The Orlando Magic are still in position to make a playoff push if they can pull off a win streak. Shaping an elite defensive lineup will be the way to get there.
The Orlando Magic have lost three straight games and 14 of the last 17 games, including a nine-game losing streak. Orlando has gone 3-5 since the losing streak ended and 3-6 since switching Jonathon Simmons out of the lineup for Terrence Ross. As injuries have mounted, they have begun looking for answers to stop the bleeding.
Throughout the nine-game losing streak, the focus went squarely on the defense. Since November 1, the Magic have a 110.1 defensive rating, the 29th best mark in the league. Orlando has fallen to 23rd in the league overall, giving up 107.6 points per 100 possessions.
Orlando needs to get healthy right now. But defense is clearly the weakness to this team. And for the Magic to make the Playoff run they hope to make, they may have to do something drastic.
The Magic have one option on the table — to go defensive with their starting lineup.
They can start five guys with few defensive liabilities on the court. That particular team may not be able to score with all the teams in the NBA. But the Magic could transform into a team that can potentially defend any team. And that will always give them a chance.
The Magic would like to be either a .500 basketball team or better by the end of December. To do so there may be some adjustments that need to be made in the starting lineup, aside from getting everyone healthy.
Those adjustments begin with tweaking the starting lineup in order to produce more defensive consistency. The current starting lineup — Elfrid Payton, Jonathon Simmons, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic posts a defensive rating of 120.0. Something is clearly not working.
Inserting defensive minded players like Bismack Biyombo and Jonathan Isaac into the lineup would help change the team’s outlook. Obviously, the team would not be able to fit all those pieces into the picture.
Putting Nikola Vucevic, Elfrid Payton and Terrence Ross to the bench is not the most popular move. But Frank Vogel owes it to Aaron Gordon to explore every option that this roster has to offer. If they are going to lose games with this particular starting lineup, it might as well be something that is invested in the Magic’s future.
It is also a move that would instantly make Orlando’s bench one of the best in the NBA when it comes to scoring. Even if the starters are not a better offensive bunch, they will be better defensively.
Evan Fournier is not a stranger when it comes to defense and can defend the small forward and shooting guard position at a high level. So Vogel can leave him in the starting lineup in place for Elfrid Payton if he chooses. Fournier can play off the ball better than Payton, and although neither one of them will be mentioned for the defensive player of the year honors, both of them are solid wing defenders.
Size, length, speed and athleticism are things the 2017 Magic missed in its starting lineup. It is something Bismack Biyombo, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Jonathon Simmons and Evan Fournier bring to the table. In order for this team to reach its defensive potential three people from the current starting lineup need to come off of the bench.
The Magic would not be able to start all five without a true point guard available. But there is a ton of defensive potential, at least in theory.
Vogel and the Magic flirted with this move in the preseason this year. In the third quarter of a Thursday night preseason game, Vogel decided to start Elfrid Payton, Johnathon Simmons, Johnathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon and Khem Birch at the beginning of the third quarter.
This move resulted in a stifling defense and a certain way to aggressively defend opponents late in games to pull out close wins. Instead of flirting, Vogel should commit to putting defense on the floor.
The last thing Magic fans deserve is to watch this year’s team lose games because there are not enough defensive-minded players on the court in crunch time. This roster is too deep with defensive talent to give up easy layups and touch foul and-one opportunities.
There are a few lineups the Magic have tried that have put up encouraging defensive numbers.
The lineup of D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vuceivc has given up 99.6 points per 100 possessions in 72 minutes. They posted a +19.5 net rating. That is a lineup that has proven it can work so far this year. It may not have the defensive reputation of lineups with Simmons or Biyombo, but that lineup has worked.
If a particular lineup is working then by all mean stick with it. But you have to think about who the Magic was competing against as well.
If this is a lineup that can defend at a high level against some of the best offenses in the NBA then that is a plus. But you have to believe that if this lineup played well against some team below .500 or a team that cant score consistently then it does not really mean much.
The team has limited options when it comes to strong defensive lineups. Yet, it is the area where the Magic need to make the most improvement.
Playing a defensive-minded lineup would allow the Magic to play the positionless basketball Vogel consistently preaches about. A defensive-minded lineup would also allow the Magic to be able to switch more aggressively.
It might be enough to save the season.