The Power of the Assist on Magic 3-Pointers


The last two nights, Orlando’s offense appeared to come alive in a way it has not in quite some time. In a real long time, actually. As I pointed out last night, all five starters scored in double figures for the Magic for the first time since Jan. 22 in Houston and the team got an assist on 71.4 percent of its field goals. Some pretty incredible numbers.

The Magic are not associated with assists and good passing. The team is associated with 3-point shooting and Dwight Howard. But you don’t get those two things without good passing. The hallmark for Orlando in the Stan Van Gundy era has been crisp passing and making the extra pass to find a more open shooter.

It has never resulted in gaudy assist numbers and I suppose a better facilitator or distributor would make the team better on the offensive end, but this team has always been built on the passing of the team as a whole, not just from the point guard (which is the traditional belief). To that argument, Jameer Nelson is averaging a career-best 6.4 assists per game.

As a team, Orlando dishes out 20.1 assists per game, placing them 24th in the league. The Magic assist on 55.1 percent of their shots. Last year, the Magic averaged 19.7 assists per game and assisted on 53.7 percent of field goals. In 2009, Orlando had 19.4 assists per game and 54.4 percent.

You can see this year the Magic have relied on assisted scoring more than in the last two years. That is both a good thing and a problem. This team’s struggles to move the ball these last few weeks have led to the inconsistencies on offense. And it is clear to see why.

It gets even clearer when you look at Orlando’s shooting numbers even closer.

According to HoopData, all 10 of Orlando’s 3-pointers last night came off of assists. That trend is consistent throughout this entire season. Nearly all of Orlando’s 3-point makes came off of assists. It was the same before and after the trades.

In fact, Orlando has had only nine games with three or more 3-point makes without an assist and just three games with four 3-point makes without an assist this season. Orlando gets an assist on 83.2 percent of 3-point makes since the trades. To me that just feels astounding, especially considering all the random pull-up 3-pointers the Magic seem so willing to take.

Now, the numbers do not include 3-point misses that would have otherwise been counted as an assist or even calculate the attempts that would not. It also would not include how many passes it took to get to a 3-point make — I would imagine there are some one-pass makes and I would imagine there are some four- or five-pass makes.

Ball movement is so crucial to this offense for it to operate correctly. There is no doubt Orlando shoots the 3-pointer better when the ball works its way inside-out and then around the perimeter.

Stan Van Gundy has always given his shooters the green light to shoot whenever they get a clean look. It is an important confidence-booster for a team so reliant on 3-pointers falling. But this is a number he might want to stress more. It is not about volume of 3-point shots, but the quality of them. The best looks come from ball movement and sharing the ball.

To get the kind of ball movement that gets open threes, it means doing all the things we want the Magic to do — getting the ball to Dwight Howard and attacking the paint.

This still comes down to making shots. But making shots gets a lot easier when a defender is trying to run back to his man after a good ball reversal than a one-pass catch and shoot.