Defense is not easy to learn when you are young.
Players can have all the physical tools, but it is rare to see a young player come in and be a great defender. Individually or as a team. The speed and strength of the players are more than just a single step above college. It takes some time to adjust even for the really good players. The toughness to play defense does not spring overnight.
Orlando, as Matt Moore of CBS Sports writes in his offseason recap, is banking on the opposite of NBA logic. Their draft strategy seems to suggest they want to get those defenders and bring in players with large defensive growth potential.
The strategy seems to build a solid defensive team and let the offense come through development. That is not an easy thing to do. Teams squalor in their inability to score.
Defense is the toughest to teach though, so you might as well get going early.
“Part of it is the intensity,” Arron Afflalo said at one point in the season. “A lot of what defense is effort and intensity. Every individual guy is responsible for that. It kind of just collectively makes you a better defensive team. The game plan changes from game to game. So you can’t say you have to do this thing this game. Really it’s just the effort and intensity.”
Those are intangible things. That is difficult to quantify or put your finger on and say, this is where the team has shown improvement or this is what the team is doing right.
It is easy to say Victor Oladipo is a good defender — 2.8 defensive win shares makes that even easier — but it is much more difficult to reflect how he fits into the larger scheme of things.
Nikola Vucevic went from 2.6 defensive win shares last year to 2.0 defensive win shares this year. Whatever defensive metric we have, Vucevic stayed largely flat. Still, some might argue Vucevic had a better defensive season this year than last.
Thus, you see the problem. Perception and numbers do not quite meet reality.
Defense is more of an amorphous blob of five players working really well together. After all, Vince Carter was part of the best defensive team in the league with the Magic in 2010. Crazy, unexplainable things can happen.
Still, for a team the Magic’s age last year, it was a pretty good defensive team.