Improving perimeter defense key for Magic’s culture

Kim Klement/USA TODAY

The difference between good teams and bad teams is consistency. No one seems willing to argue that point very much. The good teams are able to withstand their bad games because their bad games are not that awful. Their base line is much higher. Bad teams . . . well, when they suck, the basketball can get ugly.

This becomes more apparent on the defensive end more than anything. In both phases the Magic need to show improvement. Considering much of the team's youth is located on the perimeter, it is perimeter defense from guys like Maurice Harkless, Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Victor Oladipo that comes into focus.

For Harkless and Oladipo, perimeter defense is where this team expects them to cut their team and earn their living in the NBA.

"[The team is] progressing," Jacque Vaughn said. "I think part of that is understanding the league, understanding better technique, where their deficiencies lie and how you can be better. I think overall our team defense is better and  helps them at the same time. At the beginning, and the end and the middle, it's always a mano-e-mano prideful challenge on a nightly basis."

For a young team like the Magic, energy on the defensive end tends to be tied very much to making shots. They are learning the consistency necessary to play defense for a full 48 minutes to relieve pressure off the offense. Jacque Vaughn has coached effort plenty well, but defense is ultimately limited to desire, attention to detail and athletic ability. All things this young team has to learn.

Vaughn said ultimately possessions come down to that individual defense and the ability to guard your assigned man. That is where mistakes by young players come into play without the cushion of a quickly rotating defense behind them to cover their backs.

It is no surprise that the Magic are 18th in the league with a 104.4 defensive rating. That number would be fine for a team like this if they were not also averaging less than a point per possession. Orlando is learning defense.

"You've got to be better communicators, a little more effort, a little more attention to detail," Arron Afflalo said. "In this league, guys make shots and they make plays off the pick and roll, those are two of the biggest parts of the game. If other teams can do it, we can do it as well. Just got to get better at it."

Glen Davis and Afflalo, both players accustomed to winning at the NBA level, harp and preach defense in the locker room after losses. Those two talk most about the defensive mindset the team has to take on.

The important part for the Magic in the short-term is that defense is the best way for them to build up their offense.

The Magic are a significantly better team in transition when they do not have to go up against a set defense. This gets their young players going down the lane with a head of steam and enables them a better chance to make easy shots.

Right now, Jameer Nelson leads the Magic in drives to the rim with 7.9 drives per game and 8.4 team points per game off his drives. He is shooting 48.7 percent on his drives to the basket this year. Nelson probably finds most of his success when he gets out in transition as he sometimes struggles to finish when the defense has a chance to get set.

Certainly a player like Victor Oladipo would like the opportunity to have easier drives to the hoop. The Magic score only 6.3 points per game off his drives (he accounts for 4.7 points per game) on his 5.8 drives per game. Oladipo is shooting only 44.7 percent on his drives this season.

"It's easy buckets for us," Oladipo said. "I think when we do that, it helps us score a lot. We've just got to play better defense. It's just a result of better defense. We just have to keep covering for each other, getting our hands on balls and being active."

And that is where everything has to start for the Magic.

Shots will fall or not, but defense is always something that is supposed to be constant. As this team continues to grow, the emphasis on defense will likely ratchet up and the team will be expected to make these stops. It will help the offense and make the team significantly better.

Until then, the Magic will continue to go through their growing pains.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily