Orlando Magic Playoff Preview: 5 adjustments Orlando Magic must make immediately

<> at Scotiabank Arena on April 1, 2019 in Toronto, Canada.
<> at Scotiabank Arena on April 1, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. /
2 of 6
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics
The Orlando Magic’s Nikola Vucevic, middle, aggressively pulls down a rebound against the Boston Celtics at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. The Magic won, 105-103. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images) /

Limiting Nikola Vucevic’s exposure in pick and rolls

Nikola Vucevic earned his way into the All-Star Game with one of the best and most complete seasons the team has seen in a long time. He was reliable for a double-double every game and a solid option in the post and as a facilitator or pick and roll option.

The Orlando Magic unleashed him offensively and trusted him to play to the fullest of his abilities on that end.

But a big storyline throughout his career and into this season was his defense. The narrative written on Nikola Vucevic was that he was never going to be an impactful player defensively. That sometimes his defense outweighed his offense.

That was far from the case this year. His offense took a leap and the Magic benefited from that. But his defense also took a major step. He recorded a career-high 4.7 defensive win shares this year. And the Magic have a more-than-respectable 105.6 defensive rating with Vucevic on the floor.

The team’s overall defense is much better this year. That accounts for at least part of these career numbers. But many of the same struggles that characterized Vucevic throughout his Magic career and brought up all those doubts still exist.

The first thing any team will try to do is test Vucevic in the pick and roll and attack him heading downhill. When the Magic have struggled defensively it is usually because Vucevic gets caught in these one-on-one positions in pick and rolls with the guard late to recover around the screen.

Here Jonathan Isaac does a good job forcing Jimmy Butler away from the screen. And Vucevic is in decent position to defend him. But he is too open and Butler is able to take a straight angle to the lane.

Joel Embiid is able to slide behind Vucevic and lay it in before Vucevic to recover.

Teams will likely attack Vucevic just like this, challenging his ability to cut off dribble penetration and recover. Especially with the Magic’s likely opponents having centers who can stretch out to the 3-point line.

But there is another element to this. The Magic’s wing players have to do a good job working and getting around screens. They have to work to eliminate the times Vucevic is staring down dribble penetration without help.

On this play, D.J. Augustin gets caught on the screen with Marc Gasol. Nikola Vucevic sets his line but is unable to force Kyle Lowry to go wide toward the corner. That leaves the whole floor open. While Vucevic is able to recover to Gasol pretty quickly, it is not quick enough as the big man gets the shot up.

This is not just about creating scenarios to protect Vucevic. The Magic must also make sure their guards work quickly to get around screens and allow Vucevic the time to recover. The Magic’s playoff opponents will stretch the team out.

Teams are going to test Vucevic a ton in the pick and roll. And the first thing the Magic must do is make sure their coverages are strong.

For Vucevic, that means keeping his arms extended and active and pushing guards toward the wing to give the defense time to rotate behind him and set the defense up.