Orlando Magic value the 3-pointer more, but still need to be smart with it

Orlando Magic guard Arron Afflalo (4) --The Orlando Magic hots the Atlanta Hawks at Amway Center, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017.The Magic won the game in overtime play 110-106. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Orlando Magic guard Arron Afflalo (4) --The Orlando Magic hots the Atlanta Hawks at Amway Center, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017.The Magic won the game in overtime play 110-106. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic have been slightly more judicious and much more efficient with their 3-point shot. Still, there is a balance the team needs to seek.

Coach Frank Vogel and the Orlando Magic were obsessed with changing the team this offseason. After finishing the year strong — or stronger — playing an up-tempo style, the Magic were going to modernize themselves and change their offensive outlook.

The Magic were going to push the pace and start becoming the modern pace-and-space team.

That undoubtedly meant more 3-pointers as a start. That may not have been so encouraging from a team that shot just 32.8 percent from beyond the arc (29th in the league). Entering this season, Orlando would not just have to be more judicious with their 3-pointers, they would have to be more efficient and effective with them.

Not much has changed with how the Magic distribute their 3-point shots. Last year, Orlando shot 32.8 3-pointers per game for the entire season, 29th in the league. This year, the team is shooting fewer 3-pointers at 30.1 3-pointers per game, but it is 12th in the league. However, they are doing so at a 36.7 percent clip, 14th in the league.

Orlando has become a bit smarter and judicious with its 3-point shooting, but the team is shooting better. Give credit to Nikola Vucevic for expanding his range and credit to Aaron Gordon for expanding his. Orlando has seen a return of efficiency from Evan Fournier and some of the team’s other shooters.

The 3-pointer has become a weapon for this team.

But as is always the case with running teams, there can be a tendency to get sucked into a 3-point shooting game. The Magic are just 2-11 when they shoot more than 30 3-pointers per game. Yes, when the Magic shoot more 3-pointers than their season average, they tend to lose.

There may not be a “magic” number to the amount of 3-point attempts the Magic need to take. More is obviously not better for the team in some respects. And 30 seems like a fair dividing line as far as attempts go.

But when asked about the team’s 3-point balance, Vogel says it is the quality of 3-pointers they take.

"“I think it’s about quality more than a number,” Vogel said last week. “41 the other night [against the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis on Nov. 27] that’s a big number. I would find it hard to believe we took 41 good threes. We have to be smart about it. It is something we have talked about. We’re just trying to focus on the type of 3s we take.”"

Vogel and the players have taken to saying when they are open they are confident to shoot. And the team wants players to shoot in those situations.

The approach to 3-pointers has changed dramatically around the league. The Magic have decreased their 3-point attempts per game, but they are up generally around the league. Or at least it feels that way.

Teams are using the 3-pointer as a weapon more than ever before. It is a combination of the growth of analytic thinking, a focus on efficiency and some imitation of the Golden State Warriors and their devastating 3-point attack.

Orlando clearly has a balance somewhere in 3-point shooting. But for them, it is really about the quality of their shots.

Of the Magic’s 844 3-point attempts so far this season, 752 have come while the shooter is “open” or “wide open” according to NBA.com’s Player Tracking statistics. That means the Magic are shooting these 3-pointers with no defender within four feet of them. Nearly 90 percent of the Magic’s threes are, at least by this measure, good shots.

Those are the kind of shots an offense works for. The kind that opens up because of good quick passing or kick outs when the defense is sucked in.

Compare that to last year when the Magic shot 1,770 of their 2,139 3-point attempts with few defenders around them — 82.7 percent. They also shot those 3-pointers at a much lower clip, making 38.6 percent of open 3-pointers this year compared to 33.3 percent last year.

Orlando is not only getting more of their 3-point attempts from open shots, but they are also making them at a higher clip. That would certainly explain their success.

In fact, the Magic have taken 31 percent of their total shots this year on these open 3-pointers compared to 24.8 percent last year. Again, Orlando’s offense is working better and getting these open shots is a direct byproduct of this. The Magic have relied heavily on their passing and most of these 3-pointers are assists — 87.1 percent of the Magic’s 3-point field goals are assisted.

Vogel also said he worried about when the team took 3-pointers. A semi-contested 3-pointer early in the shot clock is an OK shot, but probably not the best shot. The same shot later in the shot clock might be more acceptable.

"“Really it’s about being guarded, the type of rhythm it is and what point of the clock it is,” Vogel said. “A semi-contested catch-and-shoot 3 with seven seconds left is a good shot. A semi-contested catch-and-shoot 3 with 20 seconds on the clock is not a good shot. Guarded 3s are not good early in the clock.”"

NBA.com Player Tracking data will not give us the specifics of catch-and-shoot 3-pointers early or late in the shot clock. That data likely remain hidden behind Synergy paywalls or with the teams themselves.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

But Orlando has taken most of its 3-pointers this year in the 7-15 second range of the shot clock. That is not too early and not too late. Shooting percentages decrease dramatically later in the shot clock — the Magic are shooting 19 for 78 (24.4 percent) from beyond the arc in the final four seconds of the shot clock.

Orlando is making 38.0 percent from beyond the arc in that 7-15 second range. And an impressive 42.0 percent on 3-pointers with 18-22 seconds left. Assumedly those are the 3-pointers in transition when the team can get open shots.

The majority of those makes are probably really good shots. The majority of those misses probably are not.

Still, that does not quite quell any concerns about the Magic’s 3-point shooting. When the Magic are taking too many 3-pointers, it sometimes takes away from other important parts of the team’s game and gameplan. It becomes easier to settle for these shots and disrupt rhythm elsewhere in the offense.

But the Magic know they have to balance their attacking to get better 3-point shots.

"“It’s tough to say [whether there is an ideal number of 3s],” Elfrid Payton said last week. “We talked about it today. Every game is kind of different. We have to do a better job getting to the free throw line as a team. But if you are open, get them up.”"

Take that 41 3-point attempt game against the Pacers. The team got to the foul line for 16 free throw attempts. But in that game too, the Magic took 37 of those 41 3-point attempts as open or wide open. They simply missed those shots — shooting 16 for 37.

Orlando can let them fly. And the team can get good shots. It is about balancing it with everything else — and adding the defensive part to it too.

There may not be an ideal number of 3-pointers. The team should have the confidence to shoot. The numbers support that. But there is a better way to get those 3-pointers.

Next: OMD Facebook Live: On Injuries and the Nikola Vucevic contradiction

And Orlando has to be sure the quality of its looks remain good.