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. /
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Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 02: Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Orlando Magic drives to the basket against the Indiana Pacers in the first half of the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 2, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Orlando won 117-112. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Establishing Nikola Vucevic in the post

Nikola Vucevic is the Orlando Magic’s leading scorer. That is not going to change in the playoffs. Even with teams focusing and keying their defenses on him. Orlando will still need to run its offense through Vucevic and use Vucevic the most.

More than anything else, Orlando has to rely on Vucevic when things get tough. He has to be the bedrock for the team. When things bog down, going to him has to be the team’s outlet.

At the end of the day, teams know each other’s stuff so well that games come down to an individual’s ability to make plays. They have to be able to execute their stuff, but also impose their will to break a defense that knows what is coming anyway. Each playoff series is a battle of wills.

This is not to say the Magic should go out of their way to feed Vucevic the ball and break their offense. Vucevic is somewhat effective in the post with 0.93 points per possession on post-ups, according to NBA’s Second Spectrum tracking. That is near the middle of the league, slightly above average. Slightly.

Orlando is going to have to turn to Vucevic in big moments and getting him close to the basket could help unlock the offense. It is not so much about him scoring from the post, but getting that paint touch to get the offense moving again when it gets stuck.

Quite simply, Vucevic takes up a lot of attention. Even when he catches the ball in the high post. The defense has to shade and protect against him and this can create some quick hitters:

Evan Fournier in this play does a good job setting up his screen, faking as if he is going to run a curl around Nikola Vucevic. J.J. Redick overplays it and Evan Fournier reads that and flares out to the corner instead.

Vucevic is an extremely skilled passer and makes the same read to feed Fournier the ball.

This is more of what the Magic need from establishing Vucevic in the post — high or low. He has great vision and can pass the ball so effectively that if a team gives him extra attention, he will pick them apart.

This is what a paint touch is supposed to do. It is supposed to get the defense to collapse.

If the Magic need a fallback offensive option, finding Vucevic should be that option. You can see in the play above, just how much attention his touch gets. Three Toronto Raptors players immediately surround him.

Vucevic makes the right read here and Fournier is able to hit the shot over the fast-closing defense. Note that it was the Raptors and their length is able to close this gap if the Magic do not have good spacing.

The biggest question then and the biggest weakness the Magic will face in this situation is from Vucevic and whether he can attack in isolation to create for others. Will he be able to step up his game to unstuck the offense?

Orlando goes through Fournier late in games far more than Vucevic. Some of that is because he is a guard and can work off the dribble. But another aspect is Vucevic’s high turnover rate. When teams pressure and double him, he has a tendency to give the ball up.

In this play, the Magic try to force the ball to Vucevic in the post. They are trying to catch the defense napping, but the Raptors are able to swarm him and he does not have the time to read it and turns the ball over when he puts it on the floor.

Other players have been able to guard him one on one at times and knock the ball loose. And Vucevic has struggled with even simple shots late in games. Vucevic averages 18.4 points per 36 minutes in clutch situations but shoots just 37.8 percent in such situations. He averages 2.5 turnovers per 36 minutes too.

Again, this is not to say the Magic should run straight post-ups for Vucevic. In fact, that is decidedly not something they should do. But they will have to find a way to get the ball in his hands and involve him in actions to try to unstick the offense if it gets bogged down.

Good things usually happen when they do.