Building off last year
The Magic looked different after the Serge Ibaka trade. The results were similar, but there were signs of life.
Allowing Aaron Gordon to play his natural power forward position paid dividends for his offensive production. Elfrid Payton turned into a rebounding machine. The ball was popping and in the last 15 games, the Magic played at one of the highest paces in the league.
It looked like good basketball. Like how all teams, not just the Magic, should play.
But for all their aesthetic improvements, their offense was only marginally better and their defense worse. At power forward, Aaron Gordon was less at liberty to step out and defend perimeter players. As Elfrid Payton cranked out triple-doubles, the team still had rebounding problems. The frontcourt rotation remained problematic.
A full season in this style, more experience and some added personnel might transform aesthetics into results. Terrence Ross will have had a full offseason to acclimate. Gordon and Payton are a year older and will have a chance to build on their production. Giving the rest of the team more reason to buy in to a specific style of play will also bear fruit.
When Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic got the ball last year, it tended to stick rather than continue moving for good shots. That can happen in a losing environment. When there is nothing to play for, some players become more concerned with getting theirs than helping the team.
Looking at a fresh slate of 82 games with a similar crew might get more out of every man on the roster. But Occam’s Razor would tell us that making too many assumptions about Fournier and Vucevic could lead us into dangerous territory.
The Magic will be better served simply hoping for Gordon and Payton to continue developing. That alone will be impactful.
When Payton started rebounding, the Magic’s overall rebounding numbers did not significantly improve. Whether it was a conscious effort or not, some of his teammates deferred to him on the glass. Some of the rebounds he grabbed were not highly contested and would have been grabbed by the Magic anyways.
That in no way discredits the numbers he put up. In fact, it speaks volumes. Similar to Russell Westbrook’s impact for the Oklahoma City Thunder, the real impact of his triple doubles was not necessarily in making the Magic better on the glass, but in pushing the pace. And his teammates seemed to recognize that.
When a speedy point guard rebounds, it gets the fast break going early. Plus, having the ball in the hand of one of the team’s better passers can get more out of transition opportunities. Having Aaron Gordon, Terrence Ross, Jonathon Simmons, and Jonathan Isaac sprinting down court and finishing at the other end will only make his job easier.
Emphasizing ball movement and transition for a full season with young players continuing to naturally develop will not solve the team’s defensive issues. But it will help the offense keep improving. That style is naturally contagious when a team buys into a common goal because everyone knows they will be rewarded for passing and cutting. Plus, that is how coach Frank Vogel wanted to play to begin with. Now he has a roster more suited to do so.
These factors alone – internal improvement within a distinct style – will help the Magic win a few more games.