Orlando Magic’s inconsistent offense swinging up to finish

Apr 1, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) shoots during the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 1, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) shoots during the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic have had one of the more inconsistent offenses in the NBA. Generally poor, the team is starting to score again, like it did in December.

In an instant the offense sparked to life.

A turnover here created a fast break opportunity for Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon. A hulking trio of boundless athleticism that can turn any transition opportunity into an instant highlight.

Against the Brooklyn Nets it was Payton dishing to Oladipo dishing to Gordon with a clear takeoff lane from the free throw line for a hair-raising dunk. It happened again Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies as Payton on one end threw an alley-oop to Gordon for a jam and then a wicked cross-court bounce pass to Oladipo.

This is part of how the Magic offense was always supposed to work — out in transition, feeding off the energy of its defense and fast. The fast break opportunities of late have led to half-court success too.

The ball is moving quickly around the perimeter, creating lanes for players to attack. The Magic offense for lack of a better phrasing or explanation is working right now — just as it did in December when the team was rolling.

“We’ve moved the ball pretty well,” coach Scott Skiles said. “We’ve stepped up and made shots. Those things [injuries, schedule] play into it all year long. During the whole year, one night you’re playing someone that is injured, the next night you are playing a team on a back to back. It’s just the whole consistency thing. We had a nice stretch in December where we appeared to be becoming a good offensive team. It’s very difficult to be an upper level offensive team and not get to the foul line as much.”

The Magic’s offense has been an inconsistent lesson throughout the year.

In October and November, the Magic posted a 100.7 offensive rating, good for 19th in the league. The Magic were buoyed at that time by a strong defense.

In the two periods the Magic have arguably played their best basketball, the Magic were scoring among the very best teams in the league. The defense has been inconsistent for most of the season, but the Magic truly have seen their best play when the offense is rolling.

The chart below shows the four factors for various stages of the season so far. And consistency is indeed a major issue for the Magic.

Time Period (Games)PaceOff. Rtg. (Rank)eFG%O.Reb.%TO%FTR
Season Average98.1102.5 (22)49.923.414.323.0
Oct. & Nov. (17)98.5100.7 (19)
December (15)95.3104.9 (7)52.522.314.9 20.8
Jan. & Feb. (26)97.6100.6 (26)49.022.514.623.1
March 1-28 (15)100.4101.2 (25)48.522.813.025.3
March 29-April 4 (4)101.6117.8 (1)59.222.312.921.8

That shows a lot of the inconsistency in simply scoring — aside from pace, offensive rating and effective field goal percentage, the other four factors for the Magic have hovered around their season average without the fluctuations of offensive rating.

This recent stretch is a perfect example of that.

While the recent stretch is a small sample size, the Magic have the best offensive rating in the league in the past week of games (four games for the Magic). It is perhaps no coincidence then that the Magic have won four of the past five games, largely in shootout fashion too.

It is a product of the team moving the ball well and, quite simply, making shots.

“Our pace is up a lot,” Elfrid Payton said. “Everybody is getting into the act. We’re getting a lot of balanced scoring for the most part. The ball is moving. We are just getting up and down a little bit more.”

The Magic have increased their pace some. But more they have increased their effectiveness running and made it a bigger part of their attack.

Orlando has been one of the top teams in the league scoring 16.4 percent of its points in fast breaks in the last four games during this offensive revival. That is well up from the 11.9 percent for the season.

The Magic do not necessarily need to play at a fast pace, but they do need to use their athleticism to get out in transition. That usually starts with the defense getting stops or forcing turnovers to create those opportunities.

Scott Skiles has talked all season about playing with pace both in transition and within the half court throughout the season. That has been a big reason for the team playing better. There is a different energy and speed to the way they play.

“I think we are getting a lot of simple buckets in transition and finding the open man and getting good looks and guys are getting open shots,” Victor Oladipo said. “We’re just hitting shots at a high level. We just have to keep moving the ball, keep defending and letting our defense create for our offense.”

How long this offensive revival will last is another question entirely. Maybe it does go to the end of the season — there are only six games left after all. Or maybe it is a flash in the pan like it was the last time for the Magic.

Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic, Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings
Mar 11, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo (5) controls the basketball against Sacramento Kings guard Darren Collison (7) in the first quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports /

Orlando still has some underlying issues that it has to correct or resolve. The team still struggles to get to the free throw line and that has not changed even when the offense plays well.

Skiles said that can contribute to an inconsistent offense because there is so much pressure then to make jump shots. Droughts or times when the team is struggling to create points get worse without the driving ability to draw fouls and get to the line.

There is still a bit of a keep your eye on the long-term goal mentality going on too. Like it is for any team that aspires to do anything, there is a bit of a process over results going on.

“We’ve had some games where we haven’t executed particularly well, but made shots that night and our offense looks great,” Skiles said. “And we have had other games where we executed pretty well and have not been able to make shots. We’re more focused on the actual execution: Is our spacing right? Are we actually setting screens? Are we getting into our stuff with speed? Are we feeding the post correctly? All the little things that go into a good offensive team. Generally if you are doing those, you may have a night where the ball isn’t going in, but generally you are going to be a good offensive team.”

Right now, the Magic are doing a lot of those things.

The defense is creating the offense in many ways and the team is clicking into focus when it actually has to, responding to runs. It is a part of the offense that goes uncaught by statistics.

The Magic are rolling right now on offense. There have certainly been hiccups throughout the year. Some expected, some unexpected.

But, at the same time, the question has to be asked where was this kind of flow and rhythm throughout the season? It will be one of the vexing questions for the offseason.

Next: The curious case of Dewayne Dedmon

“One thing we’re going to have to get figured out is how we can get more consistent,” Skiles said. Not that we expect such a young team to be in the top five in offensive efficiency or anything but if we have shown certain times we can do it and other times we don’t, we’ve got to get that figured out.”