Over the next few weeks Orlando Magic Daily will be taking a look at the things that went right and wrong this season as Orlando ended its season with a disappointing first-round loss to Atlanta.
Stan Van Gundy made sure to mention Rashard Lewis and his contributions repeatedly during his pregame press conference the day Lewis was traded away. In Van Gundy's mind, nobody contributed more to the Magic's success outside of Dwight Howard than Rashard Lewis.
In three years, Lewis had changed the way the Magic played. The 4-out, 1-in style presented matchup problems for opponents and helped free up space for Howard to grow into a dominating offensive force (trust us, he is there). The Magic went out of the first round for the first time in 12 years in Lewis' first year and back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals the next two, including the 2009 Finals.
But even with a max contract he likely did not deserve (although you can argue he earned it thanks to his team's results), Lewis found himself expendable by mid-December. In 25 games with Orlando, Lewis was shooting 41.9 percent from the floor and 36.7 percent from three while averaging 12.2 points per game. Overall, Lewis had his worst offensive season in points, field goal shooting and PER since his rookie season.
Orlando was not getting what it needed from Lewis no matter how you want to say it.
But Lewis' struggles were mitigated and eventually replaced because young forwards Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson showed they were ready to step up and play -- at least in the regular season. Van Gundy was forced into a difficult decision trying to figure who he would use behind Lewis, whom Van Gundy was still pretty loyal to despite his inconsistent play. Eventually, Bass and Anderson made Lewis expendable as the Magic did not want to lose one of their two younger, more promising players.
Bass played 76 games and started a career-high 51 games after Lewis' departure. With the increased minutes, Bass averaged a career high 11.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He also posted a career-best 51.5 percent field goal shooting and 57.1 percent true shooting percentage. His per 36 minute numbers were down, but some of that can be expected with the better competition he had to go up against.
Ryan Anderson took advantage of the increased minutes too. He scored a career-best 10.6 points per game and shot 39.3 percent on 3-pointers. His PER was second best on the team at 19.0. Anderson showed great improvement in other aspects of his game, posting a career best 10.8 offensive rebound rate and 14.5 percent total rebound rate.
It was often said throughout the season that if Anderson and Bass could combine their skills, the Magic would have one great power forward. That might be true. But with the way both were playing, it was clear Lewis' days in a Magic uniform or in the lineup were coming to an end.
Both of these players showed dramatic improvement from their first years in Orlando. Anderson played over Bass it seemed only becuase of his ability to hit 3-pointers. Both showed improvements defensively and some expanse to their games -- Anderson with rebounding and Bass with his improved defense.
Anderson and Bass, for whatever reason, just seemed to fit better than Lewis. Lewis struggled to mesh with the ball-dominating play of Vince Carter in the lineup and struggled as Howard took the ball more and more. Lewis posted an 18.5 percent usage rate this year, his worst since joining the Magic. There just did not seem to be room for Lewis in the offense with Carter, Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard competing for touches.
Anderson and Bass seemed to fit better as secondary offensive options. Both get most of their offensive looks off of passes rather than one-on-one play -- although Bass is known to get the ball and shoot it most of the time he receives it.
It was good to see the improvements from Anderson and Bass for Orlando. While neither had the consistency that Lewis brought to the Magic in his best days, both of their good play were important to see for the Magic. Especially moving forward.
Photos via DayLife.com.