No More Magic in Orlando
The Orlando Magic started the year as one of the hottest teams in basketball. They were running on all cylinders and looked to be one of the biggest surprises of the 2017 NBA Season. Sometimes thing work out the way we expect them to. Orlando has come back down to earth and has had a run of mediocrity of late. Currently standing at 14th in the Eastern Conference, the Magic are looking to turn their fortunes around soon.
The problem is the Magic started playing better than they were supposed to. When teams overplay their expectations the fan base looks for answers. In reality they should have been looking for answers as to why the team was playing so well in the first place. They were distributing the ball to many facets of their offense and scoring at a ridiculous clip. To go along with that coach Frank Vogel had the inspired Magic playing team defense. At the end of the day playing lockdown defense is the best way to win in the NBA. All of these aspects have stopped in Orlando and that is really why Orlando has fallen to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
What has changed?
First, the last 14 games have been mess for Orlando. They are 3-11 with their only three wins coming against the New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Atlanta Hawks. Before the win against the Thunder, the Magic lost nine in a row. Needless to say something changed from when they were one of the early surprises of the season. When looking at the statistics the month of November was a lot different than the month of October.
During the first full month of the season, the Orlando Magic looked like a team ready to shatter expectations. During the month of October, the Magic were averaging 116.9 points per game as a team. According to teamrankings, if they kept up that trend they would be ranked second in points per game on the season behind the Golden State Warriors. When an offense is thriving, there is a better chance for success. Also to go along with the overall team production, the Magic had three players averaging over 20 points a game in October.
Compare that to the November numbers and there is a big discrepancy. In November, no players on the team averaged 20 points per game. Aaron Gordon led the team in average points with 17.7 a game. That is almost 4 points lower than his average in October. The biggest change was Eric Fournier, who went from averaging 22 points a game to 15.7. This difference has impacted the chance to win basketball games in Orlando. As mentioned earlier, the Magic were averaging 116.9 points a game as a team, that changed in November to only 103.8 a game. That mark would put the Magic at 19th in the NBA if they held that mark the whole season. Going from 2nd to 19th does not help any teams case for consistent success.
Part of the issues with scoring is ball distribution. Elfrid Payton is back at the helm running the offense. He has a different mentality than D.J. Augustin the other main ball mover on the team. Payton is someone that looks to score the basketball more than Augustin and is not producing like Augustin did earlier in the season. Due to the fact the Payton is a scoring guard, the Magic have tried to rely on the point guard position more than earlier in the season. This is decreasing the ball movement. Payton is an isolation player that likes to go one on one with his defender. It is a different style that can hurt a team playing team basketball. If they can start moving the ball around quicker like they did in the beginning of the season, the Orlando Magic will find more open looks.
Losing has also changed the culture in Orlando. According to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, Center Nikola Vucevic said:
“We can do all the talking you want. If it doesn’t transfer on the court, it doesn’t matter. I think the talking is past due. It expired. It’s time for action.” When there is a culture change from winning to losing it is really difficult to break out of. Earlier in the season, Frank Vogel was looking like a candidate for coach of the year. Now he is looking like someone trying to keep his job. He needs to start holding players accountable for issues on defense.
Defense is one of the most important factors in basketball. Right now the Magic have a defense that cannot contain many offenses in the NBA. Josh Robbins goes on in the same article to explain that:
“A porous defense has emerged as the major deficiency. Poor perimeter containment, problems navigating screens, slow weak-side support and stretches of ineffective rebounding have plagued the team.” When a team cannot do simple defensive tasks consistently, they will struggle to win games. When looking at the game tape there are a lot of defensive lapses. Meaning they are not grabbing rebounds they should and are letting players get uncontested shots. Orlando has the ability to play better defense, but are currently failing. According to Spencer R. Henderson of Orlando Magic Daily, Since November 1st, the Magic have a 110.1 defensive rating. This makes them 29th in the league. That is just unacceptable for any team that is looking to avoid having a lottery pick.
All hope is not lost. It is simple to say that scoring more points will win more games. It is less about the volume than it is about the quality. The Magic need to spread out the floor more to create open chances for their scorers. Earlier in the season players like Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic were getting open looks and knocking down those shots at a high percentage. To get those looks the team also needs to apply more pressure on defense. When teams can find open shots against a defense with holes it is easy to lose games. The Orlando Magic are not a terrible team they probably should finish the season somewhere between their hot start and what they are playing like now. Teams go through tough times and have to push through it. If coach Frank Vogel can get the team to focus on defense and find better shot opportunities they should be able to get back on track. Defense is hard to perfect, but doing simple things like fighting for rebounds and playing help defense in the right situations can go a long way. That Magic can break out of this, but they need to dig deep and push through the bad times.