There’s an element of chance whenever you set the starting lineup in basketball. How will so-and-so play with such-and-such? How will such-and-such matchup with this-and-that? Obviously coaches work with their players and have an intimate knowledge of their team, but that risk is there regardless; that’s why the games are played. And the margin of error gets wider the better the team.
Scott Skiles isn’t a gambler, necessarily, but he’s playing the odds and trying to put together a winning hand. Emphasis on winning (via the Orlando Sentinal):
"I’m not trying, really, to send messages," Skiles said afterward. "I get a fairly sizable check every two weeks to win the games. That’s what I’m trying to do."
Skiles has to shuffle the deck every once in a while to get a winning hand, and that’s exactly what he did Wednesday, benching Nikola Vucevic for the entire second half and overtime of his teams 104-101 overtime win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. A whopping 12 Magic players checked into that game, and each of them played at least seven minutes.
And don’t expect the shuffling to end anytime soon.
The Magic front office, led by general manager Rob Hennigan, has put together a serviceable roster filled with mostly young talent, but it’s not top-heavy by any means. And young talent, exceptions aside, typically means inconsistent talent.
But, in addition to its depth, the Magic roster is versatile, which allows Skiles to experiment with lineups and plug holes on off nights, as he did Wednesday. Vucevic not defending? Let’s throw in Dewayne Dedmon -- who’s been a great energy guy since the team signed him just under two years ago -- or Jason Smith -- a tough guy who’s proven capable of hitting a mid-range jumper, to go along with strong team defense.
That can be a useful tool, but stability is the goal in the NBA, and Orlando is still searching for it. The lack of a reliable lineup -- not to mention some injuries to key players -- has manifested itself in the team’s performance. Third quarters have plagued the Magic in some losses during its 6-6 start to the season.
The team is young, and developing, but if it’s going to challenge for a playoff spot this season roles will need to be defined more.
Channing Frye has provided some great spacing with his ability to stretch the defense, but his defensive limitations in turn limit his effectiveness, and usage. He’s gotten inconsistent minutes, as Skiles determines when to use him and against whom.
Dedmon’s in a similar position. He stood out defensively in Vucevic’s absence, but has taken a back seat since. Shabazz Napier is a similar story – he’s getting solid playing time with C.J. Watson out, but when he comes back, the backcourt will become a bit of a logjam again.
And that’s a problem facing the team as a whole. It’s like the saying about quarterback controversies: when you have two, the real problem is you don’t have one. When Orlando has 11 or 12 players getting into games, what it may suggest is that it doesn’t have 8-10 capable of stepping up consistently.
That’s not entirely unexpected, however. The team is young and developing, and despite some struggles it’s developing pretty well. (I mean, we are talking about a team that's been flirting with a .500 record. It’s by no means a dire situation.) Inconsistencies, though, will make it hard to pin down lineups.
So, expect Skiles to keep rolling the dice until he gets a jackpot.