Scott Skiles’ track record speaks for itself.
The hard-nosed former point guard turned coach has instilled his defense-first philosophy on three other teams and led them into the playoffs. That approach, however, eventually wore thin on his players and left him searching for another opportunity.
Skiles played the majority of his career with Orlando, and his rebuilding project with the Magic begins Wednesday night against a visiting Washington Wizards club expected to be an Eastern Conference contender with one of the best backcourts in the game.
Before Steve Nash won MVPs in Phoenix’s run-and-gun offense, Skiles won 51 games with the Suns focusing on defense, which Chicago mastered while going to the postseason three times under Skiles.
He took Milwaukee to the playoffs in 2009-10 before parting ways near the middle of the 2012-13 campaign. The Magic haven’t been to the playoffs since 2011-12 and haven’t won more than the 25 games last season in the three since.
Orlando finished 28th in opponents’ field-goal percentage at 46.3.
"If you are going to be a really good defensive team, it takes a major commitment from the players in time, effort and staying with your schemes," Skiles told the Magic’s official website. "We have a bunch of willing guys who want to do the things we’re teaching them. They have athleticism and youth and I don’t see any reason why we can’t be pretty good on that end."
Second-year point guard Elfrid Payton started every game last season and is part of a core group featuring Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Tobias Harris, who re-upped with a four-year, $64 million deal in the offseason.
Orlando also is counting on Mario Hezonja, the fifth overall pick in the draft, to blossom into a star.
Although defense will be Skiles’ focus with this group, it’s not as if the Magic were much better offensively last season. They ranked 25th with 95.7 points per game, and Channing Frye was a major disappointment in his first season after signing a four-year, $32 million contract.
Frye shot a career-worst 39.2 percent from the floor and averaged just 7.3 points.
”You’re going to see a better version of me,” Frye said. ”Last year, for lack of a better term, was a little embarrassing – just on all fronts. I have a lot to prove and I’m out here to put the work in to do it.”
John Wall and Bradley Beal are confident they will come back stronger after they helped guide Washington to 46 wins – its most since 1978-79 – and a second straight trip to the East semifinals.
Beal, though, missed 19 games battling toe and ankle injuries and Wall sat out three of the six against Atlanta in the second round with a wrist injury.
”It starts with us two,” Beal said. ”We both have to be leaders of this team now. We have to be vocal and lead by example. We’re definitely looking forward to it.”
Paul Pierce took on most of that role last season, but he left to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Wizards brought in Gary Neal, Jared Dudley and Alan Anderson to add depth.
Anderson won’t be available immediately, though, as he recovers from left ankle surgery.
”One of the things I wanted to try and do this summer was improve our bench,” coach Randy Wittman said. ”I thought our bench had to get a little bit stronger.”
Washington has won the last eight meetings with the Magic.
"I don’t go in looking at how you’ve done against a team in previous years," Wittman said. "They’ve got new players, a new coach, new system. We’ve got to re-establish ourselves and that’s got to be our focus to start the year."