The Orlando Magic’s offense has cratered in the last few weeks as the team misses shots and struggles to work inside-out like it must to succeed.
The team started with the energy and intensity it needs with a few misses in the process. But soon the Bulls started to lock in and frustrate the Magic more.
The team would run its typical screen actions at the top of the key with Nikola Vucevic trying to direct traffic and hand the ball off to set up pick and rolls. But Chicago would switch the screens perfectly, cutting off drivers into the lane. With enough bigs and long wings to stymie Nikola Vucevic’s dive to the rims, the team was left floating to try to create something.
It would never happen. A few dribbles later and the team was hoisting a bad shot. Or trying to move the ball without making any attempts to penetrate the lane.
It is no surprise the Magic had one of their worst offensive games this year, shooting a season-low 32.6 percent from the floor and hoisting 33 3-point attempts (out of 86 total attempts). Orlando had only 24 points in the paint — on just 12 for 33 shooting.
It is not healthy to have as many 3-point attempts as attempts in the paint.
Coach Steve Clifford often says the key to the Magic’s offense is to work inside out. He values paint touches as a way to get the defense to collapse and free up shooters. When the team is not working inside out, the offense fails.
How the Magic get to the paint is, of course, more varied.
The team lacks the great creator and penetrator to break the defense down. They need a combination of pick and rolls to get players going downhill, post-ups and cuts to set up paint touches. This always requires the Magic to play at a high intensity and efficiency to be effective. The team’s margin for error on this end is small.
It is no surprise the Magic have one of the worst offenses in the league — now 27th in the league and hanging there for a long time now — and seemingly getting worse.
Why that is the case is the frustrating part. But quite simply, the Magic are not following their formula for success.
The Magic are 17th in the league in paint touches this year with 22.9 per game, according to Second Spectrum. The Magic score 85.4 percent of their points in the paint, 11th in the league. Despite this, they shoot 60.8 percent on these paint touches, 24th in the league.
Orlando struggles to pass out of these situations. When the Magic get in the paint, they rarely pass out of it with just 5.0 passes per game.
This is all to say when the Magic do get touches in the paint, they can put up a lot of points — and get up a fair amount of field goals — but they are not dishing out to shooters. Cut off the Magic’s paint attack and the offense will simply wither and die.
Against the Bulls? The Magic were able to get into the paint with 26.0 touches but their poor shooting at 45.5 percent hurt the team. A lot of that likely came from the offensive rebounds and putback misses the Magic had throughout the game.
The Magic had just six passes out of these paint touches and none of them really turned into points.
This is the kind of inside-out play the team was missing. Although it was hardly atypical.
For now, it seems the Magic’s success is tied to whether they can get shots in the paint and then ultimately make them. Whether they find success or not is completely dependent on this because the ball does not zip out of the paint nearly as much as it should for this team to be successful.
None of this is new. The Orlando Magic’s offense has been in a deep hole ever since losing a classic offensive showcase in overtime to the Denver Nuggets.
Since that game on Dec. 5, the Magic have a league-worst 91.7 offensive rating. That is getting to near historically bad levels. Especially in the modern NBA where no one is scoring less than a point per possession. It is nearly 12 points per 100 possession than the team’s season average.
In that time, the Magic were still able to get 22.0 paint touches per game, but the team’s field goal percentage dropped to a league-worst 51.9 percent and the team’s assists out of paint touches dropped to 0.3 per game with just 4.0 passes per game out of the paint.
It is overly simplistic to say the Magic are missing shots in this stretch. Although that would be completely true, the team is shooting just a 44.8 percent effective field goal percentage and 35.8 percent on shots where the closest defender is four or more feet away.
When the Magic are getting good looks in this stretch, the shots are simply not falling. Orlando’s poor offense right now is almost certainly a confluence of poor execution, an inability to get to the foul line, settling for mid-range jumpers and missing the good looks the team gets.
Against the Bulls on Friday, the Magic made just 15 of 47 (31.9 percent) shots where the closest defender was four or more feet away.
Were all of these good looks? Most likely not. Teams want the Magic shooting from the perimeter and firing away from mid-range.
But Orlando has generally had some good shot selection. If not the cleanest execution of the half-court sets to get the shots they want.
The Magic have to go back to the formula that worked so well at the beginning of the month. They have to rediscover that rhythm.
And that rhythm requires the team to play with intensity and urgency throughout the game, cutting hard, shooting confidently and moving the ball around the perimeter. But most especially it requires them to attack the paint and get the defense to collapse. It requires the team to look to score, but also look to kick it out from the paint.
These are the things the Magic are not doing right now. The whole key to the team’s offense is to get into the paint first and then kick out to 3-point shooters or work around the horn to find a new driving lane.
This is the part that is not working. All of it is not working. The Magic are not scoring when they get into the paint and not working the ball inside-out nearly enough for them to be successful ultimately.