Magic Defense Dependable No More?

The 3-point shot has defined the Magic. it was always said the over reliance on the 3-point shot is what has held the Magic back. Those that have watched this team know that might be true at the end of the day, but it is not what gets the Magic from to Point B on its way to Point C, an NBA Championship.

This Magic team under Stan Van Gundy has always been about defense. Dwight Howard is the spoke and every other gear works in perfect harmony in forcing those horribly inefficient mid-range jumpers and keeping opponents out of the paint and off the 3-point line. It led the Magic to lead the league (depending on what metric you follow) in defensive efficiency the last two years.

Monday’s game was disappointing for a variety of reasons. Tracy McGrady attacked with no resistance whatsoever. Tayshaun Prince was unstoppable as was Ben Gordon attacking the basket. The game ended with Austin Daye hitting a barrage of 3-pointers.

A frustrated and serious Dwight Howard summed it up perfectly to Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel and the rest of the media after the game: “Either we get it together or we’re just going to be a playoff team that doesn’t win a championship,” Howard said. ”Guys got to guard on the perimeter, got to do a better job. It just can’t be one dribble to the basket. So you got to do a better job.”

Orlando is no slouch defensively. The team is still ranked fifth in the league in defensive rating according to John Hollinger of ESPN.com. Its rating (100.0) is even better than last year’s rating (100.2). The Magic are fifth according to HoopData this year in defensive efficiency.

All the gloom and doom surrounding the Magic is a little overkill. Rumors of their demise is a bit overstated.

No doubt, Orlando is a different defensive team this year than last and post-trade compared to pre-trade. Mickael Pietrus, arguably the team’s best perimeter defender the last two seasons, is gone. And in came Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu. Those three have not exactly been known for their defensive prowess in their careers.

Richardson, the team’s new perimeter stopper, has an individual defensive rating of 109 for his career according to Basketball-Reference. His 105 defensive rating in 19 games with Orlando is his lowest the third year of his career in 2004 with Golden State.

Yes, there is room for individual improvement from each guy on the Magic roster. Jameer Nelson can do a better job keeping point guards from penetrating and dishing. Richardson can do a better job staying more attached to his man to prevent opponents from taking 3-pointers — a key principal in the Magic defense. Everyone has areas defensively they can improve.

Monday appeared to be more of a blip than anything else. Still, the pattern of uneven efforts has persisted in the last few weeks. Performances like Friday’s against Toronto or Saturday’s against Houston have not been the norm when perhaps they should be.

In January Orlando has held teams below a 100 point defensive rating just five times in 11 games. Teams have averaged more than 110 points per 100 possession in five games too.

You can see in the chart below the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Orlando’s defense this month.

Team Def. Rtg.
vs. Golden State (W) 93.3
vs. Milwaukee (W) 95.6
vs. Houston (W) 100.1
@ Dallas (W) 114.7
@ New Orleans (L) 97.4
@ Oklahoma City (L) 137.4
@ Minnesota (W) 102.3
@ Boston (L) 127.4
vs. Philadelphia (W) 95.5
vs. Toronto (W) 81.9
@ Houston (W) 113.4 
vs. Detroit (L) 114.7

The numbers are really all over the board, especially on the road. It is worth noting the Magic are winning a lot of those games. Orlando is 8-4 in games this month.

Still, the way the team has played has not been comfortable for the way we and the team are used to playing. To see players express the type of concerns they did after Monday’s game.

Consistency seems to be the big issue. And that is what the concern should be. Stan Van Gundy is confident the team will get itself into shape. He even said Monday that he believes players are all in the right locations but just are not focusing on the details necessary for effective defense.

All anyone wants is that consistency. Once the Magic get that, the defense will be back to dominating.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily

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