Orlando Magic dig into the details as training camp opens

Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford during a news conference at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, June 22, 2018. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford during a news conference at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, June 22, 2018. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images) /

Steve Clifford held his first practice for the Orlando Magic and implemented a detail-oriented practice where the team was expected to pick things up fast.

Coach Steve Clifford believes in scrimmaging heavily during the first day of training camp. He said the team would likely go for about 2.5 quarters live on that first day after working through drills and installing some basic sets and principles.

His philosophy there is to make sure the team gets those basic sets in but then to get them hammered in through practice. An early scrimmage is also a good way to keep the players engaged and get the jitters out. It is a good way to see just how well players understand those concepts as they put them into force in live action.

Clifford said scrimmaging was the best way to get the intensity of camp up and get the competitive juices flowing.

The team had its introduction and began implementing and installing its offense and defense. But they also got out and ran on the court going through the conditioning that comes from a full-on scrimmage.

It was rough (at least the part the media was allowed to watch), as most scrimmages are the first day. Everyone’s timing is off. There were a few crystallized moments like when Jonathan Isaac took a pass from Aaron Gordon and finished around Mohamed Bamba. Or when Jonathon Simmons drove the lane and lay it up with ease. There were plenty of moments of sloppy play. But that is all to be expected.

The first practice is just a step in the process. And the first time the team can begin tracking down the details it will need to succeed this season.

"“You start from ground zero every year and you have to build a foundation,” Clifford said. “These guys have been working hard. They have to get into rhythm with practice and stuff. Obviously, to me, listening, studying when you are not here, that’s the quickest way to become experts in what we’re doing.”"

Clifford said the Orlando Magic coaching staff did not do a lot of teaching. There is less stuff in earlier, but the strategy is meant to get the team out and playing. It is a process the players at his previous stops — the scrimmaging is a Stan Van Gundy practice too — have always enjoyed.

But there are still important parts of the process. With so little installed, there is an expectation that what they have installed will be down relatively pat. It is this learning and this process that is the real focus of the first day of camp. Clifford wants his team to pay attention to and master each step along the way.

And do so quickly.

Several Magic players pointed out that a key trait of a Clifford practice was his attention to detail and his insistence on players getting all the little things right in a drill.

Clifford is the kind of coach who wants to say things once and have players understand and implement the concepts quickly.

"“It’s intense. It’s really attentive,” Jonathan Isaac said of a Steve Clifford practice. “More attentive than I have ever practiced. Moreso attention to detail than players paying attention but with coach nitpicking every little thing.  And even though it seems like a little thing, he believes — and it’s true — it will nip us in the bud later.”"

Nikola Vucevic said he liked how direct Clifford was throughout the practice and his work with him. That when a mistake is made, he will point it out and discuss it with the player at the moment to correct the problem early.

There is still clearly a lot of work to do as any team would likely say after the first practice on teh first day. More correction and instruction will come witht he non-contact drills the team will run throughout the second practice later Tuesday.

But Clifford said overall the team’s intensity was good. He thought they worked hard and that this was a good start to the build.

What the Magic showed in their scrimmage is not a reflection of what they will become. Evan Fournier described some of the play as sloppy. But that is obvious for the first day of camp with all the jitters and excitement.

Players understand how important the work they are putting in over the next few weeks will be as they prepare for the season to begin.

There is clearly pressure to perform and get everything down right. Evan Fournier said the team needs a good training camp. He said Clifford’s teaching techniques are unlike anything he has seen through the many coaches he has worked with so far. In a good way though.

Evan Fournier again compared Steve Clifford’s style to Scott Skiles, who led the team to a 35-win season in 2016. But it is still different from that too.

The expectation remains the same. Getting those defensive concepts and techniques will be vital to the team’s ultimate success.

"“The expectations are to do your job,” Fournier said. “That’s probably what we keep talking about. Things are clear. For example on a close out, you should close out this way with your leg this way and your hand has to be this way. If you don’t do that, it’s on you. You should always do your thing, always know what you have to do and if you do it, we’ll be all right. If you don’t, that’s where we have a problem. The message is very clear.”"

And that is probably the most important takeaway from the first day of practice.

The team got its fun in and got its work in with scrimmaging. They installed some basic sets and principles on both ends. But the important message is to pay attention to every little bit of the drill and execute it well.

If that is the foundation the team can lay down in the first few days of practice that this is the standard of play. Then the Magic should find some success this season.

dark. Next. The 5 biggest questions facing the Orlando Magic this training camp

But there is still a lot of work to put in and a long way to go as the Magic begin their 2019 season.