The Orlando Magic have looked impressive in the preseason so far. Their familiarity has them ahead of the curve but they must keep evolving.
The Orlando Magic have discussed and promoted their familiarity and continuity throughout the preseason.
They have never leaned on it or counted on it. Coach Steve Clifford has made sure of that, telling the media that continuity is only what the team itself makes of it. It is not a given. And success may not necessarily follow.
There will still be a ton of work to get where the Magic want to go. Orlando is not regular-season ready.
But they certainly look ahead of the curve. Another blowout preseason win proved that as the Orlando Magic defeated the Detroit Pistons 115-91 win at Little Caesars Arena on Monday.
Their level of play though went beyond the final score. It probably goes beyond any statistic either.
Where the Magic are at can be seen in the way the team is moving and passing the ball. How they anticipate where each other is going to be and remain on the same page for long stretches throughout these early games. Meanwhile, their opponents still seem to be figuring things out or easing into the game.
Take one first-quarter possession.
Aaron Gordon had the ball in the mid-post with Derrick Rose on his back. He was preparing to back him in and took a few dribbles, reading the defense. The Pistons began to crash in on Aaron Gordon so he whipped the ball to the opposite wing to Jonathan Isaac.
Instantaneously, Jonathan Isaac sent the ball to the corner for D.J. Augustin. He quickly attacked the closing player and got to the rim, drawing Rose to help. Gordon saw all this and floated to the opposite corner.
D.J. Augustin fed him a pass and Aaron Gordon drained the 3-pointer comfortably.
It was about as seamless and comfortable as an offense can look. Players effortlessly moved the ball to the next man and attacked quickly and with precision. This is not how a second preseason game is supposed to look.
As Orlando went on a 19-2 run to take the lead over Detroit in the first quarter, this is how the team looked. The Magic were moving the ball and attacking quickly. They knew where each other was going to be. They knew what to anticipate next in the offense.
The Detroit Pistons, much like the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday, were put on their back heels. They just were not at that level.
The same was true defensively. Orlando did a good job trapping and controlling Detroit, holding Detroit to 33.7 percent shooting.
Pistons coach Dwane Casey lamented after the game that the team had poor shot selection throughout the game. That was partly because of preseason settling in but also because the Magic defense made things difficult for much of the night.
Every game analysis at this point should come with the caveat that it is preseason. Teams will inevitably get better and improve their efficiency as the preseason goes on.
The Magic are already ahead of everyone else it seems. That continuity has the Magic playing at an already high level.
They are not regular-season ready by any means. The team still has lulls in its intensity and execution. It still feels like the preseason for long stretches.
But when this team locks in, the Magic have been playing better than their opponents at this point. It already feels like Orlando has more of its rhythm and system implemented than other teams.
Orlando has done a good job keeping the ball moving — 32 assists on 45 field goal makes in Monday’s game — and they have done a good job preventing turnovers. They had just 12 against the Pistons.
But everyone will catch up eventually. The Magic might have started at Level 1, so to speak, while everyone else was starting from scratch. But everyone else will quickly get there.
The question for the Magic is will they be ahead of the curve and playing at a higher level when that time comes? Can they stay ahead of everyone else as the season begins?
The Magic undoubtedly can still get better.
A lot of it will come with increasing their intensity and focus throughout the game. The Magic still let leads slip away after strong starts in these preseason games. That is perhaps expected for the preseason, but it is surely not something coach Steve Clifford wants to see.
The team is trying to play at a quicker pace and they are still getting used to that. They can get sloppy in transition and many of their misses come right at the rim or making the wrong decisions in transition.
Still, that faster pace has unlocked the team’s offense. And their familiarity has allowed them to implement this new style quicker than their opponents. It looks very fluid for this earlys tage of the season, even as the team feels its way through new wrinkles and elements within it.
Orlando will have to keep finding ways to progress and to keep improving during the preseason. That learning curve and that familiarity advantage they have will run out quickly otherwise.
The early returns for the Magic certainly are promising. It is hard not to come away impressed with Orlando’s early preseason returns.
But it will undoubtedly take more to have success in the preseason and get off to the strong start the Magic envision.
Orlando is in a good spot early in the preseason. They have looked a lot better so far. But they are ahead of the curve. And now they have to work to stay there.