Rashard Lewis has been missing in action on offense so far this year. Orlando needs to find him to win a title.
Almost nothing has been more puzzling since the seeming disappearance of Rashard Lewis early this season. Lewis already has copious amount of criticism placed on him because of his contract and he has struggled to justify the amount of money paid and owed to him with his individual stats.
But no matter how you feel about Lewis (and you can count me among the few remaining Lewis supporters) what Lewis has turned in through the first nine games of this season has been both disappointing and extremely puzzling.
Lewis is on pace for career lows (since his first few seasons) in pretty much every statistical category that he would care about. He is averaging 10.3 points per game and 30.6 percent 3-point shooting. He has not scored that few points or shot that poorly from beyond the arc since his first two seasons of his career when he was in Seattle.
His numbers this year just go from bad to worse no matter how you look at it.
His effective field goal percentage is at 42.3 percent and his true shooting percentage is at 44.7 percent, definitely a product of his poor 3-point shooting but also near career-low numbers. His usage rate, which also took a dive below 20 percent last year, is at 19.0 percent.
The fact of the matter is Lewis is producing numbers similar to when he was a rookie in Seattle rather than a max player in Orlando. And that is sure to frustrate everyone who watches the Magic, let alone most likely Lewis himself, Stan Van Gundy, his teammates and Otis Smith.
One way or another Orlando is going to need more from Lewis this season.
To Stan Van Gundy's credit, he is trying to help Lewis work through it. He has talked to Lewis about his detachment from the offense and has encouraged him to keep his intensity up on defense and contribute in other areas.
Last night against Memphis, Van Gundy gave Lewis offensive opportunities to try and kick start his offense. Lewis got the ball early and got plenty of opportunities to score. Unfortunately he continues to struggle offensively even when the ball is force fed to him. You can make the argument that Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph are tough matchups for him, but nine points on 3-for-13 shooting is not getting the job done.
Through eight games, Lewis is getting the same amount of shots from beyond the arc and within 10 feet as he has the previous three seasons according to HoopData. It appears Lewis' issues this year is simply putting the ball in the basket. And when you are getting piad a maximum salary and your only real skill is hitting 3-pointers, missing those shots will leave you open to criticism.
Now, the threat of Lewis is still there. Teams still respect his shot and no one wants to be the team that he breaks his cold streak against. But obviously Orlando expects more actual production from Lewis. He is not as valuable as a decoy as he is actually scoring points. It is safe to say his play -- on both ends of the floor -- could make or break the Magic's eventual Playoff run.
The Magic are balanced enough that the offense has been able to survive, albeit at a sputtering pace, without his contributions. But Orlando, a team whose offense is based on 3-pointers, cannot go this long shooting this poorly from beyond the arc for very much longer.
Lewis is a naturally passive guy. We have seen his role in the offense diminish seemingly every year. He and Hedo Turkoglu had a good chemistry going. But he struggled to adjust to Vince Carter and his higher usage rate. Similarly now, Lewis is struggling to stay involved in the offense with Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard asserting themselves more.
It seems Lewis operates in an offense where he is almost forced to be assertive (something he is just not naturally going to do). Stan Van Gundy has got to find a way to get this guy going offensively. To his credit, it appears he is trying. He went to the basket a little bit more last night against Memphis, albeit kind of softly and looking to pass rather than score.
Lewis -- and later JJ Redick and Ryan Anderson -- will have to snap out of his funk. Brandon Bass is better coming off the bench and Lewis' track record shows he can provide a lot more to the offense (and defense) than Ryan Anderson. So it would appear the Magic are "stuck" waiting for Lewis to find his shot while he remains in the starting lineup. Van Gundy has enough faith in Lewis that he can work himself out of this stretch.
Lewis' career numbers suggest he will come around. He may have a "down" season and not fulfill the expectations his contract has set for him, but he will not shoot this poorly the rest of the season. Lewis will have his moment. He must if the Magic are to win a title.