Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
Stan Van Gundy entered the NBA Finals with a full menu of options at point guard, shooting guard, and small forward. With Jameer Nelson's return from injury, Van Gundy now has, count 'em, four legitimate options at the point: Rafer Alston, Hedo Turkoglu, Anthony Johnson, and Nelson. On the wings, Van Gundy can mix and match Turkoglu with Courtney Lee, Mickael Pietrus, and J.J. Redick. Rashard Lewis even saw some time at the three Sunday night when Van Gundy went with his twin tower offense.
Van Gundy has an embarrassment of riches, and that flexibility has been one of the Magic's principal strengths throughout the playoffs. In each series, he's calibrated his rotation based on matchups. When Lee returned to action in Game 3 of the Boston series, for instance, Van Gundy went with Redick on Ray Allen, preferring to hold Lee back to chase Eddie House. The choice seemed unorthodox at the time, but like most of Van Gundy's decisions this postseason, it panned out. Allen never got going, and the Magic shut down House after he torched them in the first two games of the series.
The Magic's stacked, versatile roster has been a blessing for Van Gundy -- but two games into the Finals, it's proving to be a curse. 101 minutes into the series, Van Gundy has yet to settle on any semblance of a rotation, and his substitution patterns have been wildly unpredictable. While Phil Jackson has established a coherent rotation -- complicated only by foul trouble -- the Orlando flow chart of substitutions looks like an unwinnable game of Tetris.
"I'm not sure I got another lineup to throw out there that you haven't seen," Van Gundy said. "I don't have another one now. We played with no point guard, we played conventionally, we had Rashard at the three, we played Hedo at the one, two and three. We played Rashard at the three and four. We played big, we played with no point guard. What do they say, just keep throwing stuff at the wall and hope something sticks?"
It might be time to start padding those walls. Let's start with the point guard spot. Alston has maintained his starting spot in the series, while Jameer Nelson has assumed the backup role, in the process bumping Anthony Johnson to the end of the bench. It hasn't been that simple. After Nelson's stint at the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters Sunday night, Van Gundy opted for Turkoglu to man the point down the stretch. Going to Turkoglu has merit, but it introduces yet another uncertainty into the Magic's increasingly unstable rotation. Does Van Gundy no longer trust Alston, who is 3-17 from the field in the series? Is he completely sold on Nelson's ability to perform at 100%? Does Nelson give them the best chance to win? Does running the show with Turkoglu make things harder for the Magic on the wings? The fact that there are no definitive answers to these questions is problematic.
"I thought Rafer was playing well, but they're just leaving him open on every post‑up, and we couldn't get the ball in the basket," Van Gundy said. "We were just searching for somebody to be able to make a shot. Obviously we didn't find anybody."
Van Gundy was similarly indecisive at shooting guard. Courtney Lee started the game for Van Gundy, but checked out with two fouls four minutes into the game. He didn't return until the start of the third quarter, then was replaced by Pietrus three minutes into the half after Kobe Bryant hit three straight shots over him. Not until Pietrus fouled out in the closing moments of regulation did Lee return, and even after overtime he finished with only 11 minutes played.
Lee said all the right things after the game. "We went on our runs and we were playing good," Lee said. "If any of our guys can step up and play well, and if coach feels they're doing the job, then that's who we're going to roll with."
Redick logged 27 minutes at shooting guard after seeing only seven minutes toward the end of the Game 1 blowout, which was preceded by five DNP-CDs. Although he drained a huge 3-pointer to tie the game with 2:20 remaining in regulation, Redick hit only two of nine shots from the field without a trip to the line. Defensively, Redick spent most of his time on Sasha Vujacic in the first half, then Derek Fisher in the fourth quarter. Did Van Gundy feel that Redick's ability to space the floor best suited the Magic's needs against the Lakers' strong-side pressure? Does he perceive Redick to be a better passer than Lee? Is it safe to assume Redick will see the lion's share of the minutes at the two ahead of Lee and, if so, has Lee's designated role in this series been downgraded to insurance policy?
Truth be told, an inch or two here and there could've given the Magic the win, and Van Gundy might have been heralded a genius for his tactics. There are sensible arguments on the pro and con sides of all of these issues. But his indecisiveness isn't allowing a team that predicates its game on rhythm to establish any. Orlando's roster gives Van Gundy tremendous flexibility and depth -- which could be just enough rope to hang himself.