Orlando’s defense has been downright puzzling the last few weeks of the season. Since tying a franchise record and winning nine games in a row, the Magic have gone 6-6 including dropping three of the last five.
The way Magic fans have been talking, you would Orlando has played a lot worse than .500 basketball the last few weeks. And the reality is, expectations for this team are that they are better than a .500 basketball team. But during the last two weeks, that is what the Magic are — a .500 team.
Why has that happened? It is absolutely on the defensive end.
The Magic are still ranked fourth in the league in defensive rating but you would not think that from the Magic’s last stretch of games. Orlando has had six games in the last 12 with a defensive rating more than the team’s average of 102.4. It shows the Jekyll and Hyde nature of this team to this point in the season.
There are some games where Orlando has had true virtuoso performances — think the beatdown of Toronto last week or the shutdown of Cleveland and Indiana. Those performances, albeit against losing teams, would make anyone believe the defensive potential is in Orlando to get the job done on defense. You do not just stop NBA teams — no matter the level — the way Orlando did in those games.
So it is equally confusing when the Magic come out with efforts like they did Monday night against the Grizzlies. Memphis scored 108.7 offensive efficiency in reaching 100 points and absolutely worked Orlando in the second and third quarters. Memphis shot 53.4 percent from the floor and got a career game from Mike Conley.
Seeing guys like Conley bust out for big games has been something of a trend in this stretch of games. Orlando’s defense has always been known for its ability to run guys off the 3-point line and force mid-range jumpers merely on Dwight Howard’s presence in the paint. But teams have been able to take advantage of some weak perimeter defense.
The focus has not been there all the time and Orlando’s opponents are taking advantage.
Look at Conley’s stat line from last night. It was his first 10 point, 10 assist game and he absolutely torched the Magic. Conley scored 26 points on 9-for-14 shooting and dished out 11 assists and he hit on four of his six 3-point attempts.
Where he got those points is really astonishing. He had the six 3-point attempts, but made all five of his shots within 10 feet, according to Hoop Data. Conley is averaging three makes within 10 feet on five attempts this season. It was not that he was getting to the paint more, it was that he was making his shots. His 6.6 assists per game is a little more than half of the amount of assists he had last night.
It suggests, along with Memphis’ high shooting percentage, Conley could have done even more damage.
Take a look at the performance of these “non-All Star” guards in the last 12 games and their performance against the Magic (stats courtesy of HoopData):
|Player (Team)||Points||FG||eFG%||Assists||FG%<10 Ft.||Season PPG||Season eFG%|
|Mike Conley (MEM)||26||9-14||78.6%||11||5/5||13.2||48.8%|
|Luol Deng (CHI)||26||9-16||62.5%||2||3/5||17.5||49.9%|
|Tracy McGrady (DET)||20||8-19||42.1%||5||5/8||7.2||49.0%|
|Ray Allen (BOS)||26||8-11||86.4%||2||2/2||17.3||59.3%|
|Russell Westbrook (OKC)||32||11-22||50.0%||13||6/11||22.4||44.3%|
|Marcus Thornton (NO)||22||7-18||44.4%||1||2/5||7.4||45.5%|
As you can see from the chart above, there have been some players that will not be All Stars go off for big games against them in the last week. Really only Russell Westbrook has a shot at the All-Star team. So really none of these players should be producing this much against the Magic.
Ray Allen too was once an All-Star and you do not mind him going off for big games. But against Orlando the last three years, he has averaged 18.3 points per game on 49.2 percent shooting, 36.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc and a 56.0 percent effective field goal percentage in his last 10 regular season games against the Magic. Orlando typically does a very good job against him.
All the players above play very different positions and have very different roles with their teams.
None of them play as large a role as the ones they completed against Orlando.
McGrady got to the basket at will in the first half of last week’s game, showing flashes of his old explosiveness. Giving him eight shots inside 10 feet is pretty astounding. Giving up such strong shooting to Luol Deng, is likewise unlikely.
All these players scored well above their averages. And that is something Orlando cannot allow. More worrisome, the Magic allowed these secondary players to score big while getting to the rim. All of them are not known for their driving ability (except Westbrook) and all, except the sharpshooter Allen, got more than five shots at the basket.
And that is what is most concerning. Every NBA player has the capability of finishing if you let them get to the rim. Orlando is not doing a good enough job keeping players from getting inside the paint, as you can see. And that is even with Howard in there manning the paint.
Orlando quite clearly has a lot of work to do on defense. A lot of it is going to start not with the guy guarding the team’s superstar, but with the guy guarding the energy player who gets his points off of poor defensive rotations and quick dribble penetration.