Examining The Magic’s Overall Effort Versus Cleveland’s One Man Show

Back in the first round, I took a look at the Spurs’ de-evolution from a team game to a one-man show with Parker. I decided to take a similar look at Orlando and Cleveland, to see what their usage and Help Values looked like.

Cleveland has regressed back to their pre-2008 offense. Give the ball to LeBron, stand around and watch, occassionally miss a wide open shot if he’s not in the game. The only new wrinkle is Mo Williams somehow running his mouth while shooting below 40% from the field. What’s been shocking has been the degree to which they’ve had to rely on LeBron. This was never as apparent as in Game 2, where it took James hitting a nearly impossible shot with one second left at home to avoid going down 0-2.

But just how bad has it been for the Cavs? And have the Magic played evenly? Or are they just a Dwight Howard one trick pony show only with slightly better shooters?

First, let’s take a look at usage. For the uninitatied, Usage is an estimate of the percentage of possessions a players uses while on the floor.  For the purposes of examining these charts visually, your perfect team would be represented as a complete circle, with one to two spikes for your best player and one or two dips for your worst. That never happens, of course, with the 2 minute role players, but it gives you an ideal. Here’s the Magic, regular season versus Conference Finals.

All in all, this is a pretty positive chart for the Magic. They line up well with the regular season, and are getting more possessions used by a bench player (Pietrus) and their superstar (Howard). The important thing to note is the shape. No exacerbated peaks or valleys. It’s not jagged, it’s fairly even for the primary rotation players. Redick’s is an anomaly based on 4 shots in 9:47 in Game 2, but really, in the shortened rotations of the playoffs, that right side of the chart is more important. Again, the even distribution is more important, here, as it illustrates that the Magic aren’t overly relying on any one player, but are getting the ball to their best players. If anything, this shows that the Magic still have room to improve with Hedo and Lewis in terms of aggressivness. Let that sink in.

Now let’s take a look at the LeBrons.

Notice how it looks like a bird’s head, with LeBron as the beak? It’s a good thing that James has the heaviest usage. He’s the best player on the team. But to this degree? Even more concerning is the shrinkage we’re seeing from all the role support players on the Cavs. Ilgauskas, Varejao, Smith, and most importantly Delonte West. Meanwhile, Mo Williams is trying to “step up” but with his shooting so abysmal, it’s not really for the best right now.

So that’s a look at how each team is using its possessions, but what are the results? We could look at PER, but it’s not great in a small sample setting (nothing is, really). We could look at offensive efficiency, or Win Score, but those are A. complicated, B. other people’s specialties, and C. a bit more refined than what I was looking for. Instead I went to a very simple metric. I like Popcorn Machine’s Help Value. It’s Rebounds  + Assists + Blocks + Steals – Turnovers. I threw in points for kicks. It just gives a general overview of production. It’s prone to the same limitations as most simple metrics, but since we’re looking for a visual comparison of individual output at the team level, I’m not too concerned to keep me from showing it. I also wanted to average it for per-minute production, so everything on Help Value is Per 40 minutes.  Okay, caveats aside, here’s how the Magic look.

So outside of Adonal Foyle’s regular season spike, this looks pretty close from the regular season to the Conference Finals. Turkoglu is particularly interesting. He’s using fewer possessions than he did in the regular season, but contributing more output. Howard’s right on target, but needing more possessions to get there. It could be argued that Pietrus is really the difference in this series. Gortat’s probably not being used to full potential, but we all kind of knew that going in. So how do the Cavs look in Adjusted HV plus Points per 40 minutes?

Shrinkage for every player but LeBron. Notice how the regular season chart is round, with a spike for LeBron. There’s production from all the players. Even if you ignore the bench scrubs, you’ve still got a more even slide from point to point versus the citadel of LeBron surrounded by the hovels of Varejao and West. Let’s compare the Magic’s HV versus Cleveland’s.

So yeah, that LeBron Guy is pretty good. But when your 1-2 are battling to a stand still with the other guys who aren’t as talented, and the other team’s 6-7-8 are getting way more than your guys? That’s how you end up in a 2-1 hole, with only a miracle to your name. That’s how you lose 8 of 12 quarters.

The Cavs can definitely get back in this thing and I expect them to win Tuesday. But they’re going to have to turn Orlando into more of a one-to-two option team versus a team clicking on all cylinders, and possibly up the usage of their support players while also getting more bang for that usage buck. It ain’t rocket science, but if you want to make the Finals, your team is going to have to get you there and not just the guys on the commercials.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.