New Orlando Magic lineup proving its stability

The Orlando Magic’s new lineup was full of controversy and uncertainty when Frank Vogel made the call. It has proven so far to do exactly what it needed.

There is still a small amount of shock at the Orlando Magic’s decision to change its starting lineup.

Aaron Gordon got billed as the team’s future star. The player with the most potential to grow into the star the Magic always needed, given some patience for the young player to grow.

But that is the thing. Orlando is out of patience it would seem. Too much is at stake to wait.

This season is not about 2018 or 2019 or the franchise’s future. This season is about 2017 alone. About making the Playoffs. It is about this season and making the Playoffs. The focus is not going to be on developing players or what players could be.

The Magic are taking players as they are. They are trying to win now.

It was with that in mind Frank Vogel opted to make a change to his lineup. The Magic were not playing at their best. Players were overlapping too much and the Magic needed balance in their lineup.

It left the team with some hard decisions to make. The one Vogel made certainly came with a cost. A deep one.

Sending Aaron Gordon to the bench, with all the hopes and dreams pinned on him, was a hard decision. Taking Mario Hezonja out of the rotation was a hard one too. As our Zach Palmer pointed out, Jeff Green and C.J. Watson have hardly produced. Green is averaging 5.2 points per game and shooting 29.4 percent overall. Watson is averaging just 3.4 points per game and shooting 30.8 percent in five games since the rotation shift.

On its face, the move would seem a flop. Jeff Green and C.J. Watson are not necessarily adding much to the team statistically.

That argument has some legs. The Magic’s lineups are not perfect — the team has a 93.5 offensive rating in the five games since the lineup change, the second worst in the league.

The Magic’s lineups are not perfect — the team has a 93.5 offensive rating in the five games since the lineup change overall, the second worst in the league. Orlando could still make some adjustments.

But also judging by results, the Magic have seen some more stability with this new lineup change. For all its ills and potential problems for the long-term future, in the short term, it has given the Magic exactly what they wanted.

The Magic’s current starting lineup has produced an offensive rating of 83.4 points per 100 possessions and a defensive rating of 81.8 points allowed per 100 possessions. In the first eight games of the season, the Magic’s starting lineup produced an offensive rating of 104.0 and a defensive rating of 112.2.

There is certainly a happy medium between these two dramatic extremes. But at the end of the day, the Magic’s new starting lineup has a positive net rating while the old starting lineup had a dramatically negative net rating.

That counts for something.

Granted, the competition has been less than stellar. The Magic picked up a big win over the Oklahoma City Thunder but looked less than impressive against undermanned teams in their last three outings. The offense is just not good, no matter how good the defense appears to play.

The Magic’s lineup changes are more a matter of usage.

Green does not need to score. He just needs to stay out of the way and take advantage of opportunities as they come. Perhaps he is not accomplishing the latter part. But he has done well with the first — his usage rate as a starter is down to 15.4 percent.

Green, as a veteran, knows where to be on the floor to give teammates proper spacing and room.

Gordon, for as much improved he is as a 3-point shooter, can crowd his teammates with a bad cut or ill-advised shot. Moving him to the second unit has given him a bit more freedom to work on the ball. It may, in the end, be better for his development if the Magic are determined to play him at the 3.

Coming off the bench, Gordon’s field goal percentage is up to 44.4 percent despite his field goal attempts per 36 minutes jumping from 12.3 to 13.5 coming off the bench. Gordon is still getting his shots up in his limited time and has become slightly more efficient, all while his usage rate has bumped up slightly.

It is clear Gordon is still figuring his role and his place out. Coming off the bench might be the best way for him to sort that out.

Watson, despite his poor overall shooting, provides much the same stability. His impact is made somewhat by his absence. He does not get in the way and remains a solid outlet when the opportunity arises.

On top of that, Watson has been stellar defensively. Opponents are hitting just 11 of 33 shots against Watson this season, according to NBA.com Player Tracking stats.

If the Magic are trying to build an elite defense, then things like that matter. Even if it means the Magic sacrifice something offensively overall.

At some point, the Magic will turn back to Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon more. Hezonja, at least theoretically, can shoot the ball at a better rate. His defense should improve as he gets more work, even in practice.

Gordon should continue to get more comfortable playing on the perimeter and figuring out when to pick his spots. When he reaches a certain comfort level, he should return to the starting lineup.

That time may come at some point in the future. There is still clearly some tinkering that may become necessary, particularly to resolve the massive offensive issues this team faces.

But Vogel promised the lineup change would add the stability playing veterans provides. Orlando has found that stability. It cost playing time to some young players they needed to invest in for their long-term future.

This is not a season for long-term thinking. This is a season to make the Playoffs and win however it has to come.

For that reason, the Magic’s lineup change has worked to this point and done exactly what it needed to do.

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