The NBA is going in the direction of its stars. The stars of the league have seen the formula spelled out by Boston and Los Angeles to win a title. It has always taken multiple stars to win a title. But since the salary cap era, it has been difficult to pair three or four superstars together for a long time.
When LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade stood on that stage in Miami in mid-July, the tipping point occurred and the sea change in the NBA began to take form. Almost immediately rumors connecting the Magic to Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul began. A few months later the Dwight Howard to Los Angeles (Lakers) or to New York rumors began.
Every team with the money to do so -- and perhaps even the market -- is trying to build the next super team. That seems to be part of the motivation for New York's acquisition of Carmelo Anthony in pairing him with Amar'e Stoudemire, who himself was a free agent acquisition last summer.
The pressure on the Magic to get Dwight Howard some more consistency around him is at its highest level ever considering just how competitive the Eastern Conference has gotten just in the last nine months. I went into how important it is going to be for Howard to get some more consistency out of his supporting cast the rest of this season Monday.
But it might deserve some more delving into. Howard and the Magic are becoming more the exception rather than the rule, especially in the Eastern Conference.
Eddy Rivera of Magic Basketball took a look at some of the numbers for some of the Eastern Conference's star trios, duos and quartets. Each of the other teams Orlando is fighitng at the top of the Eastern Conference features at least three of their top players with a PER above 17 and a win shares per 48 minutes above .175.
Looking at Orlando's roster, the team has only two total players with a PER that tops 17 and .175 win shares per 48 minutes according to Basketball-Reference. Those two players are Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson. Anderson hardly counts among Orlando's top four players, despite having a career year so far.
As I wrote earlier this week, the Magic will need Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas to improve their play -- or at least become more consistent -- for the Magic to get back into the Eastern Conference title hunt. Dwight Howard is correct in saying it is not time to panic, but the team needs to see more from his supporting cast.
Take a look at their numbers.
If you read Eddy's article, you can see Orlando's supporting cast is not up to snuff. The Magic's depth certainly helps as they get a lot of contribution from their bench. But how much of that are you going to be able to rely on in the Playoffs. Much of Orlando's offensive frustrations can point directly to the numbers in the above table. Consistency -- or consistently All-Star level play -- is a problem foor this team.
Part of the problem is, as Eddy explains: "Howard is a top five player, a Defensive Player of the Year and MVP candidate, but he’s flanked by good role players. Not great-to-elite." That is an assessment, most Magic fans would likely agree with. It is an assessment Orlando has lived with these last few years for better and for worse.
Still, it is something Orlando has dealt with a few years now. Even the team that went to the Finals had only two rotation players (Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson) reach that 17.0 PER/.175 WS/48 level. Rashard Lewis got to 16.8/.160. Last year, the team also had only two players (Howard and Vince Carter) reach that 17.0/.175 level.
Undoubtedly those teams found success using a similar balanced formual the team employs now.
If it is any consolation, no player that was traded out (Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis particularly) would crack that 17/.175 club either. So Orlando might have had the same problems before the trades.
Orlando will need more out of its supporting cast to help Dwight Howard make the most of this career season. If anything, the team just needs someone to consistently step up and be a secondary scoring option -- everyone else can fill in their roles as needed and keep the balanced scoring that has made the Magic so successful.