers here. However, it does illustrate the extreme feast-or-famine nature of Orlando's offense. One has to figure having a more consistent, high-volume scorer on the roster couldn't hurt the Magic's chances of being more potent offensively.

The reason for the volatility, I believe, is simple: apart from Howard, the Magic are a team of jump-shooters, and--not to be too obvious--jump shots aren't as reliable as layups and dunks are. In the cases of Anderson and Redick, they're doing about as well as can be expected, given their overall shooting percentages, so their volatility isn't likely to change one way or the other. Conversely, the only way for the slumping Jason Richardson, Jameer Nelson, and Glen Davis to be more reliable is to shoot a better percentage. Chris Duhon's crazily high volatility of 89.1 percent has very little bearing on the team, as he's not called upon to score.

For those curious, Magic fan-favorite Von Wafer doesn't fare terribly well in these ratings either. In games in which he's logged more than 10 minutes, Wafer has averaged 8.1 points, with a volatility rating of 56.5 percent. Redick is the more consistent shooting guard, but that doesn't mean Wafer doesn't merit more playing time. I feel he hasn't played enough this season. I'm only pointing out that playing Wafer more wouldn't solve the Magic's problem of not having any consistent scorers. It would solve the Magic's problem of not having anyone who can get to the rim, but that's a topic for another time.

It is worth noting, on the subject of shooting guards, that Richardson has the lowest scoring average and highest volatility rating of any of Orlando's players at that position. He is owed $24 million over the next four seasons.

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