With the season drawing closer with every day, we prognosticators and commentators are trying to figure out what the Magic are going to look like. The mystery of what this new era of Orlando basketball is too tantalizing not to try and figure out.
Monday, I took a look at what Orlando’s half court offense will look like. Jacque Vaughn could very likely run an offense similar to the one he ran in San Antonio. This offense is heavy on pick and rolls and taking shots from specific areas on the floor — notably the corner 3-pointer. This is an offense very similar to the one Orlando has run with Stan Van Gundy. The pick and roll will be a big part of that.
A new coach bring opportunity for some very basic changes in philosophy. And the teams in transition tend to run offenses that favor just that — transition.
Stan Van Gundy was not a coach that had his teams get out on the break and run. Even with Dwight Howard, so fleet of foot and able to run, Orlando was very selective on when it would run. In terms of pace, the Magic ranked 29th last year with 91.2 possessions per game according to HoopData. In 2011, the Magic were 19th at 93.3. In 2010, Orlando was 24th with 93.6. In fact, Orlando has not had an above-average pace since 2008, Van Gundy’s first year with the team.
The Magic, much to a lot of people’s chagrin, were not a running team.
It is easy to be that way when you have a half court offense that is stunningly efficient and Dwight Howard to anchor everything in the post. It is another to do that when you do not have Dwight Howard and have no player that has proven a consistent ability to dominate the ball. As I noted in reviewing the half-court offense, the Magic may have to get creative to get their best players consistently open and in opportunities to succeed.
An easy way to do that is to get out and run. This is what many young, rebuilding teams do to try and take advantage of their youth and athleticism. If you look at the top 10 teams by pace last year, only four made the Playoffs. One of those teams were the Spurs, the team Jacque Vaughn was an assistant coach with.
The question is whether this is a strategy the Magic will employ with their team. Without a dominating center in the paint to anchor the half court offense and a questionable assortment of dribble penetrators relying heavily on the pick and roll, the Magic might want to consider increasing the times they run to create mismatches and easier scoring opportunities.
The next question is whether Orlando has the kind of roster that can handle this type of basketball. Like I mentioned before, the Magic have not been a running team for a very long time. Stan Van Gundy did not have his teams run. Brian Hill‘s teams were notorious for pounding the ball into the ground without much offensive imagination. The Magic have not really focused on running since Paul Westhead was an assistant coach with the Magic under Johnny Davis. With a team that might be desperate to create offense, scoring in transition could be an easy way to generate points.
Vaughn though promised that he would adapt his offense to his roster. Does Orlando have a roster ready to run?
This is an interesting question. Unlike many rebuilding teams, the Magic roster is not full of young players. Jameer Nelson is 30 years old and has not ever played in an offense that emphasizes fast break basketball. Hedo Turkoglu is 33. Glen Davis said at his exit interview with the media that he wants to get in shape to play 40 minutes per game and be the player he was when Dwight Howard was out full time. That was in an offense that did not run.
There is plenty of youth though. Arron Afflalo is an athletic wing. Al Harrington may still be able to run some after his time in Denver. Ish Smith is much more of an offensive-minded, get out on the break point guard. Maurice Harkless probably would not mind running where he can use his length and athleticism to score rather than relying on his somewhat shaky jump shooting in the half court.
This is a roster that is seemingly at odds with itself. The more proven veteran players are not a team that is built for an all-out transition assault. The bench players? They might just be.
Vaughn will likely strike a balance. Orlando is not going to lead the league in pace next year. But I believe the Magic will try to run more than they did under Stan Van Gundy. Orlando is going to struggle to score if the paper is what it is looking like on paper — or unless Jacque Vaughn is an Xs and Os genius and the team executes it perfectly, in which case great job Rob Hennigan! To make it easier to score points, the Magic should try to get the ball out in transition and score easy points.
Like with the half court offense, easier said than done.