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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Michael Carter-Williams, Orlando Magic, New York Knicks
ORLANDO, FL – APRIL 3: Michael Carter-Williams #7 of the Orlando Magic shoots the ball against the New York Knicks on April 3, 2019 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Establishing paint touches

Steve Clifford has said it time and time again. The key to the Orlando Magic’s offense is paint touches. The team has to get the ball into the paint and cause the defense to collapse to dish out to the perimeter.

It is a simple tenet of basketball. But the team has had to work extra hard to make it work because the Magic lack a true go-to offensive option. This has been a problem all year and the Magic have been able to work around it. They will finish the year ranked 22nd in the league in offensive rating, but they are 12th since the All-Star Break.

Orlando can score. But can the team score when team defenses are closing in on them like they will in the playoffs?

According to NBA.com’s stats from Second Spectrum, the Magic are 11th in the league with 24.7 paint touches per game. Orlando does a good job getting itself into the lane. They have to find a way to get into the paint consistently.

Orlando will use pick and rolls and dribble hand-off actions as the main way to do this. The team’s late-game plays will certainly involve Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic running pick and rolls. This has proven to be an effective pairing.

You can see even the threat of driving into the lane — not even getting completely in the paint — can cause the defense to shift and move.

Here Evan Fournier does a good job setting up the screen with Khem Birch. He rejects the screen reading the trap coming on the other end and is able to get to the elbow. That draws in Eric Bledsoe to stop Evan Fournier on the drive and he dishes out to Isaiah Briscoe for the open three.

This is a big part of the Magic’s attack. The drive is not the scoring action. Orlando needs to get the ball into the paint to create lanes to pass to the perimeter and then attack rotations if the three is not open.

This requires players to be smart and read the defense off the ball to get in positions where they can catch the ball and shoot or attack.

The Magic tend to do a good job keeping their screener in motion too. A straight, stagnant pick and roll does not do the Magic much to get into the paint. If the defense is set up and waiting on the play, then they are more likely to start it.

By having Vucevic rub off a screen before setting up the pick and roll, they are able to keep the defense slightly off balance. This also opens a driving lane for the pick and roll and clears space for the roller. You will see the Magic often run quick pocket passes to Vucevic doing a short roll to the free throw line.

This quick move often catches teams off guard.

But in the play above, Aaron Gordon is beneath Nikola Vucevic to screen his man as Vucevic set the pick and roll. As Fournier rubs off the screen, he curls around Vucevic and pops out for a 3-pointer. Fournier now has two options to pass — Vucevic on the roll or Gordon flaring to the top of the key.

These are the kinds of actions to expect the Magic to make. They will try to create some uncertainty as they set up their pick and rolls by having the screener in motion to create some uncertainty in the defense and create a driving lane and a secondary action for an outlet. The key is to make the defense make decisions quickly and create miscommunication.

Orlando has done a good job this year during this run creating these mini actions of motion to set up their drives and pick and rolls. The team certainly cannot do straight isolations to get in the paint.

Still, the spacing is extremely important. With any motion offense, if the offense stagnates or gets bottled up or the timing is off, then the team’s space can get constricted and things can get stuck quickly.

Here Evan Fournier attacks quickly and gets a nice re-screen from Khem Birch to begin his attack. But without a secondary move and a week shooter in Jerian Grant on the strong side, the Toronto Raptors are able to collapse the paint and force a turnover.

Fournier has had a good assist-to-turnover ratio this year — a 1.90 ratio — but it is not anything killer. He will have his share of turnovers, especially when he tries to force drives.

It is important in these pick-and-roll actions for the Magic to keep some movement and have players move and adjust to create space. When they run just a two-man action, it is easy to see teams start to constrict the paint and make for a tough play.

Orlando works best when it can move quickly and not give the defense a chance to rest. The Magic have to work to keep the defense in motion and attack those gaps. They tend to do this with mini actions to spring pick and rolls in unexpected ways and then have the screener screen for someone else to open up a secondary passing action.

The offense is all about confusing whoever is guarding the initial action and then attacking the gaps in that attention. Orlando has to stay sharp and read the defense, especially players off the ball. They have to seek holes in the defense and fill them to stay in the ballhandler’s line of sight.

Whoever the Magic play in the postseason will certainly see a lot of these things and begin to attack the team’s weaknesses. The Magic will have to be sure of who they are and their principles. But they will have to quickly adjust to find a way to keep their effectiveness.

dark. Next. Steve Clifford never put limits on Orlando Magic, now they want more

This is the chess match of the playoffs. Game on.