Orlando Magic: Offensively This Can Work

Despite being billed as a potentially potent defensive team, are the Orlando Magic closer to offensive nirvana with the way they’ve started 2017?

The Orlando Magic came into this season with a new head coach in Frank Vogel. It was expected that he would improve this team defensively.

Additions such as Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo were also meant to reinforce this point.

So far, it hasn’t quite worked out as planned, with the Magic having a defensively efficiency rating of 105.8.

This is the 19th best mark in the league, and is a disappointing number given their apparent commitment to being a top 10 outfit in this area.

It’s not all bad however, as offensively this team has shown signs of life in recent games that it can be an above-average organization going forward.

With their defense floundering, perhaps it is this unexpected offensive cohesion that can see the Magic force their way into the playoff conversation?

Jan 6, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) passes the ball as Houston Rockets center Nene Hilario (42) defends during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In recent times, I have been about as negative as you can get with regards to the talent on this team, and their future.

It should also be mentioned that the Magic currently have an offensive rating of 101. Only three teams are posting a lower number in that category (Miami Heat, New Orleans Pelicans and Philadelphia 76ers).

So it’s not like there is cause for celebration here. But since the turn of the calendar year, there has been a stirring in the Magic’s offensive output each night.

In their first win of 2017, over the New York Knicks, the team shot 15-for-31 (48.4 percent) from three-point range.

They shot 49.5 percent from the field in total, and despite Jodie Meeks carrying the team that night (23 points), everybody got involved.

Although they would lose to the Atlanta Hawks in their next game (a contest they probably should have won), they still shot 9-for-10 from the free throw line. They also managed to shoot 43 percent from the floor. In both games, they weren’t always getting stops, but they were trading baskets with teams featuring high level offensive players.

To me, there seem to be two key momentum shifters across both games (and the loss to the Houston Rockets Friday night) that have improved this team’s offensive diversity.

The most important is the decision-making of Aaron Gordon. I’ve been quick to criticize him here in the past, but against the Knicks (22 points, six rebounds, six assists), Hawks (15 points, 10 rebounds, 54.5 percent from the field) and Rockets (18 points, six rebounds, seven assists) he has played like a budding star.

Central to this has been his decision-making in knowing when to shoot and when to set a teammate up.

As recently as two weeks ago, he was taking shots like this, when the better option would have been to pass the ball (all video via 3ball).

Gordon was taking too much out of possessions, and trying to beat the opposing team on his own despite having guys like Serge Ibaka, D.J. Augustin or Meeks open and available to shoot.

Contrast that with the game against the Hawks, and Gordon was buzzing on both ends, getting stops and creating space for his teammates.

He is allowing players like Elfrid Payton or Evan Fournier to create the space for him before hitting the looks he’s given.

He’s also posted six and seven assists in two out of his last three games, a huge improvement on the 1.9 per game he’s averaged so far this season.

On top of that better decision-making, however, has been an ability to knock down more three-point attempts.

This was best illustrated in the loss to the Hawks when he shot 2-for-4 from deep, way up on the 32 percent he’s averaging this season.

With Fournier only recently back from a stint out through injury, it makes sense that Gordon would try and become a go-to guy for this team.

As the fourth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and still only 21 years of age, it’s exciting that he’s finally beginning to figure out his place within the Magic’s offense.

At times, it looks like he could be the focal point of that in the near future, with his improved outside shooting and ability to cause havoc around the rim.

The second piece to the Magic’s quest to becoming better offensively is giving Meeks more minutes. Tied into this is playing both he and Augustin together more off the bench.

This is not easy to achieve, especially with Elfrid Payton showing improvement on both ends in recent times too.

Since the turn of the year, he has shot no lower than 46.2 percent on any given night (and that number was an impressive 60 percent against the Rockets).

But it’s clear that the veteran duo not only works well together, but is capable of getting buckets between them.

This is vital when guys like Gordon, Ibaka and Fournier go to the bench. Against the Knicks, with Fournier injured, both guards started and blew New York out of the water early.

Meeks made his first three long range efforts, and scored 14 of the team’s first 31 points. Against the Rockets, Meeks had 19 points off the bench.

They have a certain understanding from all of their years in the league, Augustin being as reliable as backup guards get and Meeks being slept on as a result of injury. Meeks in particular is looking like a spark every time he comes off the bench, and he’s got one of the sweetest shooting strokes you’ll see.

It’s clearly effective as well, as he’s shooting 40.9 percent from three point range, the second-best mark of his career. This despite not playing with an All-Star level player, or really many guys who can spread the floor for him.

It’s tough to give him more minutes when he’s averaging a shade over 20 a night night. This is even more true when you consider the Magic want their young players to grow and thrive.

But if they’re serious about winning more games now, there’s a strong case that giving him more minutes would help. This is even more true when you consider Meeks has a defensive plus/minus of -0.8, the best mark of his career.

It’s also better than that of Fournier (-1.9), which is worth considering as the season continues.

The Orlando Magic may still be losing games, but there’s a growing confidence and diversity to their offensive game that is encouraging.

They now look competitive on both ends each night, despite what the numbers may say. It’s not enough to get them back into playoff contention yet, but it is a start.

Their upcoming west coach trip will tell us much about how the rest of their season is going to pan out. Fans should approach this period with cautious optimism.

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