11 April 2007

The Art of Divination

The season may not be over, but already rumors are swirling about the Magic's future, particularly as it pertains to the point guard position. Here's the two pieces of information I found to be most interesting:

  • According to Brian Schmitz, Magic free-agent-to-be Travis Diener doesn't think he fits in with the team's long-term plans.
  • According to Tim Povtak, former Magic player and current Memphis Grizzly Chucky Atkins, also a free-agent-to-be, wouldn't mind returning to Orlando this offseason.
Well, you might as well put it on the board, right? Diener wants a chance to play and Atkins wants to finish his career where he grew up -- he used to play for Evans High in Orlando. I think it's a near certainty that the Magic will let Diener go -- heck, they offered him to Charlotte for Melvin Ely a few months ago -- and the odds are great that the Magic will at least consider signing Atkins. But would that be a wise move? To check, I decided to examine the numbers.
I took each player's season totals and adjusted them equal to 40 minutes of playing time so a fair comparison could be made. Because it appears as though Jameer Nelson is, for better or for worse, the Magic's starting point guard of the future, it's unlikely that either player would see 40 minutes of action in an actual game, but I digress. The numbers favor Atkins, but the only statistical category in which he completely outperforms Diener is scoring. Although the Magic have had trouble scoring this season, they can look to one of the big-name free agents this summer -- Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, and Gerald Wallace among them -- to fix that area of their game. Further, when Atkins' age and proneness to injury are taken into account, the two players are essentially equal.

For me, the key category is assists per turnover. The Magic commit the second-highest amount of turnovers per game while averaging the second-fewest amount of assists. Diener would figure to improve both those categories. Further, Diener is a better shooter than his field goal percentage indicates. Adjusted field goal percentage is a more precise measurement of how well a player is shooting. ESPN explains it this way:
ADJ FG% measures shooting efficiency by taking into account the total points a player produces through his field goal attempts. The intention of this adjustment is largely to evaluate the impact of three-point shooting. For ex: If Shaquille O'Neal has 3-5 FG, all two-point shots for 6 points, then his ADJ FG% = [(6/5)]/2 = .600. Meanwhile, if Ray Allen is 2-5 FG, but his 2 FGM are both three-pointers for 6 points, then his ADJ FG% = [(6/5)]/2 = .600
Thus, Diener is actually the better shooter of the two players. Skeptics might mention that the Orlando doesn't need help in that department because it's 4th in the league in field goal percentage, but that's a lame argument; how can I guy who effectively shoots better than 50% possibly hurt a team if he takes care of the basketball? Okay, Diener is undersized and lacks quickness, making him a defensive liability. So what? Atkins is essentially the same size as Diener is, and he's much older. Plus, the Magic have Dwight Howard guarding the lane on defense; if a Diener, Atkins, or whoever plays the point lets the guy they're supposed to be guarding blow by them, Howard will be in the lane to block the shot, or at least to alter it.

Don't get me wrong, though. I like Chucky Atkins. I attended a few games during the 1999/2000 season when he was with the Magic and admired his effort. However, the Magic have a long-term need at point guard, and Atkins isn't the answer. I'd hate to see his career devolve the way Bo Outlaw's or Pat Garrity's did; those two once-proud players are now essentially being paid to be nice in the locker room and mentor the Magic's young core of players. Chucky deserves better.

My point is this: Travis Diener can be of use to the Magic as a third point guard who can one day become the backup or even start in spot duty. Carlos Arroyo and Keyon Dooling, although they are not much older than Diener, are not the long-term answer at the position. Diener will be a restricted free agent this summer, meaning the Magic have the right to match any offer another team makes. They'd be wise to do so.

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