The Rashard Lewis Positional Effect
“Hopefully I can get back to my old self of when I was in Seattle when I made the All-Star team, when I was playing the three position…”
“We’re going to try to use him a little bit how he was used in Seattle, move him around, let him play a couple different positions, run plays for him where he doesn’t become such a one-dimensional type player.”
-said Flip Saunders, who went on to express that Lewis could play the three or four positions, throwing out several obvious lineup combinations.
Let’s get a couple facts about Lewis out of the way. He was drafted out of high school and this is his 13th year in the league — lot of tread on those tires, 847 games worth, plus 64 playoff games. He also has experienced bouts of knee tendinitis at various points in his career.
Looking at PER (Player Efficiency Rating by ESPN’s John Hollinger — league average is 15), Lewis’ best career seasons came in Seattle in 2005-06 (20.0) and 2006-07 (20.7). He made the All-Star team in 2004-05 with a PER of 19.9.
In those three successive seasons of Seattle’s best, Lewis shot field-goal percentages of .462, .467, .461; three-point percentages of .400, .384, .390; and averaged 20.5, 20.1 and 22.4 points per game, respectively.
That was at age 25, 26 and 27, by the way, pretty much Lewis’ peak. The Wizards may want to use him like the Seattle days, but it’s highly unlikely Lewis will put up those same numbers at age 31. One thing, however, that Lewis has going for him is that there is always a place for shooters in the NBA … if he keeps making shots, quality shots.
So, let’s think about reasonable goals for Lewis as a Wizard: 16 points per 36 minutes, .450 FG%, .385 3p% — from beyond the arc, Lewis shot .409, .397 and .397 in his first three seasons in Orlando. This year, that dipped to .367.
Running those initial three parameters through the Basketball-Reference.com database, along with narrowing down to players who were 6’9″ or taller and 30 or older, and the historical return is 33 players. One stands out, one who I previously considered could be similar to Lewis. Get Rashard a headband and call him Clifford Robinson, specifically, the 32-year old version of Robinson who played for the 1998-99 Phoenix Suns and had a PER of 18.3; points/36 minutes of 16.9; rebounds/36 of 4.7; assists/36 of 2.6; FG% of .475; and 3p% of .417 over 50 games.
Another BTW, that Suns team won 27 games and featured Jason Kidd for 50 games, Rex Chapman for 38 games, Danny Manning for 50 games, Tom Gugliotta for 43 games and Luc Longley for 39 games. Nice, I suppose.
But back to Lewis’ position influence on the Wizards’ lineup. Most of it will be Flip Saunders and his coaching staff going with what combination works best, but let’s take a historical look how Lewis has fared at each the SF and PF (or 3 and 4) positions over the last seven seasons in three main categories: PER, eFG% and Net PER. [all below stats via 82games.com]
Positions In Seattle.
First, it’s worth noting how much Lewis played each position while in Seattle (his best three seasons, ’04-05 to ’06-07). The percentages you see next to each position for each season below represent the amount of total team minutes at that position that Lewis saw. I’ve also included some of Seattle’s top five-man units in terms of total plus/minus for each season.
2004-05 – SF (57%), PF (7%), SG (2%)
In ’04-05, Seattle’s top 5-man unit in plus/minus was Antonio Daniels-Ray Allen-Vlad Radmanovic-Nick Collison-Danny Fortson (+56). Lewis was featured in the next three best plus/minus lineups:
- Luke Ridnour-Allen-Lewis-Radmanovic-Reggie Evans (+49)
- Daniels-Allen-Lewis-Radmanovic-Fortson (+46)
- Daniels-Allen-Lewis-Radmanovic-Nick Collison (+46)
2005-06 – SF (63%), PF (7%)
Seattle top plus/minus lineups:
- Ridnour-Allen-Lewis-Evans-Collison (+24)
- Earl Watson-Allen-Lewis-Chris Wilcox-Johan Petro (+20)
- Watson-Allen-Lewis-Wilcox-Robert Swift (+16)
2006-07 – SF (43%), PF (14%)
Seattle top plus/minus lineups:
- Ridnour-Allen-Lewis-Wilcox-Collison (+80)
- Ridnour-Allen-Lewis-Wilcox-Petro (+26)
- Watson-Allen-Mickaël Gelabale-Wilcox-Collison (+22)
Worth observing that Lewis played the least amount of SF his last year as a Sonic and saw his most time at SF the previous season, ’05-06. Also worth observing that often times, Lewis found success at the three spot playing next to a bruising four man, such as Chris Wilcox, or with a five man who was a willing passer, Nick Collison. The Wizards don’t really have adequate contributions in either of those categories from their big men.
Now for the SF vs. PF statistical comparisons (click the images for a larger version, raw data found here) SF = Blue, PF = Red.
Lewis’ PER while playing SF in Seattle remained relatively consistent, but interesting to note that he did the best at PF when he played the most at the position in ’06-07. Seattle’s best lineup with Lewis at the PF that year was Watson, Allen, Gerald Wilkins, Lewis and Collison (+6). Lewis performed better at PF his first year in Orlando, ’07-08, about the same at both positions his second year, and fared much better as a SF last season. Clearly his PER in both regards has significantly dropped off his season, and curiously enough, he’s fared the worst at SF.
Effective Field Goal Percentage is a statistic that adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal.
In his ’04-05 All-Star season, Lewis was shot the ball a lot better as a SF, but that discrepancy narrowed by his last season in Seattle, when again, he played better at PF. Lewis’ eFG% dropped off when he played SF in Orlando, but it’s understandable that he’d probably have better, more open shots when playing the PF next to Dwight Howard. Sure, Lewis’ SF numbers in 2009-10 are awesome, but he only played 1% of all available Orlando minutes at the SF spot.
The difference in the PER of Lewis at each position from the opposing player’s PER at that same position.
In Seattle, Lewis always out-played his counterpart when playing the SF position. He fared better than his counterpart at PF in two of those seasons, just not as effectively. In Orlando, Lewis out-performed his counterpart at the PF spot in all seasons except for last season, ’09-10.
Lewis might be able to find success at the SF spot in Washington, but the evidence points to a problem most assumed would arise when the trade was announced. How can you play Lewis at the SF when the best complimentary skills for his game are mostly not offered by the other Wizards big men?
Andray Blatche has shown he’s willing to pass, but he also is not a presence down low and fires way too many shots from the perimeter, where Lewis likes to prowl. JaVale McGee plays inside, if you call it that, but is immune to passing and a selfish offensive player. Yi Jainlian plays a very similar game to Lewis, in fact, Rashard is the exact player David Thorpe compared Yi to when I spoke with him this summer — so, I doubt those two will be great side-by-side, unless, perhaps they’re paired with a more defensive-minded, less offensive-minded big like Hilton Armstrong.
It’s going to be an interesting experiment with more chips stacked against it than stacked for it. Time for Flip Saunders to show how creative he can get.