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A Statistical Look at the Magic’s Biggest Positional Needs

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Some of the Magic’s needs seem obvious, but what do the numbers say?

NBA: Orlando Magic at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Having considered a few specific players, it may be worthwhile to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Listing the skills or abilities the team wants to add is easy: shooting, quality passing, perimeter defense, and shot creation for the individual and teammates. Y’know, almost every useful skill on a basketball court.

Instead, let’s look at this from the other direction: which positions do the Magic need to upgrade if they want to get better? This isn’t necessarily about the kinds of players the Magic want to add (e.g. an “attacking point guard” versus a “floor general”), just about where the team is getting the least production right now.

Ideally we’d just break this down by the five traditional positions, but that idea gets muddied by the Magic’s nebulous rotational decisions. Most of the time Aaron Gordon plays the 3, but sometimes he and Jeff Green share the forward positions in ways that make it hard to qualify either of their roles. Serge Ibaka starts most games as the 4, but every once in a while fills in as the 5. Evan Fournier and Jodie Meeks have played the 3, sometimes there’s two-PG lineups...the list goes on.

Instead, we’ll go with the “guard-wing-big” configuration. Here’s how I’m choosing to sort them, including the main 11 players in the rotation:

Magic Positional Chart

Guards Wings Bigs
Guards Wings Bigs
D.J. Augustin Aaron Gordon Bismack Biyombo
Evan Fournier Jeff Green Serge Ibaka
Elfrid Payton Mario Hezonja Nikola Vucevic
C.J. Watson Jodie Meeks

The hardest players to sort were Fournier and Meeks, who arguably could both be considered wings or guards. I chose to include Fournier as a guard given his increased ball-handling duties this season, and Meeks as a wing since he rarely initiates the action himself, attacking instead off a pass or catching-and-shooting. I chose to include Hezonja given his importance to the franchise from a development standpoint, and also given the recent news that he’d be spending more time as the backup small forward behind Gordon.

Just eyeballing it, point guard looks like the weakest position, with only Fournier standing out as an “above average” player. The big man spot looks alright, with a broad range of skills available among the three players, at least on paper.

We can do better than just eyeballing it, though. There’s a few different ways we can measure the amount of production Orlando’s getting from each position, namely in terms of the number of “wins” generated. We’ll take a look at three different stats: Win Shares and VORP as listed at Basketball-Reference.com, and “RPM Wins” from ESPN.com. We’ll also break it down from two different perspectives: the total number of wins by position, and the wins per 100 possessions using nbawowy.com’s possession counts.

Just by way of example, suppose that the Magic’s three bigs generated a total of 10 win shares to this point in the season, playing a combined 6000 possessions. We’d say that, across the position, the bigs generated about .17 wins per 100 possessions. A few other notes:

  • Win Shares (WS) and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) are calculated primarily based on box score stats (the latter derived from Box Plus-Minus). RPM Wins are based on, you guessed it, RPM, which is ESPN’s advanced plus-minus stat that heavily relies on plus-minus data.
  • WS and RPM Wins are listed as the estimated total wins produced, whereas VORP is measured against replacement-level production, hence the lower numbers.
  • These aren’t going to add up exactly to the 16 wins Orlando has at the time of this writing, for a variety of reason. Part of it is that these are indirectly measuring wins, part of it comes from Orlando’s bad point differential. In any case, the more important point is that we’re using these to compare positions, so it’s not necessary for it to add up exactly in line with actual win totals.
  • VORP is already measured per 100 possessions, accounts for the percentage of a team’s minutes each player participates, and is prorated to 82 games. Thus, we don’t really need to do the per-possession division like the others, and I’ve instead scaled back the numbers to only count for 40 of 82 games.
  • As always, take these “all-in-one” stats with a hefty grain of salt. Even half a season of data isn’t really enough to be sure about these results, and they all have their drawbacks. Context is important.
Guards Wings Bigs
Total Possessions 6658 5021 6144
Win Shares 5.2 2.3 6.3
WS/100 0.078 0.046 0.103
RPM Wins 4.47 1.63 5.39
Wins/100 0.067 0.032 0.088
VORP 1.054 -0.659 2.239

It’s overwhelmingly clear that the wing position is where the Magic are most deficient, at least where these stats are concerned. Digging into the specific players, Gordon continues to do ok (positive VORP, negative RPM, but still better than most of his teammates), and Meeks has been a solid contributor, especially offensively...but holy moly Green and Hezonja have been baaaaad. Their contributions suggest that they’re both playing worse than replacement-level players (the two worst VORPs on the team), with Green’s playing time being especially harmful given the larger minutes he plays. Among 80 small forwards listed on ESPN, Green is 79th in RPM wins at -0.39.

The guard situation is rosier than it would first appear, and a big reason is that Payton actually looks halfway decent according to these stats. He’s third on the team in WS and VORP and second in RPM wins (17th overall among ESPN’s listed point guards). For all the concerns about his shooting ability, he’s hitting the highest field goal percentage of his career this season, and has kept his assist rate about even while reducing his turnover rate significantly. Heck, he’s even doubled his block percentage from 0.8% to 1.6%. Fournier is a good player, and Augustin and Watson are more or less neutral backups soaking up minutes.

The big man position, as expected, looks pretty good. Biyombo isn’t adding much, but the other two are some of the largest contributors on the team, especially Ibaka, who leads the Magic across the board in all three stats. The defense isn’t there (for anyone, really), but Ibaka’s been just about everything the Magic could have hoped offensively, even in the midrange area where he struggled so much early in the season.

Long story short, if the Magic want to go after any low-hanging fruit, it has to come on the wings, and probably at the expense of Green’s playing time. I’ve written and tweeted it so many times this season that I probably should just start the “Jeff Green anti-fan club,” but the Magic put themselves at a massive disadvantage for the 24 minutes a game he’s on the court, a full half of every game that they have to fight against themselves to get anything done.

Hopefully he can find a way to change. Maybe Frank Vogel’s idea to shift around the rotation and play him more as the nominal power forward will help him somehow. If that doesn’t materialize, however, the next best thing is to change the roster itself.