The Magic Move but Probably not Forward

Posted on December 19, 2010 by


Once upon a time the Orlando Magic were the “best” team in the NBA (where “best” is defined in terms of efficiency differential).   

Okay, it was just last year.  The Magic’s efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) was 7.95 last season.  This mark actually led the NBA in 2009-10.  And only 25 teams since 1973-74 posted a better mark.  So although the Magic faltered in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, the Magic in 2009-10 were actually one of the better teams across the past four decades.

Being among the best, though, isn’t good enough.  The Magic want to win a title.  And after 26 games in 2010-11 it is clear the Magic are no longer the “best” team in the NBA.  As of Sunday morning, here are the top teams in terms of efficiency differential:

  • Miami Heat: 10.48
  • Boston Celtics: 10.11
  • San Antonio Spurs: 9.46
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 8.73
  • Dallas Mavericks: 6.51
  • Orlando Magic: 4.01

This list reveals…

  • The Magic are now ranked 6th in efficiency differential.
  • Even if the Magic were as good as last year, the team would only rank 5th.
  • And if the Heat and Celtics maintain these marks (and that is a big if), this will be the first time (since 1973-74) that two teams in a single season posted a 10.0 differential.  In fact, if this happens it will be the first time a team posted a 10.0 differential and failed to win the title (the previous four teams – Chicago Bulls in 1991-92, 1995-96, and 1996-97 and the Boston Celtics in 2007-08 – all won the title).

The dominance of the Heat and Celtics this season is certainly an interesting story. But for now, let’s talk about the Magic.

We can see the Magic have slipped a bit since last year.  The team’s efficiency differential in 2009-10 suggests a team that should win about 61 games.  The team’s efficiency differential this season is consistent with about 51 victories.  So what explains the ten-game decline?

To answer this question, let’s move from efficiency differential to Wins Produced.  The following table reveals that if these players had performed as they did last year the Magic would currently be on pace to win about 56 games.  Again, last year the team’s differential suggested 61 wins; and we can explain the move from 61 wins to 56 victories by noting the team lost Matt Barnes (8.8 Wins Produced last year – a mark that is somewhat mitigated by the addition of Quentin Richardson) and both Jason Williams and Ryan Anderson have missed some time.

What about the move from 56 wins to 51?  Well, that story seems to be mostly about Dwight Howard.  Had Howard maintained his per-minute productivity from last year he would be on pace to produce about 21 wins this year.  Instead, he is only on pace to produce 16.3 wins.  This is certainly an excellent mark.  But it appears Superman has slipped a bit. 

When we look at the individual stats, we see Howard has declined with respect to shooting efficiency (from the field and the line), rebounds, assists, and blocked shots.  Again, Howard is still amazing.  But all of these small declines result in Howard moving from really amazing to just amazing.

Even if Howard had maintained what he did last year (and the team had the services of Jason Williams and Ryan Anderson for the entire season, and Richardson fully replaced the loss of Barnes’ productivity), the Magic still wouldn’t be as good as the Heat and Celtics.  And since this team wants to win a title, and you are not likely to win a title if you enter the playoffs with a team that is not as good as the top teams in the league, changes had to be made.

Those changes came in two big trades yesterday.  Coming to the Magic are the following players (with WP48 – Wins Produced per 48 minutes – reported for each player):

  • Gilbert Arenas: 29 years old, 0.033 WP48
  • Jason Richardson: 30 years old, 0.169 WP48
  • Hedo Turkoglu: 31 years old, 0.010 WP48
  • Earl Clark: 23 years old, -0.083 WP48

And here are the players that are departing.

  • Rashard Lewis: 31 years old, -0.016 WP48
  • Vince Carter: 34 years old, 0.131 WP48
  • Mickael Pietrus: 28 years old, 0.024 WP48
  • Marcin Gortat: 26 years old, 0.172 WP48

Here are some quick thoughts on this trade:

  • Jason Richardson is slightly more productive than Vince Carter, four years younger, and cheaper.  So that move helps, but not enough to catch the Heat and Celtics.
  • Losing Gortat hurts.  According to, Ryan Anderson replaces Gortat as the back-up center.  And Earl Clark – who has yet to be a productive NBA player – replaces Anderson as the back-up power forward.  One suspects, though, that Turkoglu is actually going to be spending time at power forward.
  • This suspicion comes from the fact the team is now over-loaded at guard.  Right now the team has Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Jason Richardson, Quentin Richardson, Gilbert Arenas, and Jason Williams at guard.  For these players to see the floor, someone is going to be playing small forward.  And that moves Turkoglu to power forward.
  • All of that means, the Magic are probably worse off after this move.  The loss of Gortat forces this team to play people out of position throughout the roster.  So although the team gains a bit moving from Carter to Richardson, the Magic move backwards in a number of other places. 

So the Magic – as currently constructed – are probably not as good as the Heat and Celtics. 

  • This means that Dwight Howard is not likely to win a title this year. 
  • And that means Howard is going to end this season with a playoff loss. 
  • And such a loss is probably going to lead Howard to think about playing elsewhere after the 2011-12 season.

One last thought on this move.  It appears the acquisition of Turkoglu means the Magic are trying to repeat the 2008-09 season when the team advanced to the NBA Finals.  Turkoglu, though, only produced 6.8 wins for the Magic that season [with a 0.115 WP48].  His ADJ P48 that season was 0.292.  Last season he posted a 0.280 mark.  And this year his ADJ P48 is 0.282.  At small forward, these marks are consistent with an average player.  At power forward, Turkoglu will be below average.  So again, it is hard seeing how this move really helps the Magic contend for a title.

– DJ

P.S. By the way, I am obviously not the only one commenting on this move.  Around the Wages of Wins network one should also read the analysis of Arturo Galletti and Ty Willihnganz.