Orlando Magic fighting for better relationship with 3-point line
The Orlando Magic are not a team full of shooters. Even so, they are struggling to find an efficient use of the 3-point line, especially lately.
After practice Monday, Aaron Gordon went through his paces behind the 3-point line. At this point of the season, perhaps it comes with a little more focus.
He works to make 20 from the corner. Then goes to the other corner to make 20. Then he started working his way around the perimeter, playing the around-the-world drill kids play on their driveways across the United States.
Aaron Gordon’s 3-point shot is still a work in progress. He would make a string of 3-pointers and seem like he could not miss. Then he would go several attempts without making. And then go back to making them again, shaking his head at the rare miss before moving to the next spot.
One of the many side effects of moving Gordon to small forward has put him on the perimeter taking more 3-pointers. He has seen his 3-point field goal attempts per game double from 1.8 last year to 3.5 this year. His percentage is at a career-high 29.6 percent.
That improvement has been a welcome sight for the Magic, although it is not where it needs to be yet. Not anywhere close.
The unflinching reality is the team as a whole needs to improve from beyond the arc. The 3-point line is used more than ever as the league is set to smash its 3-point shooting record again. And the Magic are somewhat behind that curve with their roster construction.
One team, in particular, Tuesday’s opponent in the Houston Rockets, has taken the 3-point shot and its usage to unseen heights.
The Rockets have the personnel to shoot and fire away 40-plus times per game. They set a Magic opponent record with 49 3-pointers in their win in early January.
The Magic do not have the personnel to keep up with that output. The Magic have to be a bit more judicious with how they use the 3-pointer. But that does not mean it is not an important weapon.
Orlando just has to find the right balance and efficiency with the shots they get.
“I think we’re 28th in the league in 3-point shooting, so we probably shouldn’t shoot 40 per game,” coach Frank Vogel said. “I want our guys shooting from a shot selection standpoint they feel like they can shoot 40 percent at. For some guys that is only wide-open 3s, some guys can shoot it off of movement with a guy in your face. That is how I draw the line.”
Vogel has famously encouraged some historically bad shooters to shoot. Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton both came into this season as below-average shooters, struggling to get to 30-percent 3-point shooting let alone 40 percent. But they had the green light to fire if open and comfortable.
Vogel and every player said they want to encourage teammates to take open shots. The results for the Magic have not been great, as Vogel noted.
Entering Monday’s game, the Magic are 28th in the league in 3-point field goal percentage, making 33.3 percent of their 3-pointers. Despite the poor shooting percentage, the Magic are 14th in the league with 26.2 3-point field goal attempts per game.
The team has only one player shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc — Jodie Meeks at 40.4 percent. He is currently injured. Serge Ibaka is shooting 38.2 percent. D.J. Augustin is shooting 36.2 percent. And Evan Fournier is at 35.4 percent.
The Magic are not afraid to let it fly. But that may not necessarily be a good thing.
Surprisingly the Magic are not much better when wide open. According to NBA.com, the Magic shoot 35.9 percent on 3-pointers when an opponent is not within six feet of the shooter. The Magic get 11.4 such shots per game.
Orlando shoots 30.3 percent on 3-point attempts where the defender is 4-6 feet away from the shooter on 10.5 attempts per game.
It is easy to see most of the Magic’s 3-point attempts are actually good, open shots. The Magic just are not making them.
This could easily be one of the reasons why the Magic’s offense has struggled so much.
The approach to 3-pointers is still a pretty simple one despite these numbers. Shoot them when open and have the confidence to shoot.
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“Shoot them with confidence and shoot them when you are open,” Jeff Green said. “Plain and simple. We don’t have the personnel Houston has, but we do have shooters. Their offense is way different than ours. We have our schemes of when we want to shoot threes and they have theirs.”
The Magic will prove a stark contrast to what the Magic face Tuesday in the Rockets. Houston lets fly from the 3-point line and have the personnel to do so efficiently.
Orlando has had instances where a player like Gordon has missed several 3-pointers and seen him pass up open 3-pointers to drive and take a higher percentage shot. That is a good approach.
But in the modern NBA, the team needs to take 3-pointers.
Gordon, along with the Magic has struggled to shoot from beyond the arc. In his last 11 games, Gordon is shooting just 15.4 percent from beyond the arc.
This is a team struggling to make outside shots, even as they seem capable of generating open looks. It all adds up to a Magic team clearly struggling to score.
Shooting remains a desperate need for the Magic.
For now, Gordon said the team has to focus on driving and kicking, looking to get into the lane create open shots. From there players have to do what they know how to do.
“If you’re open, you shoot the 3,” Gordon said. “That’s kind of how it goes. [The Rockets] kind of seek it out a little more. For us, if you are open, shoot it. That is down the line.”
And so Gordon spends his time after practice hoisting 3s, trying to improve that rhythm and help his team when the ball swings to him and it is his turn to fire away when open.