Magic Show Off Their Versatility

Being a diverse player with the ability to do many things on the court is a quality the Magic look for in their players.


When you’re familiar with a certain position in basketball, it’s extremely difficult to switch to another position; no matter how similar the positions appear to be. Sure, you know what the players you’re on the court with are supposed to be doing relative to your position but when you actually make the switch, it’s an entirely different animal.


Sure, moving between the power forward and center position, like Marcin Gortat does, seems easy but it’s a completely different position with different responsibilities – it takes a different kind of mindset.


Ditto with Rashard Lewis and moving between the small forward and power forward position.


It’s obviously tough for a player to change their philosophy on the offensive end but the most difficult challenges of switching positions come on the other side of the ball.


“It’s on the defensive end of the court,” Lewis explained. “Defending the pick-and-roll and fighting through screens when I’m guarding a real good shooter.”


Size and speed are the biggest issues for Lewis when he is switching positions. When he’s playing power forward, he’s usually playing against bigger, stronger opponents. When Lewis is lined up at small forward, he usually squares off against smaller, quicker players who are often more accomplished scorers.


Lewis’ size sometimes but him at a disadvantage against power forwards but has given him a clear advantage on the offensive end against small forwards. When Lewis has played small forward, he’s been able to post his man up and score points with his back to the basket.


With Lewis playing the 3, a player like Brandon Bass has to step in and play the 4, taking away something that has made the Magic so good on offense over the last few seasons – the ability for each of the four players surrounding the league’s best center, Dwight Howard, to knock down shots from beyond the arc. That’s one of the reasons Van Gundy has been hesitant to move Lewis to the 3.


Besides using Ryan Anderson at power forward to compliment Lewis and Bass, the Magic have flirted with the idea of using backup center Marcin Gortat at power forward. They used the Howard/Gortat combination sparingly during the 2009-10 regular season and gave it a brief look during the 2010 postseason.


As the Magic advanced through the 2010 playoffs, Van Gundy had a set plan to use Gortat at the 4 alongside Howard because he shortened his bench and wanted whichever player he had to get into more of a flow on both ends of the court.


It hasn’t been that way this year but Van Gundy is still going to use Gortat at the 4 in certain situations.


“He can play more at the four,” Van Gundy said. “That just creates a problem because we’ve got two good centers, well one great and one good one. If they both start the game and both get in early foul trouble,

now you’re screwed. I think Marsh can play the four in more situations but it would have to be as the game goes on.”


In fact, there have been times when Gortat playing the 4 alongside Howard has caught him by surprise.


“I was kind of surprised,” Gortat admitted. “Usually, Coach will inform me about giving me a chance at the 4. Obviously, I was ready but I didn’t expect that.”


Much like Lewis, Gortat knows the difficulty of trying to play two different positions.


“You have to do totally different things,” Gortat explained. “Strategy on pick-and-rolls changes – you have to different things on the pick-and-roll.”


Van Gundy again used Gortat at the four for brief stretches during Orlando’s victory over the Memphis Grizzlies Monday night. Gortat responded by playing excellent defense, scoring 6 points and grabbing 4 rebounds.


Sometimes, the differences aren’t as drastic. Both Quentin Richardson and Mickael Pietrus have been 2’s for a good portion of their careers but have both primarily played in the 3 spot since signing with Orlando.

However, with J.J. Redick being banged up, both players may see some more time at the 2.


Fortunately, Richardson doesn’t see much of a difference between shooting guard and small forward, at least not in today’s NBA, claiming it’s only really important when it comes to who you defend. And realistically, guys like Richardson and Pietrus are going to be on the team’s best wing regardless of position.


The Magic have experimented with their diversity in other ways, like using Vince Carter at the 3 alongside J.J. Redick and using Brandon Bass as a 5 when both Howard and Gortat get into early foul trouble.


Versatility is certainly one of the reasons Orlando has become a mainstay atop the NBA standings and Orlando’s players know they have to be ready for any situation.


“It’s exciting,” Gortat explained. “You’re in there playing as a 5, coach tells you you’re a 4-man and bam, but I’m ready for anything.”

News & Notes:
  • Both Gortat and Pietrus spent a good portion of Monday’s win over the Memphis Grizzlies playing the 4 and 2, respectively. Gortat finished with 6 points and 4 rebounds. Defensively, he helped to shut down the Memphis front court while Pietrus finished with 6 points, 4 rebounds and gave an excellent defensive effort.
  • Rashard Lewis also spent time at the 3, spending time on the court alongside Brandon Bass during Monday night’s win. Lewis struggled again on offense (9 points on 3-of-13 shooting), but grabbed 6 boards and earned praise from Van Gundy for his defense.
  • The Magic gave up just 72 points to Memphis Monday night. The Grizzlies came in averaging 104 points per game.
  • Dwight Howard had his technical foul last week against the Minnesota Timberwolves rescinded by the league.