The Orlando Magic struggled offensively, as many expected, to start the season. Their building chemistry though has started to help them turn a corner.
The Orlando Magic made a lot of changes this offseason. The team flipped more than half the roster and brought in an entirely new coaching staff. There was a lot of feeling out and getting to know each other through the first quarter of the season.
Coach Frank Vogel, one of those newcomers, said it would take time for things to come together for this team. It was not going to happen instantaneously.
Judging by how the Magic started, there was some restlessness for things to get going. Orlando had, by many measures, the worst offense in the league for much of the first quarter of the season. they lost a game 88-69 in Indiana, a game where the Magic’s offensive ineptitude completely overshadowed the team’s defensive excellence.
Orlando scored 100 points just five times in the first 20 games. They failed to hit 90 points eight times in that same stretch.
This was not just a bad offensive team, this was bordering on historically bad offensive teams.
Vogel’s patient approach has proven itself out, though. The Magic were not going to be bad on offense forever. They were going to figure some things out. And throughout December they largely have.
That team that could barely score 90 points in November has scored at least 100 points nine times in the last 15 games. In December, the team has a much more respectable 106.2 offensive rating (17th in the league) and have made 46.7 percent of their shots, 10th in the league for December.
The team’s offensive revival is a big reason the Magic are 8-7 and going for a winning month in Wednesday’s December finale against the Charlotte Hornets.
“Our guys are getting more confident where the shots are going to come from in our offense,” Vogel said. “Part of the gelling process. I think Aaron Gordon and EP making more shots and playing more confidently from the perimeter has been a difference maker. We’re passing the ball better no than we were the first month of the season. There is no other way to look at it. When you pass the basketball, the shots go in more.”
The Magic are passing it better. They average 23.2 assists per game in December, ninth best in the league for that time. In November, they averaged 20.6 per game, 24th in the league.
As Vogel likes to say, the Magic are “trusting the pass” and moving it around the horn a lot more. Isolations are down — the Magic isolate the second fewest possessions of any team in the league.
Orlando is truly benefitting from the pass. And it has helped the team climb out of the basement in terms of the team’s shooting.
“I think guys are just making a valid effort in trusting the pass,” Jodie Meeks said. “They are getting into the paint and seeing the weak side person. Getting our chemistry. It took a little bit and now we have it.”
It is true, that increased passing and the Magic’s better offensive spacing and movement is creating better opportunities.
According to NBA.com’s player tracking stats, 21.4 percent of the team’s shots in December are wide open (no defender within six feet). Those are typically a product of good passing around the perimeter. The team still has a somewhat shaky 42.7 percent, but a stellar 55.2 percent effective field goal percentage (most of those open shots are obviously 3-pointers where the team makes about 38 percent on wide-open jumpers).
The volume of these kinds of shots, though, shows the quality of the Magic’s offense in generating good looks. It is a big reason for the team’s sudden offensive turnaround. At least to near the league average.
“We’ve been moving the ball,” Aaron Gordon said. “We’ve been trusting our teammates and trusting the pass. We have a lot of talented people on this team who can score the ball in a variety of ways. When you let the ball breathe and everybody gets touches, it looks fun. And it is fun.
“I think we are starting to learn each other’s tendencies a little bit more. People are confident and everyone is taking advantage of their role.”
The Magic’s offense may never be among the best in the league. The team knows it does not have that surefire star. They have to rely on each other and finding the hot hand or the mismatch. Most nights, the Magic will need multiple players scoring well to win.
They are getting that at the moment and turning a corner offensively.
The process took some time to come together. It does seem the Magic are piecing things together offensively.
Perhaps they will not be able to sustain the extreme scoring numbers they have put up the last few games. And even in that stretch, the Magic have had some offensive duds.
Orlando’s offense has recovered but remains a bit of a work in progress.
“We’re just learning each other,” Vogel said. “We’re finding the spots where we are going to get the ball. Guys are getting comfortable in those spots. We are preaching the pass and trying to play for each other and play team basketball.”