To finish without Dwight


The Magic have dealt with injuries throughout the latter part of this season. It has claimed the team’s biggest star and linchpin both offensively and defensively. It has claimed bit players and sapped the Magic of its depth.

This is the team Orlando has heading into the playoffs. Jameer Nelson, Quentin Richardson, Earl Clark have all been claimed to day-to-day injuries. Hedo Turkoglu is set to return from a facial fracture. And we still do not know the status of Glen Davis and his freshly sprained ankle.

Orlando indeed has only what it has when it heads to Indianapolis this weekend to start the Playoffs. Hopefully the Magic can find hotel rooms this time.

Defeating the Pacers is going to be a tall, tall task. Emphasis on tall. When Stan Van Gundy was asked to give his first thoughts on the matchup, Van Gundy immediately pointed out their size compared to Orlando’s. Dealing with the long-armed Roy Hibbert and Paul George and the bulky David West all in the starting lineup will be a big challenge for the Magic.

Especially on the offensive end.

Orlando runs a 1-in, 4-out system that looks to spread the floor around one post player — Dwight Howard. When Howard is out of the game, the Magic lack many of the drivers, penetrators and scorers. This shortcoming has been even more present with Howard out of the lineup. The Magic have had to survive on the hope that 3-pointers fall and the ability to get into the paint.

Without Dwight Howard to draw double teams, Orlando has to get the defense to shift and rotate to free up jump shooters. The Magic have devolved into shooting really two types of shots: 3-pointers and shots at the rim.

In the last nine games (excluding the finale in Memphis), of which Orlando is 4-5, the Magic have averaged 29.0 3-point field gaol attempts per game. On the season, the team averages 27.1. This is not a significant increase, but the team’s shooting percentage is below average in that time. The Magic are shooting 36.4 percent from beyond the arc. Their season average is 37.7. A lower percentage on more makes, and it shows the Magic are not hitting 3-pointers at any better rates.

Perhaps, the issue then is not the 3-pointers the team is getting, but the variety of shots the team is taking and its ability to get to and finish around the basket.

In those same nine games, Orlando is averaging 26.8 shots per game at the rim according to HoopData and making 60.6 percent of them. The Magic as a team are shooting 63.8 percent on shots at the rim according to Basketball-Reference and 60.5 percent at the rim if you take out Dwight Howard, who accounts for 26.3 percent of the team’s attempts at the rim.

There seems not to be much difference in the Magic’s ability to get to the basket… there just seems to be a lot less of it because Howard is not there. Replacing 20 points per game, with most of it right around the rim, is not easy. So the Magic have to continue making a concerted effort to get to the basket to replace this production. Finishing around the rim will be even more important.

These are supposed to be high-percentage shots and you would like to see the numbers closer to where they were without Howard or even higher.

How does the average number of shots at the rim in the last 10 games (excluding Memphis) compare to the rest of the season. Orlando is averaging 26.8 shots per game at the rim. On the year, the Magic average 21.6 shots at the rim per game. It would seem that the Magic are attacking the rim more and trying to get more of these shots. They are just hitting a lower percentage of these shots.

And the spread between 3-pointers and shots at the rim with every other kind of shot and free throws the team takes.

The Magic are averaging 9.4 shots per game from 3-9 feet and are shooting 34.1 percent on such shots. That is not the field goal percentage you would expect from a shot so close to the basket.

It seems that during this latter part of the season, it has been rim or bust in forays inside the 3-point line. Those trips to the rim need to be productive then.

In Orlando’s four wins in the final 10 games of the regular season, the Magic averaged a free throw rate of 24.4. In losses (excluding Memphis again), Orlando had an average free throw rate of 20.4. Orlando’s season average has been around 30, and dipped under 30 when Dwight Howard got hurt.

Obviously, the Magic have to balance their 3-point shooting with an ability to get to the basket in this series against the Pacers. They have to convert at a higher rate around the basket to force the defense to pack in and open up shots from the outside. And they have to get to the free throw line and make attacks to the basket productive.

These are pretty strong tenets of the Magic’s offensive system already. It is just lacking that linchpin to get those easy shots and free throws in Dwight Howard. It needs someone to create and put pressure on the defense to rotate and react.

That will undoubtedly be the key to the series and the question for the Magic to answer.