Orlando Magic Season Review: What Went Wrong — Stuck in the middle

Nov 25, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo (5) shoots over New York Knicks forward Kyle O'Quinn (9) during the second half of a basketball game at Amway Center. The Magic won 100-91. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 25, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo (5) shoots over New York Knicks forward Kyle O'Quinn (9) during the second half of a basketball game at Amway Center. The Magic won 100-91. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic offense was better in 2016 than it was in 2015. Problems remained as the team fell in love with mid-range shots and a general inefficiency.

At the same point, it is both the Orlando Magic’s biggest strength and one of its greatest weaknesses. A play that happened all too often.

Elfrid Payton or Victor Oladipo or whoever would come across a screen from Nikola Vucevic. They would find the road blocked into the paint and throw the ball back to Vucevic popping into the open space. A fair and fine play. Vucevic is a solid mid-range shooter, it is one of his great advantages.

And, at the same time one of his greatest weaknesses.

The same could be said for much of the Orlando Magic too. Victor Oladipo is advertised as great driving to the basket, but he build much of his success late in the season on his mid-range jumper.

While he was driving to the basket, he too often would pull up and take the jumper, defaulting to that on several occasions. It was something that would occur again and again. The Magic, without many viable 3-point options and fewer players to get to the basket, were a mid-range jump shooting team. And, statistically that is a recipe for disaster for many teams offensively.

The Magic shot 14.8 field goal attempts per game from 15-19 feet, the fifth most in the league. They made just 42.5 percent of those attempts, the eighth best in the league. The Magic were a good mid-range shooting team, by all accounts.

In fact, the Magic were pretty much league average:

Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic’s basic shot chart from the 2015-16 season. Image courtesy of NBA.com. /

Perhaps that was the issue, the team was not strong going to the basket. Only a little more than one-third — 33.8 percent — of the Magic’s shots came within five feet. The Magic hit that mark. A little more than a quarter — 25.5 percent — of their shots came from beyond the arc, the league average obviously varies there.

It was not that the Magic were abnormal shooting mid-range jump shots. They were about league average both from a field goal percentage and a field goal distribution.

Settling for mid-range jumpers though became more prevalent because of the team’s personnel and because of the team’s poor ability to get to the foul line.

Free throw attempt rate is considered one of Dean Oliver‘s Four Factors. It is one of the key pace-neutral statistics used as a factor of who wins a game. The ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts is a symbol of aggression and conversion.

All year, yet again, the Magic were behind the count from the foul line. That made every mid-range jump shot — every field goal attempt really — all the more important. The Magic finished the year with a 23.2 percent free throw rate — the worst free throw rate in the entire league.

This puts an incredible amount of pressure on an offense that while improved was not an efficient offense. Every shot becomes more important because that is the only way the team can score.

Orlando was not an aggressive, attacking team. Or, better, they were not efficient with their attack. And that trickled through the roster and made the team ultimately inefficient offensively.

That lack of free throw shooting was seen in the Magic’s two best offensive options — Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo.

Vucevic is both a skilled and unique player because of his mid-range jump shooting but it is also one of his great weaknesses.

Vucevic took 491 mid-range field goal attempts last season — about 46.9 percent of his shots. Essentially, Vucevic was half post-ups and half mid-range jumpers. Last year, though, Vucevic took only 38.1 percent of his shots from mid-range according to NBA.com.

This year, he made 51.1 percent of his mid-range shots, so it was not like he was not efficient with them. Vucevic was an above-average shooter from this range.

His mid-range jump shooting though became more pronounced as the season went on. He took 47.3 percent of his shots from mid-range after the all-star break. A noticeable uptick from his full season numbers.

This is the kind of player Vucevic is. But it also showed when the Magic needed to find some offense late that Vucevic’s preference seemed to be to pop out for a mid-range jumper rather than go into the block. Not that when he went into the block that he would help create for others — he was a low-assist big man too.

Oladipo too got bit by the mid-range jumper bug. He took 273 mid-range field goal attempts, roughly 28.1 percent of his total attempts. He made 43.2 percent of these attempts. Hardly inefficient, that is slight better than the league average.

After the All-Star Break when Oladipo went on his offensive tear again, Oladipo took 33.3 percent of his field goal attempts from mid-range. More shots came from mid-range than at the rim after the All-Star Break.

Again, Oladipo made plenty of those looks — 43.9 percent. But he also took more of those shots than normal.

This is not to single out those two players. But they were the two leading scorers more often than not. Certainly the two players who were the temperature for the team.

The lack of aggression hurt the Magic in many respects. It led to poorer shot attempts, less efficiency and, in the end, probably a harder time to create offense. It was something that became a point of frustration.

Perhaps it is a sign of the ceiling this team is still trying to push through. That one bit of veteran know-how or realization they need to make collectively to get to the next stage of their development.

Getting to the foul line, getting to the basket, scoring efficiently. That is all out there for them to achieve. The mid-range jumper will be there for a bailout.

Instead, it became a primary weapon for the Magic throughout the season. And even if they are good at making mid-range jump shots, that means they are making only low-to-mid-40 percent of their shots. That is not the way to run an efficient offense at the end of the day.

The Magic were a better team. Their offense was better. It was ultimately held back though. The team did not take the leap it needed.

And several Magic players receded into their shell and their comfort zone rather than take that step forward.

Next: What Went Right: Evan Fournier's role

As pretty as it sometimes looked watching Oladipo pull up from the elbow or Vucevic pop on a pick and roll. It was sometimes too much of a good thing.