Orlando Magic 2017 Season Review: What Went Right — Going small

Apr 8, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) takes a shot in the second half as Indiana Pacers forward Thaddeus Young (21) defends at Amway Center. The Pacers won 127-112. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) takes a shot in the second half as Indiana Pacers forward Thaddeus Young (21) defends at Amway Center. The Pacers won 127-112. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic spent the whole season searching for an identity. The end of the season found the hints of one as the team finally embraced going small.

When the Orlando Magic came into training camp this year, they fully admitted they were going against the strain in the modern NBA. While the league was downsizing and using traditional small forwards at power forward and trying to emphasize 3-point shooting, the Magic went big. They brought in a more traditional power forward in Serge Ibaka and signed Bismack Biyombo.

The team was going to play big, hoping Serge Ibaka’s perimeter versatility would be able to counteract the increasingly mobile lineups the NBA featured.

It is safe to say much of the Magic’s season was spent seeking an identity on both ends of the floor. Before the season, Orlando believed it could do that with a strong defensive lineup creating fast breaks through stops.

The defense never came, and neither did the fast breaks. It was not until the Magic went small after the All-Star Break they began to see the shift they wanted. It was at this point a clearer identity took hold. The Magic began playing the kind of offense they said all year they wanted to play.

If there was one positive to take from this season, it was the Magic seemed to find a style that would work for them to end the year. At least something it seems like the team can build around.

With that settled, perhaps coach Frank Vogel can build a stronger defensive scheme around it. And with that style in mind, a new general manager can find players who fit it better.

It was clear what the added space did for the Magic.

Before the All-Star Break, the Magic had a 100.5 offensive rating before the All-Star Break, playing at a 98.4 pace, 19th in the league. The Magic scored 13.3 fast-break points per game, 15th in the league.

The offense was stuck in the mud and the team was unable to get transition. Partly this was because they struggled to get stops. But, as the team learned after the break, that is not necessary to a more efficient, spaced-out offense.

After the All-Star Break, the team had a 102.9 offensive rating, still in the bottom 10 in the league, but ranked better than beforehand. Orlando played at a 100.8 pace, ninth in the league. The energy level clearly picked up. The Magic scored 16.0 fast-break points per game, seventh in the league.

The offense still had its struggles. But shedding the size with Serge Ibaka and adding the shooting and athleticism from Terrence Ross had a demonstrable effect for the Magic. It clearly made the team more effective. It had the Magic playing the style of play they always wanted to play.

This appears to be a style the Magic can build for long term.

As noted earlier on this site, Elfrid Payton seemed like the biggest beneficiary of this increased pace and space.

Elfrid Payton averaged 13.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game after the All-Star Break. The Magic entrusted him with the ball and let him run things, taking the space defenses gave him and getting all the way to the basket. Payton became a much better decision maker on offense and started taking almost all of his shots near the basket. His jump shots decreased dramatically.

Having a point guard playing at that high a level unlocked the rest of the offense. Add some shooters — whether it be improved shooting from Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon or looking for it outside the roster — and it felt like Orlando had a potent offense for a change.

It is unclear whether the Magic will bring Payton back. But it was a good suggestion the Magic can play some stellar offense and put up killer numbers in this system with even a replacement-level point guard. Just imagine if they had one who could hit a jumper.

Orlando spent all year searching for an identity. It seems they have found one that can work — and, more importantly, can emphasize the players on their roster.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The results were relatively meager in the end — the team’s 8-16 record projects to 27 wins over the course of an 82-game season. But with a full training camp and a summer to plan offensive and defensive schemes, the team should see improvement with some of the seeds laid at the end of the season.

The Magic’s original idea did not work. They had to adjust and found some limited success. Something to explore further.

This was the style everyone seemed to be calling for all year. Moving Aaron Gordon to the 4 would ensure Elfrid Payton had the space to attack and create for others. The lane before the All-Star Break was simply too congested.

The Magic overthought things it seemed at the beginning of the season. There is a way to zig while everyone else zags in this NBA. The way the Magic did was not one of them. Not without more shooting to keep the floor properly spaced.

Orlando found that even adding one more perimeter shooter in Terrence Ross greatly freed things up for their offense. Whoever the next general manager is will surely take this lesson and value perimeter shooting to keep the lane clear for the point guard to attack and for Gordon to hover around the basket.

At the very least, the Magic found a style they can buy into and build around on offense. From there, the team can figure out how to build its defense.

Next: The Orlando Magic need to continue embracing small ball

As the Magic learned throughout this year, identity is a fickle thing. It is difficult to grab hold of when it arrives. At the very least, Orlando had the hints of something offensively that can work. That is worth noting in a bleak season.