The roster has changed. The front office has changed. The coaching staff has changed.
What that all means for the Magic is still yet to be determined. Jacque Vaughn may not quite be sure what it will look like yet. The fans certainly don’t.
Vaughn promised when he took over as head coach that his playing style would be flexible. That he would design an offensive and defensive scheme that would fit his players and roster. He was not going to “pigeon hole” himself into one style or another. Flexibility is a key to any successful, long-term coach. At his press conference Vaughn said he would take some of his coaching ideas from his former coaches — coaches such as Roy Williams, Jerry Sloan and Gregg Popovich.
What this will actually look like, considering the roster Vaughn will have to work with, is still just about anyone’s guess.
Sebastian Pruiti of Grantland took his best guess, thinking Vaughn is pretty likely to follow the offense he helped coach in San Antonio the last two years. Pruiti goes int some detail what that would entail.
It would still be an offense that has its focus on 3-pointers and creating space for open 3-pointers. If there was one thing we all should have learned from the Stan Van Gundy years of coaching, it is that the two most efficient shots in the game are layups (the easiest shot to make) and 3-pointers (the shot worth the most points). Stan Van Gundy’s offense sought to maximize Orlando’s ability to get and make these shots. Four shooters would surround Dwight Howard, giving him the space to operate in the paint, and the remaining shooters would be able to hit shots when teams doubled down on Howard.
There was a bit of indiscriminately shooting 3-pointers. Orlando has led the league in 3-point field goal attempts the last three seasons and have been in the top two in 3-point attempts since Van Gundy became the team’s head coach. This is a team build to shoot 3-pointers still and that will have to be a part of the offense, at least this first year.
The selection of and location of these 3-pointers will be the main difference. As Pruiti points out, San Antonio works more to get 3-pointers from the corners. This further maximizes the efficiency of the 3-point shot because the distance from the 3-point line to the basket is the shortest of anywhere on the court. This is where the Spurs like to take their 3-pointers. I imagine this is where the Magic will take the majority of theirs.
So how do the Spurs get open looks?
They have Tony Parker wreaking havoc in the paint, Manu Ginobili able to create his own shot and Tim Duncan as a still solid post option. Those are individuals that can create shots for themselves and guys the defense must pay attention to. Orlando does not have a player that has proven himself to be like that. So creating shots is going to take a little more ingenuity on Vaughn’s part. One-on-one sets likely will not do it and I would suspect we will see very few isolation sets from this team.
What you notice from the video above (taken from Pruiti’s post) is that the Spurs start almost every set with a pick and roll. Parker comes off a screen from Duncan and the threat of him getting into the paint draws the defense in. The second action, what gets the open 3-pointer, is a flare screen set by Kawhi Leonard or Boris Diaw to free up Danny Green in the corner, or whoever it may be. The final step is quick and smooth ball rotation so the defense does not have enough time to recover.
This is very very similar to what Stan Van Gundy tried to do. The Spurs toward the end of last season ran a 4-out/1-in system with Diaw on the perimeter. The times it was Duncan and Tiago Splitter, for instance, were not as often toward the end of the year.
The Spurs did play one game without their three best players, an April matchup in Utah. You can see in the highlights from that game that San Antonio keeps to some of the very same principles Pruiti talks about. Popovich even spends time at halftime running through pick and roll plays with his team.
What you also will see is good high low action between DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter. The high-low pass is a basic play taught in middle school, and it can be equally as deadly at the pro level when run correctly (don’t expect to see flex… although, I have seen NBA teams run it in the past). And off that high-low action in the highlights above, you can see San Antonio still creates the space to get an open 3-pointer in the corner.
Because it is the NBA, individual play and improvisation is going to be something Orlando will have to do. The pick and roll will still be the main weapon to get dribble penetration and force the defense to shift. Jameer Nelson should have the ball in his hands much more than he has throughout his career. Nelson has had a usage rate above 20 percent in each of his eight seasons. I would suspect this year might be his second posting a usage rate greater than 25 percent as he remains Orlando’s best creator off the dribble. Arron Afflalo might also get plenty of time on the ball.
The key to Orlando getting open shots though will be working together, cutting and screening off the ball and moving the ball quickly around the perimeter. Luckily that was something Stan Van Gundy put a premium on and something the Magic do well. The question is just whether Orlando can get the dribble penetration to free up those shooters on a consistent basis.
So what can we expect from the Magic’s offense next year?
I think we will see pick and rolls to initiate most set plays, whether at the top of the key or from the wing. Likely, we will see more cutting off the ball into open space to make the defense shift and rotate, opening up space for dribble penetration. We will also, perhaps, see players really work together so they can better anticipate where they will be for that next pass. Passing will be put at a premium and will be integral.
If the Magic can keep turnovers down, there might be a chance to get good shots. And Vaughn has some options in running that initial pick and roll.
Hedo Turkoglu is fantastic with the ball in his hands and his height and length gives him an advantage over most defenders when he is not getting in his own way. Glen Davis can step out and hit jumpers, making him a legitimate roll threat. If he has improved as a passer, he and Gustavo Ayon might be able to work well together in high/low sets. Orlando also has the option of using Al Harrington as a stretch-4 and maintaining the spacing on the floor to get open 3-pointers and driving lanes.
The keys to Orlando’s offense might very well come down to the passing ability of the guard in the pick and roll — Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu and, possibly, Arron Afflalo — and the passing ability of Orlando’s post players — Glen Davis, specifically.
There are a lot of things for the Magic to overcome. The lack of a consistent penetrator is a big part of the questions we have for the Magic. The offense might be extremely basic and give the veterans room to improvise. Precise passing will be key because of the simplicity of the sets we may see at the beginning. The results though can be great if done right.