Orlando has been inconsistent this year. No getting around it. The Magic have been just as likely to put in a stellar performance that convinces you they could win a title as they are to put together an uninspired effort against a sub-.500 team that makes you scratch your head. That has been the reality of the 2010-11 season.
The sense that the Magic can flip a switch and turn things on starting today against the Hawks has been pretty pervasive. It may frustrate everyone, but there is a quiet confidence that Orlando will be fine once the series starts against Atlanta tonight.
One way to be sure of that is to do something incredibly simple: take care of the ball.
It has been no secret, the Magic have struggled to take care of the ball. Their 3-point shooting often hides the team’s poor turnover rate. But with Orlando expecting a slow-down, drag-it-out series against Atlanta, possessions will matter. Certainly as the series and the playoffs progress, valuing possessions and ensuring there are fewer turnovers will be key to any type of success the Magic might have.
Orlando had the fourth worst turnover rate in the league according to HoopData, turning the ball over on 14.5 percent of its possessions. Turnovers recently have been a big issue too. In three of Orlando’s last five games, the team turned the ball over at a rate above 20 percent and had a turnover rate higher than its season average in four of the final five games.
Part of that might be the relative irrelevance of the final few weeks of the season for Orlando. Part of it might be the absence of J.J. Redick, who is expected to be ready to play for Game One. But part of it is definitely the Magic just turn the ball over.
Orlando is not going to change overnight, but the team is facing an opponent which should help the team reign in these mistakes.
The last team Orlando had a single digit turnover rate against was Atlanta — 7.3 percent turnover rate against Atlanta on March 30. In fact, the Magic had a turnover rate below their season average in three of the four games against the Hawks.
This certainly has a lot to do with Atlanta. The Hawks were second worst in the league with an opponents turnover rate of 12.3 percent.
Clearly something is going to give in this matchup between these two teams. Either Orlando is going to protect the ball and keep Atlanta from gaining those extra offensive possessions, or Orlando is going to give the ball away and give Atlanta an added bonus to its offense that the team did not typically get throughout the season. The season series seems to suggest the Magic will be able to protect the ball.
The turnover problem really boils down to three players doing more to protect the ball and making better decisions. Gilbert Arenas, Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson are the three rotation players that lead the team in turnover rate. Arenas has an obscene 19.4 percent turnover rate, Nelson is at 17.6 percent and Howard has a 16.2 percent rate. No other rotation player is above 15 percent and only Hedo Turkoglu has a worrisome 14.8 percent turnover rate.
These are the guys that typically have the ball in their hands, so you would expect them to turn the ball over more than their teammates. But these are extremely high rates. You would hope and expect they are more in line with Turkoglu’s numbers (for reference Kirk Hinrich has a 16.0 percent turnover rate).
Atlanta will turn the ball over too with a 13.4 percent turnover rate. But that number is not too bad compared to the rest of the league.
Very clearly, turnovers could help decide this series. And largely, Orlando’s turnovers. If the Magic can keep their turnovers down to 10-13 per game in this series, they have a much better chance of winning.
Of course, Orlando has proven it can win this season while turning the ball over a lot. But that comes with an active defense and an efficient offense that is making shots. The Magic had the defense part down in the four games against the Hawks this year. The offense was the one that sputtered. Turnovers only make that problem worse.
And eventually, if Orlando keeps turning the ball over, it is going to catch up to the team and cost it a game. Perhaps even a critical one.
Photo via AP/DayLife.