Line Change: Why the Orlando Magic need to shake up the starting lineup
After eight games the Orlando Magic changed their starting lineup. Now after five with the new lineup, he may need to make another change.
After only eight games, Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel had seen enough of his starting lineup. Vogel decided to take Orlando’s brightest young piece in Aaron Gordon and glue him to the bench in favor of veteran Jeff Green.
Vogel said he felt that the Magic needed more veteran presence in the lineup. And he probably recognized Aaron Gordon was not meshing well with his frontcourt partners Nikola Vucevic and Serge Ibaka. In all reality, Jeff Green is much more of a natural small forward than Aaron Gordon is, so it makes a bit of sense.
But what truly ails the Magic is far more than a lack of veteran presence.
The Magic are plagued by an abysmal offense, which has not been cured with Green’s insertion into the starting unit.
Green personally has shot 29 percent from the field, including an abysmal SEVEN percent from deep. The five-man unit of Elfrid Payton–Evan Fournier-Jeff Green-Serge Ibaka–Nikola Vucevic actually has a plus/minus of 0 right now. But context is required to understand why that is actually a bad thing.
This lineup is holding opposing teams to 37 percent shooting from the field. That is a great number, but it has not been against the most impressive competition.
In the stretch since Green entered the starting lineup, the Magic have played the Dallas Mavericks without any point guards or Dirk Nowitzki; the New Orleans Pelicans with only one NBA-caliber starter in Terrence Jones; the struggling Indiana Pacers with a one-legged Paul George; the Oklahoma City Thunder, in which Serge Ibaka needed to post a career high to get the W; and the Utah Jazz without George Hill.
Those are not spectacular victories — and the Magic did not even defeat the Pacers or the Jazz.
But it must be noted the defense has improved, even if the caliber of team the Magic have played against has dropped significantly.
The bigger issue is just what is going on with Orlando’s offense.
The bigger issue
As noted, Jeff Green is struggling big time, but the rest of Orlando’s offense is right there with him. The five-man starting group is only shooting 39 percent from the field and 29 percent from deep. More concerning is the group is averaging 3.7 assists per 48 minutes with 3.9 turnovers per 48.
Posting those numbers against the level of teams they have been playing against is going to get the Magic destroyed against better teams.
There is plenty of blame to go around — scheme, effort, chemistry. The Magic have seen Serge Ibaka look his teammates off, Evan Fournier has struggled to make the simple plays and Nikola Vucevic has struggled to bring anything positive on the offensive end.
This lineup is completely ineffective, and Vogel needs to make a change before the good teams come to town. Once the schedule stiffens, Vogel will eventually make a lineup change again. But it may be too late.
The fixes are not easy. The team just has a bunch of players that do not fit well together. The Magic are trying to tap dance around the egos of players with large contracts.
That is all true, but the Magic can help themselves out and still maintain minutes for most of their large salary players.
Biz the first fix
The first move to make is to insert Bismack Biyombo into the starting lineup for Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic has been in a severe slump and his body language has been fairly abysmal. The thing that Biyombo brings to the table that the Magic need is the constant energy and the screens that actually free people up. When watching the game you can see how much more contact Biyombo makes on his screens than Vucevic. I’d wager that more than half of Vucevic’s screens make any significant contact. This contact is critical for the
The thing Biyombo brings to the table the Magic need is the constant energy and the screens that actually free people up. Biyombo is good at initiating much more contact on his screens than Vucevic, freeing up ball handlers to attack the paint. This contact is critical for the Magic, if Biyombo connects on these picks, Elfrid Payton and Evan Fournier should both be able to get into the paint more, thus breaking down defenses.
Granted, the Magic are not rich with perimeter shooters right now. But open looks will help the guys look good.
Another aspect of bringing Biyombo into the starting lineup is it allows the ball to spread around more. Biyombo does not really want the ball unless he feels like he is in an immediate position to score. That means more ball for Serge Ibaka (who to a fault craves it), Evan Fournier, and Elfrid Payton. The assists per 48 of the current Magic starting lineup has some to do with
That means more ball for Serge Ibaka, Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton. The poor assists from the current Magic starting lineup has some to do with offensive scheme. But it has more to do with there not being enough ball to go around, which is why the Magic swapped out Aaron Gordon for Jeff Green in the first place.
Hezonja the next fix
The second move that the Magic should make is to take Jeff Green out of the starting lineup and replace him with Mario Hezonja.
Hezonja has shown significant defensive improvement so far this season and was seemingly benched for his poor shooting. While Jeff Green has done a very solid job defensively, his shooting struggles and lack of any real offensive skills hurts Orlando offensively.
Now it is fair to point out Hezonja has been absolutely brutal offensively to this point. He is shooting 30 percent from the field and only 18 percent from deep.
That said, he is not nearly as poor of a shooter as that small sample size would lead to believe. Add to that, the fact Green has actually managed to somehow shoot worse since becoming a starter, then it is a no-brainer.
Hezonja, while struggling still adds an extra dimension to Orlando’s offense they desperately need, shooting (34 percent last year from deep) but more importantly he comes off of screens has excellent vision combined with his willingness to pass the ball.
The Magic offense desperately needs more guys that are willing to pass the ball and be a threat when the ball is not in their hands.
Hezonja should still be a bigger threat from beyond the arc than Green.
Managing the rotation
With all these changes it is right to wonder, “How would these guys react to being benched?”
It is hard to know how Nikola Vucevic would react to being benched. His play so far suggests he deserves it. But his body language when things are not going his way this year leads me to believe he may not like the idea.
One potential holdup may be that in reality the D.J. Augustin-Bismack Biyombo combo off the bench as been very effective. But not as effective as the starting lineup has been bad.
If Vucevic accepted the role of being a sixth man, and the Magic fed him in pick and pops, it could really provide a large boost for the Magic. Right now the second unit is relying on Biyombo to pretty much screen open Augustin and pray he makes things happen.
In Jeff Green’s case, it is a fairly easy transition. Green can slide back onto the bench, average a similar amount of minutes while Aaron Gordon bumps Damjan Rudez out of the rotation. Rudez has been an effective floor stretcher but his defense will be exposed when he plays against stronger competition.
The bench lineup would consist of Augustin-Watson (or Jodie Meeks)-Green-Gordon-Vucevic. That second unit is a fairly talented bunch that should be able to run and probably hold their own defensively against second units.
The downside to making these moves for the Magic is fairly minimal.
Maybe Vucevic demands a trade, but if a marginal player cannot make a sacrifice for the good of the team do you really want them here?
On the up side, the Magic provide valuable experience for their fifth overall pick and the 23-year-old center they just handed out a large contract to. Heck, the starting five of Payton-Fournier-Hezonja-Ibaka-Biyombo could be considered the team’s starting lineup of the future considering how much has been invested into these players.
Obviously, this leaves out Aaron Gordon, but his move to the small forward spot has not gone as expected. The Magic will not be in a spot to just let Ibaka walk.
The bottom line is if you’re a Magic fan you had better hope Frank Vogel makes a change sooner rather than later.
Because, by the time he realizes that his starting lineup is not good enough, the Magic very well may find themselves in the middle of an organizational meltdown.
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