The Magic offense was sputtering in the first half against the Suns on opening weekend. The Magic were shooting 36 percent from the floor and trailing by 10 points. More importantly, the Magic had 11 assists and just six fast break points.
Those are numbers Orlando needed to change if the team wanted to win this game. They were numbers that did change in the second half. Orlando scored seven fast break points, shot 64.3 percent from the floor and outscored Phoenix 69-38 to completely turn the game around. The fast break points in that game did not belie the change in the Magic's offense between those two halves.
Similarly, against the Nets last Sunday. The Magic looked pretty lifeless and out of sync on offense yet again, continuing a disturbing and troublesome trend of offensive futility. In the third and fourth quarter, as Orlando locked down the glass and started building momentum, Orlando got out on the break to get 10 fast break points. In a game where the winning team had only 82 points, those 10 points were critical to keeping the game tight.
Against the Knicks on Tuesday, the Magic recorded only seven fast break points, but clearly picked up the pace and found mismatches they liked. Maurice Harkless came flying in on one play. Glen Davis rumbled down the floor on another. The Magic were getting out on the break and initiating their offense in transition.
This appears to be a must for this new Magic offense.
The Magic are entering a new offensive identity. Glen Davis has said it multiple times in this early part of the season, there are no All Stars on this team. Every player has to work together to make this offense go.
"There’s no all stars here," Glen Davis said after the Magic's win over the Suns. "There’s no guys, you get them the ball and go get us a bucket. You have players that need each other. And that’s the mindset we’re going to take. If we want to go somewhere far, we can’t go alone. We want to go somewhere, we’ve got to go together."
Orlando's offense is very different than it has been the last five years. Stan Van Gundy employed a 1-in/4-out offense that worked to spread the floor around Dwight Howard and maximized efficiency with a focus on getting the ball into the paint or freeing up shooters beyond the arc.
The Magic obviously do not have the luxury of throwing the ball into Dwight Howard and surrounding him with elite shooters like they have the last five years. The focus of this team offensively is much different.
And so far this season it has been extremely difficult to find much offensive consistency. Orlando's 96.5 offensive rating is 26th in the league. If this continues, it would be the first time in franchise history the team has an offensive rating worse than 100.0 (or one point per possession).
Generating points was going to be a struggle this year without a go-to offensive option. The half-court offense is very much a work in progress as Orlando learns how to effectively space the floor within a motion offense. And certainly missing Jameer Nelson hurt.
Until the Magic get comfortable in their roles and find the right mix for their half-court offense, much of the team's identity will come from getting out in transition and trying to force the issue while the defense is still getting set. This is how the Magic closed gaps against the Suns, Nets and Knicks already this eason.
"It’s everything," J.J. Redick said after the Magic's win against the Suns. "When you can get buckets and get good looks against a defense that’s scrambling and not a defense that’s set. It makes things a lot easier."
The last five years, the Magic were near the bottom of the league in fast break points for whatever reason. Stan Van Gundy's offenses tended to grind the ball in the half court relying on Dwight Howard to set everything else up. Redick said that the lack of transition points was something that frustrated Van Gundy. Orlando though simply did not have players who could run consistently and be effective.
The make up of this Magic roster is very different. Arron Afflalo is an athletic win who can get out on the break and force the issue on the break. Nikola Vucevic is a skilled big who can pass the ball some too. By having him fill the lane on the break and run with the guards, it opens things up on the perimeter — where the Magic have really struggled to find shots in the half court.
The Magic's offensive strategy has changed. The kinds of players the team has is changing.
What still matters for Orlando is getting quality shot opportunities. While the Magic are still learning to execute in the half court, manufacturing points in the fast break becomes all the more critical.