Frank Vogel cannot bring all of the Indiana Pacers to Orlando

Oct 14, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) drives to the basket as Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) defends during the second half at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the Indiana Pacers 114-106. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 14, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) drives to the basket as Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) defends during the second half at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the Indiana Pacers 114-106. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Frank Vogel has often referenced his time with the Indiana Pacers in talking about who the Orlando Magic should be. What elements should he bring over?

During his six years as head coach of the Indiana Pacers, Frank Vogel recorded a 250-181 record, taking the team to two Central Division titles and to the Eastern Conference Finals twice.

He did so by imposing a strong brand of defensive-focused basketball on a young roster. Before blending in a bunch of wily veterans who helped take them to the next level.

Were it not for the LeBron James-led Miami Heat – who thwarted Indiana’s hopes of making the Finals in successive years (2013 and 2014) – Vogel may have taken his team all the way to a NBA title.

It is then perhaps no coincidence that since Vogel arrived in Orlando this offseason, the Orlando Magic have made a handful of high-profile acquisitions that have them, on the surface at least, looking a lot like the Indiana team he was managing back at the beginning of the decade.

That team relied heavily on the defensive influence of big men David West and Roy Hibbert, who had just about enough size to keep anyone out of the paint. Add to that the two-way talents of a developing Paul George, the mercurial Lance Stephenson and the savvy George Hill and you have got a perennial contender.

Of course, that team’s defense-first approach proved effective. But it only took them so far.

Miami was already playing a brand of small-ball that saw Chris Bosh thrive at the five spot, stepping out to the three point line to make life tough for opposing bigs. And while the West-Hibbert front court combination deterred a lot of teams, Miami’s versatility (which relied on James’ ability to play at the 3 and the 4) often undid the Pacers from the inside out.

Just looking at the numbers from those conference finals matchups gives you a sense of how different the two teams were. While Indiana recorded an offensive rebound percentage of 26.1 compared to Miami’s 20.4. The Heat recorded an offensive rating of 118 to the Pacers’s 110.2, ultimately outscoring Frank Vogel’s team by 98.5 points to 92 per game.

Still, it is not all that surprising. Even in 2014, Vogel and Indiana were playing an old-fashioned style of basketball that harked back to the late 90s/early 00s.

And despite recent acquisitions, Vogel seems to have realized the importance of small ball. Recently he told Nate Taylor of the Indy Star:

"“You have to play this way if you’re going to keep up with the other offenses in this league. It’s a more entertaining and fun style of play. We’re definitely going to spread the floor, shoot more 3s and use our athleticism to run.”"

This is good news for us Magic fans. The additions of Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo seemed at first to allude to an old-school approach more fitting of, say, the Patrick Ewing-era New York Knicks than any modern day ball club. But if preseason has taught us anything it is that Biyombo will likely come off the bench, while Ibaka and Nikola Vucevic seem certain to get the nod to fulfill starters’ roles.

This of course means Aaron Gordon will most likely end up playing a lot of his minutes at the 3, despite being way more productive at the 4 last year.

The beauty of this set up is the Magic should be able to load the group on the floor with versatile guards/forwards like Mario Hezonja, Jodie Meeks, Jeff Green and C.J. Wilcox should it be necessary to up the tempo and spread the floor.

The key here though is Gordon, who like Paul George on those Pacers teams of old, will be the piece around which the team pivots, depending on whether it needs to emphasize defense or offense.

Believe it or not, Vogel did occasionally take a similar approach in Indiana, especially in 2014, when he had similarly versatile players like Stephenson, Danny Granger, Solomon Hill and Evan Turner to help him mix it up.

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While all this seems quite positive, it is also important to remember these approaches do not perfectly match the Magic’s roster.

For instance, the defense-heavy approach will only serve to highlight Orlando’s lack of offensive ability, putting lots of pressure on guys like Vucevic and Evan Fournier to put up points. The Magic will need Ibaka to recover his touch on offense while Elfrid Payton and Gordon take huge leaps forward on that end of the floor. But if they fail, this could cause the kind of points disparity that even top rate defense can do little about.

The other flaw relates to the team’s lack of shooting, as a small-ball approach is almost entirely reliant upon shooting.

While Payton has the speed and the distribution skills necessary to facilitate the kind of fast-paced offense the team will need at times, there is a concern that with Evan Fournier, Gordon, Ibaka and Vucevic around him there will not be much in the way of perimeter offense. That is of course where the shooting of Hezonja, Meeks, Wilcox, D.J. Augustin and C.J. Watson comes in.

There are some serious impediments and questions this Magic roster has to answer for this reason.

Ultimately, if Vogel can strike a balance between a defensive approach centered around his bigs and a more up-tempo, modern, small ball approach he might just ensure the Magic take a few steps forward this year. Of course, that might be what Larry Bird asked him to do last year and that had mixed success.

If Vogel gets the balance wrong though and goes too Indiana, he could simply end up taking them backwards.

Next: 10 predictions for the Orlando Magic season

Let the balancing act begin.