Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel said he wanted the team to play at a high tempo and pace. The Magic are still struggling to find the right pace to play.
When any coach comes to a new team, they promise to do one thing on offense inevitably. It does not matter the type of team they have or their personnel, they promise to get out in transition and run.
At least if they have a young, developing team, this is something they want to do time and time again team after team.
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Frank Vogel, despite having one of the slowest teams in the league by pace throughout his tenure with the Indiana Pacers, was no exception. He came to Orlando promising to push the pace and play an exciting brand of basketball that would take advantage of the team’s athletes.
Like so many promises, things have not quite worked out that way. Or rather, the Orlando Magic have looked good when they get out in transition. But those opportunities have proven to be rare.
Among the many issues with the offense, the Magic are not picking up their pace and creating transition opportunities as much. The Magic are not where they want to be on that front.
“Our pace has been inconsistent,” coach Frank Vogel said before Wednesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns. “Our pace numbers are not that good. They are never going to be great if you have a defense and you are forcing the opposing offense to work . Our offensive pace has been good at times, it hasn’t been good at other times.”
The Magic are averaging a 96.7 pace this season, 24th in the league. Orlando is not exactly getting up and down the floor with a ton of speed. Or at least pushing for more possessions in the game.
And when the Magic do get in transition, they are not particularly efficient.
Orlando scores 0.98 points per possession in transition, according to NBA.com, 26th in the league. Even these supposedly easy scoring opportunities are not going well for the Magic.
The Magic average 12.2 field goal attempts per game in transition, making 48.6 percent on transition field goal attempts. Elfrid Payton has been particularly adept at scoring in transition, with 1.20 points per possession in transition.
Pace is an incomplete measure, of course. Fast-break opportunities are still relatively small percentage of possessions during the course of a game. Pace oftentimes measures how early in the shot clock teams tend to make baskets or how methodical they are.
When a coach says “pace,” he often means something different than the statistical measure of pace.
It can often mean getting into the offense early in the shot clock and running and cutting hard. This was an idea Scott Skiles talked about with the Magic last year. It is part of Quin Snyder’s philosophy with the Utah Jazz, who play at the slowest pace in the league year after year.
The Magic are not trying to play slow and bog things down. Vogel said he does not want to control the pace by running a slow offense. Judging by the Magic’s poor offensive efficiency and execution, not playing offense with some type of urgency would be a mistake.
Pace is about attacking and moving quickly on cuts and through screens more than anything else. And so far, the Magic have not been great.
“At times, we’re running into our sets and running into our screens,” Vogel said. “We want to initiate early and the speed of your cuts and speed of the ball movement has been good at times, and at times we are walking around and not playing with good pace nd the ball sticks in those situations.”
This has been the common refrain for the Magic throughout the year. Whenever any player tries to put a finger on the Magic’s offensive struggles, they will inevitably say the team is stagnant offensively and relying too much on one-on-one basketball.
This would be an example of the team slowing its pace down too much. In a way the Magic would not want to slow the pace. Playing like this is when the Magic struggle the most offensively.
The defense still generates much of the Magic’s offensive energy and those easy transition opportunities. The Magic have been strong defensively in the last few weeks, but they still have work to do to create offense from those turnovers and defensive plays.
It has not always helped them generate easy offense in the way the team would like. But getting even better defensively will help the team generate some offense and flow into their offensive sets at a more determined and solid pace.
“Finding the right guys open, making the right pass, making the right plays and making shots with confidence, that’s the biggest key,” D.J. Augustin said. “I think it will come around. It is just a matter of us finding each other, making the right play and making the right pass and having the confidence to knock that shot down.”
“I don’t think we’re where we want to be yet,” Augustin continued. “We’re trying to get there. We’re working at it every day. We want to score quick and score off of rebounds and blocked shots from our bigs.”
The Magic are still getting their offense and defense on the same page. The offense is still very out of sync and struggling to do some basic things. Orlando has missed a lot of easy and open shots in recent games and that certainly disrupts the team’s flow and efficiency.
A big problem for the Magic, as Vogel described it after Wednesday’s loss to the Suns, is the team is lacking offensive rhythm and flow. Making shots will certainly help the team regain its focus, pace and rhythm.