FOX Sports Exclusive
Magic figuring out how to role with it
Even though every NBA player is extraordinarily talented, not all of them can be superstars. That’s because each and every player in the league has a certain role to fill, with some of these roles being more obvious and more dramatic than others. Accordingly, one unerring measure of any given team’s true capabilities is how well or how poorly its players fulfill their respective roles.
Dwight Howard averages nearly 19 points, but his greatest value is on the defensive end.
The Orlando Magic have been attempting to find appropriate roles for each man on their especially talented roster — a season-long struggle.
But in the Magic’s wall-to-wall blowout of the Spurs, virtually every one of Orlando’s players successfully satisfied the specifics of his individual responsibilities.
DWIGHT HOWARD’s job is to rebound, play exceptional defense, block shots, score enough points in the pivot to attract double teams and then make accurate out-passes to open teammates.
Although he scored only nine points on 3-4 shooting, and snatched a mere seven rebounds, the Spurs two-timed Howard just about every time he received an entry pass. Still, the youngster never forced a shot and was able to recognize, and willingly cope with, the extra defender. It should be noted that the Magic have simplified Howard’s passing options when he is doubled by having him look to return the ball to the perimeter instead of his having to make pinpoint passes to cutters.
At the other end of the game, Howard simply smothered Tim Duncan. Granted that the Spurs were playing their second game in two nights and were clearly weary, Howard still was decisive in cutting off TD’s driving lanes and in pressuring his shots. Howard also made good decisions when the lane was penetrated, abandoning his usual tendency to play for the shot-block by making a total commitment to the ball-handler, and thereby leaving Duncan alone under the basket. Instead, Howard made his presence known to the drivers, but was still in position to stay in touch with Duncan. Even though he registered only one swat, Howard nevertheless played excellent defense.
Howard’s overall acceptance and accomplishment of his specific responsibilities contributed greatly to Orlando’s win — and also bodes well for the playoffs.
VINCE CARTER’s job description is to score — preferably by attacking the rim — and to create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Knowing when to go and when to pass has always been VC’s problem, and he’s spent most of the current season trying to learn the same lessons he’s never quite grasped in his entire career. But, in the game at hand, Carter looked as though he’s finally figured things out.
It was Carter’s early point-making that set the tone for the entire game, and even though he was forced left he managed to find a way to score. For sure, Carter did force a total of four shots (making one), but he also tallied a season-high eight assists to go with only one turnover.
If his defense against Richard Jefferson was awful, hey, that’s not part of Carter’s job description.
By making good decisions with the ball, playing unselfishly, and approaching the basket with power and aggression, Carter did what he does best. In so doing, he increased both his own efficiency and that of his teammates.
RASHARD LEWIS has been clearly confused for much of the season — not knowing when to be aggressive with the ball and when to let the game come to him. Ideally, his role includes being on the receiving end of out-passes and burying the resulting long balls, plus making an occasional venture into the low post.
Because he usually doesn’t get much ball-time, the Magic’s first play of the game had Lewis run a baseline route and curl off a pair of staggered screens — and when he bagged the resulting 15-footer, his chops were clearly lifted.
He still goes long stretches without shots and rarely moves without the ball, but Lewis took advantage of nearly every kick-out pass to score 20 points on only 10 shots.
Another example of an Orlando player doing exactly what he’s supposed to do.
Not withstanding Carter’s unusual display of playmaking, JAMEER NELSON is the Magic’s primary drive-and-kick player. He’s expected to shoot only when the defense gives him room, and take it to the rim only when he’s played too tightly.
Nelson’s intentions were exemplary against the Spurs, but his shots were off (3-9) and too many of his passes-on-the-move gained no advantage. Two assists in 20 minutes won’t get the job done come the playoffs.
MATT BARNES is paid to play adhesive defense, move without the ball and hit an occasional 3-ball on offense, and generally make a pest of himself. Fortunately for the home-standing Magic, they were victorious even though Barnes was successful in only one of his responsibilities.
Each of his four buckets resulted from his off-the-ball cuts, and he did execute several nifty assist passes. But when the game was still semi-competitive, Barnes was utterly destroyed by Manu Ginobili. The Argentinian Ace has embarrassed better defenders than Barnes, but he was caught flat-footed and helpless just about every time Ginobili left-handed his way to the basket.
JASON WILLIAMS backs up Nelson, and is required to move the ball and drop a few long jumpers.
Most of his five assists came when the game was won and done. Otherwise, Williams over-handled and forced a couple of unsuccessful shots.
MARCIN GORTAT is in the league for his defense and rebounding, and he did both jobs with flair.
Since J.J. REDICK is a terrific one-on-none shooter, he’s developed a quick up-fake-and-go move that always suckers his defender. Still, Redick’s role is to fill the basket with long jumpers, an accomplishment made difficult simply because of his limited playing time, and because shooters need to shoot in order to shoot well.
The point being that Redick has a worthy excuse for shooting only 2-7.
BRANDON BASS is supposed to hit mid-range jumpers and be hostile in the paint. After missing a pair of awkward turn-around jumpers in the low post, Bass settled down and carried out his assignments to perfection.
It’s evident that all of the players have bought into Stan Van Gundy’s grand design and accepted their roles. If this process continues and the specifics are perfected then, at the very least, the Magic will square off against Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals — and could easily give the cocky Cavs a run for their money.
If you have a question or comment for Charley Rosen, please email email@example.com and he may respond in a future column.
More Stories From Charley Rosen