Gilbert Arenas has had plenty of struggles this year. But after a season-best performance Wednesday night, could the old Hibachi be returning? Photo by Sergey Rozhdestvensky/Flickr/Photoree
There are subtle signs that the Magic are prepping for the Playoffs (and perhaps a surprising run). Whether it is Brandon Bass or Hedo Tukrolgu turning in season-best performances, or Jameer Nelson showing off his aggression on the pick and roll or Dwight Howard turning up the jets defensively, Orlando has had flashes of play that would suggest everything is going to turn out OK when the playoffs begin next week.
Still, all those things happening may not be enough for an Orlando team that is not as deep as it once was nor, perhaps, as offensively dynamic as it was before the trades. The Magic might need a little something more.
And that little something more may come in the form of Gilbert Arenas.
Many still consider Arenas to be the team's X-Factor in the postseason. Since the December trades, everyone has been waiting for the old Hibachi to make an appearance. It has been intermittent -- a game here and a game there, but never anything consistent. And the truth might be, Arenas is not ever going to be the scoring juggernaut he was before his knee injuries.
However, everyone certainly thought he would be better than this.
He is averaging 8.1 points per game, shooting 34.6 percent from the floor, 27.4 percent from three and dishing out 3.3 assists per game. In terms of per 36 minute statistics, Arenas' 13.3 points per 36 minutes is far below 18.0 points per 36 minutes he scored in his first 21 games with Washington this season. His assist numbers are on virtually the same pace. His 8.9 PER is just plain awful, especially considering he is still using 23.9 percent of the possessions he is on the floor for. You might think this is impossible, but Arenas has a negative offensive win share.
The number that might make you cringe even more is his 19.5 percent turnover rate since joining the Magic.
The only good news to take out of this is that Arenas will be training with Tim Grover in Chicago during the offseason to rehabilitate his troublesome knee.
Not to keep piling on Arenas here, but his statistics get even worse when he moves to shooting guard. As Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel discovered: "This season, according to 82games.com, Arenas’ PER while playing shooting guard is 1.9, compared to his overall Magic PER of 8.9." Ouch.
Arenas' performance Wednesday night is certainly a sign for hope. His 25 points on six 3-pointers was a sign that he might be able to be a key contributor sometime in the future. In Wednesday's game he was, most importantly, making his 3-pointers (6 for 11) and also doing a good job getting to a spot, rising and shooting. He still had five turnovers, but he made up for his mistakes (something he has not always done).
Sunday's game could be important for Arenas just to see if he can put two good games in a row. Arenas has not had back-to-back 10-point games since the West Coast trip ended with 10 points against Golden State and 16 against Phoenix.
As McCann suggests, these last three game could be good for Arenas to get more comfortable in this role. Orlando has nothing more to play for in the final three games, and they really should focus on continuing to improve and tinker these things. J.J. Redick's status is still uncertain (although the Orlando Sentinel reports he feels he is getting closer to practicing and playing) and that could mean Arenas would see substantial time at shooting guard during the Playoffs.
With the numbers described above, that may not be a good thing.
What I noticed when Arenas was in at shooting guard Wednesday is that they would play Jameer Nelson off the ball more after he brought the ball up. Arenas has always been the type of player who needs the ball in his hands. That is more evident as McCann notes in his pick and roll play:
"Arenas' play hasn’t been all bad, however, and he does possess some potential playing that spot. Despite his shooting struggles, Arenas is the 24th-best player in the NBA at producing points when handling the ball in the pick and roll, whether it’s scoring himself or setting up a teammate."
So perhaps Gilbert Arenas is finally coming around. But as they say in the postseason, momentum is the next day's pitcher.