The Orlando Magic summer is essentially over. With most of the roster returning, Orlando is hoping to build off how they ended last year going small.
The Orlando Magic’s decision to trade Serge Ibaka at the trade deadline was necessary to preserve an asset, but it was also something of an admission of failure. By Feb. 14, the Magic’s season was pretty much over. The team had fallen out of the Playoff race and had little to play for.
The Magic and coach Frank Vogel’s plan to go with two bigs as the primary lineup last season fell extremely flat. Orlando had a mismatched roster with little shooting and poor spacing. Without a strong creator to create room with congested floor, the Magic’s offense floundered.
It was one of the worst offenses in the league. Orlando had a 100.5 offensive rating, the second worst in the league, and a 49.0 percent effective field goal percentage, the third worst in the league. The Magic had a bad offense with little movement or success on that end.
The team needed to refresh itself after the All-Star Break. Trading Serge Ibaka for Terrence Ross did that. It moved Aaron Gordon back to power forward, where he was far more successful (just ask Evan Fournier) and created more space for the Magic to attack.
Orlando may have new leadership in the front office and, perhaps, a new approach to acquiring players, but it would seem Vogel is ready to commit to playing this style of offense.
The way the Magic played toward the end of the season provided some hope for the season.
Given the team made few changes to the roster and Vogel’s defensive background, there is at least some confidence a full training camp will push the team to a better place, drawing out the positives to end the season over the negatives.
"“I think we had some bright spots in the second half of the season,” Vogel told Orlando Magic Daily after the season. “We had some missteps as well. We definitely saw some development in our young guys. The adjustments that we made midseason paid some dividends. We saw some success. And that’s without a real training camp without implementing the nuances of that style of play. I think it definitely has a chance and something we want to explore.”"
The Magic’s young players indeed played much better. Aaron Gordon took to playing the 4 much more brilliantly, averaging 16.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. His field goal percentage shot up as he worked closer to the basket in his more natural position.
Elfrid Payton also took to this new style too. He recorded five triple-doubles and averaged 13.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game. Elfrid Payton enjoyed the extra space and the pace the Magic afforded him. His play at the end of the season may have dulled the need to find a point guard.
Overall, Orlando’s offense took a step forward. With more time and a focused plan, it did seem there was something to build on.
The Magic’s 48.7 percent effective field goal percentage was still third worst and worse than before the break, but the team scored 102.9 points per 100 possessions, up to 26th in the league. The team’s pace greatly increased from 98.4 possessions per 48 minutes, 19th in the league, to 100.8, ninth in the league after the break.
The difference was noticeable, even as the Magic had to learn and pick things up on the fly.
"“Things got a lot faster,” D.J. Augustin told Orlando Magic Daily after the season ended. “As you can see, we scored a lot more in transition, open threes. It was just a faster-paced game without the two bigs. It’s a lot more fun I think for guys like myself. Defensively you don’t have those two bigs down there a ton. But we can play better on our perimeter guys.”"
Record-wise, the Magic still had their struggles. They were 8-16 after the All-Star Break. But the team played noticeably better in many ways. The offense certainly functioned a lot better. It seemed to accentuate the skills for key players.
The team’s defensive issues — Orlando had a horrid 109.9 defensive rating after the All-Star Break, 26th in the league — were evident. The Magic’s perimeter players struggled especially with Gordon unable to switch off bigger 4s to defend the best perimeter player as often.
The Magic’s switch to a more versatile defensive scheme in the future will bode better for the team’s defensive ability and maybe spur a faster offense. It is here where Jonathan Isaac will fit better. Especially if the team can use his athleticism in transition after getting stops and if Jonathan Isaac can shoot 3-pointers effectively.
Everything takes time. And with the season ongoing after the All-Star Break, the Magic were picking up defensive schemes on the fly without the time to fine tune.
"“It was definitely not easy to change your style of play during the season without practice,” Evan Fournier told Orlando Magic Daily after the season ended. “We had no choice. Obviously, it is going to be a lot easier for us to play that way with a full training camp. At the end of the day, it’s still basketball. You still have to be able to make smart plays. It shouldn’t be that hard. It’s just creating habits. In my mind, it’s more defensively than offensively.”"
Even offensively, Orlando had its issues too.
The team was better offensively, but not significantly better. It was still a bottom-10 defense in the league. Payton on the HoopsHype Podcast earlier this summer pointed to the team’s need to add depth to support a strong starting group. The Magic have not had much room to address that with Jonathan Isaac and Shelvin Mack as the primary additions to the team.
Orlando is hoping some team continuity and a training camp to set the details and foundations for a defensive system will lead to ultimate team success.
Any hope for success this upcoming season comes from this hope of internal improvement and this playing style taking root.
While Vogel said he was for the Indiana Pacers moving to a more fast-paced style and he had limited success with it in that year before the team chose not to renew his contract, actually implementing it will remain a difficult question.
Undoubtedly, this style fits the Magic better. The team seems confident any struggles with it last year came from the lack of time to prepare and the sudden change the team underwent.
"“Just getting to learn that style, it takes time with those things,” Payton told Orlando Magic Daily after the season. “Obviously there are reps and getting those rep. Obviously, when you work on something throughout training camp, you have more time to do that. Getting reps in the new system and growing from there.”"
The Magic will have to learn that style and implement it fully. Judging by their roster, they will again be short on outside shooting. They added length on the wings over players who are particularly skilled on offense.
The margin for error offensively will remain slim, but the team seems better equipped now to widen it.
Orlando is betting once again in the short term the team can build a strong defense — using length and speed instead of size. And that defense will create transition opportunities. Orlando’s success will be dependent on them getting stops, creating transition and secondary break opportunities. The half-court offense will still be rough.
Going small and changing style helped the team build some hope to end the season. And gave a guidepost for next season.