Jacque Vaughn is notoriously tight-lipped about his starting lineup. When asked whether Maurice Harkless would make his second start a few weeks ago, Vaughn reacted with shock and surprise. Joking that he had not turned his lineup in. The answer was pretty obvious and Harkless has started since.
Now that the Magic continue to struggle at the beginning of the first quarters, the simple answer would be to make a change. To shift the lineup some. Maybe put J.J. Redick in there to get the team going.
After all, according to Basketball-Reference, Orlando's most used lineup was the starting lineup with Redick instead of Harkless. The comparison is pretty astonishing in making that one switch.
The lineup with Redick in it is +9.5 points per 100 possessions. According to 82games.com (stats through Dec. 9), this lineup scores 1.14 points per possession and gives up 0.98 poionts per possession. The lineup with Harkless is -21.9 points per 100 possession and 82games.com reveals it was scoring 0.87 points per possession and giving up 1.00 points per possession through Dec. 9.
The decision to switch the lineup that way seems like a simple one. Vaughn though has no plans of changing the starting lineup it would appear for tonight. But Vaughn is usually pretty tight-lipped about his lineup. Misdirection may always be at work.
Vaughn though is not willing to make a change to make a change. Particularly considering moving Redick off the bench could kill the second unit and their production in erasing some of those holes the Magic have put themselves in.
"The best thing is we will let this game kind of subside and think smartly and watch the film and continue to diagnose what some of the problems may be," Jacque Vaughn said following Wednesday's loss to Atlanta. "Never rush, but be patient and come to a conclusion."
Patience is something the Magic might have some as they look to develop young players like Harkless and Nikola Vucevic who have had their ups and downs in the starting lineup. Harkless particularly has struggled, scoring only 12 points in his last six games and shooting 23.5 percent (4 for 17) field goals.
Something has to change though. Patience seemingly can only last so long when the team is struggling. And Orlando's starts have been extremely frustrating.
The Magic are averaging just 18.5 points per first quarter in the last eight games. They have won just one first quarter in that stretch — ironically against tonight's opponent Golden State. Orlando is giving up 25.0 points per first quarter in that stretch. Undoubtedly, the Magic are struggling to start and it is digging them a big hole.
"I don’t know about [changing the guys that start]," Arron Afflalo said. "The guys that are starting the game need to change the way they play. Which includes myself. I’m not alienating anybody. That’s for all five of us. The way we start the game has to be with a lot more energy.
"One of us next game will take it upon ourselves to make sure that happens. You can’t predict the score or predict making shots so it’s hard to say we’re going to make shots in the first quarter. Next game, we will play with more focus and passion in the first quarter."
The frustrating part is that the Magic have rarely been blown out and have had a chance to win every single game during this recent stretch. Orlando dug themselves such a deep hole that it took an extreme effort to get back. That might explain some of the slow finishes in Utah and Sacramento when the team had to scramble so much to stay in it.
The effects of who starts and how they perform is felt throughout the game.
"Not even just scoring. It’s energy," J.J. Redick said. "It’s exhausting at time to try and lift up the energy level sometimes. It’s exhausting."
Indeed it is exhausting. The Magic can compete. But the added energy can drain the team. Again, the small margin for error for the Magic means they need a good start so they can dictate the game a bit more.