Piecing together preseason rotations


Kim Clement/USA TODAY

Preseason rotations are not an exact science. Each team and each game has different goals each time they step onto the floor. It is not like any team wants to play its star players 40 minutes per game in an effort to win the whole thing. That is not preparing anyone for the long haul of the season.

Piecing together a preseason rotation takes a recognition of how much to push veteran players and how much to tinker with lineups. It is an extension of practice really, except maybe not as intense as the training camp battles that go on behind closed doors.

All this time is a time for carving out roles and figuring out what combinations might work when the games begin to count

"I think it's definitely still a feeling out period," Jacque Vaughn said before last week's game against the Cavaliers. "I will treat each year and each team differently. And this year's team needs to get to know each other. We have some added pieces. So that needs to fit.

"And then I think you always get to a point where new roles get established. Maybe a guy has gotten better and his role expands. Maybe that affects another guy who had minutes last year. I think you take each year separately. We're still in the course of defining roles right now."

Vaughn's approach the first two preseason games was rather simple. He used a largely 10-man rotation subbing in and out five players at a time. With the trip to Dallas, Vaughn opted to rest his veteran players — Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Jason Maxiell. Wednesday's trip to Houston brought a change to the starting lineup with Andrew Nicholson replacing Kyle O'Quinn and Tobias Harris getting the night off (or maybe he had a nagging ankle injury).

Some of the rotations have been somewhat experimental in nature. Tobias Harris has played mostly small forward and off the bench in his three preseason appearances. Victor Oladipo is playing point guard. Kyle O'Quinn is playing a lot of power forward too. Harris has yet to play with the Magic's expected starters, rarely pairing up with Maurice Harkless, Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo this season.

Vaughn largely knows what these players can do together. He saw that last year. And with the vast number of permutations of matchups Vaughn has used in training camp, they have likely started playing together. Vaughn said early on in camp that he has not used the same team in any scrimmage and that he has tried to move guys around to break monotony and manipulate matchups.

The new lineups have also allowed players to experiment with their new skills in new combinations. Tobias Harris has made four of his 10 3-point attempts in three games this preseason. It is these moments that can affirm Vaughn's confidence in these new skills.

"I'm not a scientist," Vaughn said. "We will let guys expound their games for sure. I saw Drew work out and shoot threes throughout the course of the summer and put in work and put in work with his coaches and with the national team. He has earned the right to do that. If you have earned the right to dribble the basketball up the floor and take shots that you didn't take last year, obviously you've put in the work. We want guys to continue to get better and continue to push the limits of their game."

Vaughn said he has a set plan for preseason. He knows when he wants to give players days off and when he wants to change up the rotations. Now that we are at the halfway point of the preseason, the Magic's real rotations and lineups should begin to take shape.