Nov 11, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Frank Vogel reacts against the Utah Jazz during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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The Orlando Magic are still experimenting with their best lineups this season. Just 12 games into the season, Frank Vogel is still sorting things out.
The Orlando Magic have started the season with some positives and there have been some negatives.
Coach Frank Vogel has tried many different lineups during the first 12 games, with a surprising starting lineup shuffle after only eight games. The lineup change brought in Jeff Green, whom the Magic signed this offseason to a one-year, $15- million contract to bring scoring to the team, after the defensive acquisitions of Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo.
Defensive versatility was a goal this offseason for the Magic. That plan could be seen on draft night when Magic general manager Rob Hennigan traded one of their bright, young players in Victor Oladipo for a defense-first minded Serge Ibaka.
The move was puzzling for some at first because Oladipo was a fan favorite. Another puzzling thought was picturing a starting lineup with Aaron Gordon, Serge Ibaka and Nikola Vucevic. The NBA was heading toward the small-ball mentality. But Vogel and the Magic stuck to their beliefs on building a team’s defense with front-court toughness.
Through the first eight games, the Magic are struggling on both the offensive and defensive ends. The Magic rank last in the NBA in points per game, and 19th in points allowed per game. The plan has not quite worked out perfectly so far.
There have been some improvements defensively the last four games, where the Magic have improved defensively, jumping into the top 10 in points allowed per game. But the offense is still struggling.
One of the supposed strengths of this Magic team was going to be its versatility. The team would have players who could play multiple positions on the floor and allow Vogel to implement a switching, smothering defense. The lineup options were endless.
So far, Vogel has kept pretty strict with his positions and some of his lineups. Things are still getting settled. As the team turns toward Thanksgiving and a week of games before a big December road trip, we take a look at some of the lineups Vogel has used so far.
Nov 16, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) steals the rebound from New Orleans Pelicans center Omer Asik (3) during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Frank Vogel went with this lineup to start in the first eight games, resulting in a 3-5 record. This lineup produced a plus/minus of -1.8 per game, which is not the type of result Vogel expected from his starting five.
This lineup struggled with spacing due to the three big men, Gordon, Vucevic and Ibaka, the Magic had on the floor. It also did not provide any shooting threats that stretched the opposing team’s defense. Evan Fournier was the only respected shooter from the 3-point line.
Through the eight games this lineup started, it struggled as it shot 29.5 percent from the 3-point line.
Elfrid Payton continues to struggle from the three-point line as he is shooting 21.2 percent. And Aaron Gordon is a work in progress as he is shooting 30.6 percent through 12 games this season.
The two young, promising players have struggled, which was a big reason why Vogel changed the starting five only eight games into the season.
While this was the lineup many expected the Magic to roll with, it clearly had some deficiencies the team could not overcome. They were inconsistent on both ends of the floor and were struggling to find success.
Nov 16, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Jeff Green (34) dribbles the ball as New Orleans Pelicans guard Tim Frazier (2) defends during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
PG: Elfrid Payton SG: Evan Fournier SF: Jeff Green PF: Serge Ibaka C: Nikola Vucevic
Frank Vogel changed the starting five in the Magic’s ninth game of the season last week when they hosted the Utah Jazz. The idea as Vogel put it was to bring a veteran presence.
The lineup struggled right from the start as it found it difficult to score. This was expected due to the team’s newness and the fresh lineup change. Jeff Green did not particularly score the ball like the Magic wished he would, as he shot 1 for 6 from the field. This upset a lot of fans as they were questioning as to why the Magic had moved Gordon to the bench.
But this lineup was a bit better from the starting five through the first eight games.
This lineup resulted in a plus/minus rating of -0.5 per game, which was still not where Vogel’s club wanted to be, but it gave the Magic a little bit of hope.
The Magic looked like a completely different offensive team as they scored 119 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder, fueled by Ibaka’s game winner and career-high 31 points.
Green had a solid game as he scored 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting. But the next game against the Indiana Pacers, was a very ugly game as the Magic lost 88-69. Green shot 1 for 4, as his shooting struggles continued in the young season. He followed that up with a 0-for-9 performance against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Nov 11, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Bismack Biyombo (11) points after he makes a basket against the Utah Jazz during the second half at Amway Center. Utah Jazz defeated the Orlando Magic 87-74. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
It is not surprising this lineup has produced the best plus/minus of +4.7 per game.
Bismack Biyombo is not a player who shows up on the stat sheet. But his energy and the relentless mentality to block every shot that is put up makes a difference even if no one can count or measure this effect.
That is exactly what the Magic signed Biyombo for. His energy and defensive ability were a big part for the Toronto Raptors’ success in the regular season and playoffs last season.
This lineup provides the Magic versatility and balance. The defense is present with the front court of Gordon and Biyombo, while Mario Hezonja, Fournier and D.J. Augustin are all shooters who spread the floor.
D.J. Augustin has been arguably the Magic’s best offseason signing as he brings instant offense off the bench backing up Elfrid Payton. Augustin has gotten off to a hot start as he is averaging 9.3 points per game in only 18 minutes per game.
Nov 3, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka (7) and center Nikola Vucevic (9) high five in the first half in a game against the Sacramento Kings at Amway Center. Orlando Magic won 102-94. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
Searching for Consistency
The Magic have been very inconsistent this season which is due to the peculiar multi-big men lineups they are experimenting. But Biyombo’s defensive skills should not be overlooked as he is averaging 1.5 blocks per game, most by a reserve in the NBA.
There have been many positive signs the last four games as the Magic have done well on the defensive end. The Magic have to remain confident and believe they can turn around a shaky start to this season.
Their record stands at 5-7, which is decent to start the season considering the team chemistry issues the Magic are facing by bringing in nine new players along with a new head coach and his coaching staff.
The key to the Magic on offense has to be Nikola Vucevic. He is known for his scoring in the post. He has been struggling the last four games, as he is shooting just 10 for 44 from the field (22.7 percent).
While the Magic do not have many scorers on this team, Vucevic and company simply have to produce more on the offensive end for the Magic to be playoff team.