Orlando Magic have to change things offensively until they find their answer

The Orlando Magic have to improve their pace and Markelle Fultz is as good as any at working the Magic's offense. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic have to improve their pace and Markelle Fultz is as good as any at working the Magic's offense. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic continue to struggle shooting the ball and keeping up the pace to score and scratch out wins. Changing the approach is necessary.

34. Final. 103. 38. 118

Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford seemingly says the same thing after every game and every frustrating defeat.

The team fought hard, he would say. The issue is not one of effort. Perhaps the team needs some precision or to make that next pass or get to that spot a bit quicker defensively, but the Magic’s struggles were not for lack of trying.

No, the big issue for the team is a simple one — the Magic just need to make a shot.

There is no excuse. He would say after the Orlando Magic lost to the Portland Trail Blazers 118-103 at Moda Center on Friday that simply their three best offensive players have to do better. Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier combined for 50 points on 20-for-54 (37.0 percent) shooting.

Clifford would comment after the game there is no way for any team to succeed when its three best offensive players struggle that much. The worst part is that has become a norm for the team.

The Magic lost to the Trail Blazers for a number of reasons. They lost contact with Damian Lillard on numerous occasions, allowing him to hit seven 3-pointers. The team was caught in transition too much and gave up easy baskets. The Trail Blazers were able to block shots and control the lane.

Yet, so many numbers pointed to a game where the Magic could have competed. Portland turned it over 21 times and gave up 20 second-chance points on 18 offensive rebounds.

Except the Magic could not hit shots. The simplest act in the game was the one thing the Magic could not do.

Orlando made only 36.8 percent of its 106 field goal attempts — the most field goal attempts the franchise has had since 2013 — and 7 for 28 from beyond the arc. Making up that difference giving up 50-percent shooting and so many 3-pointers was impossible to make up.

None of these problems were new.

The Magic have been near the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive category. Even with a small surge offensively (and it is a small surge only relatively), the Magic are 25th in the league in offensive rating.

It is really only recently that the team has been unable to cover up their offense with their defense. Nikola Vucevic said after Friday’s game the team has to stick with things defensively and cannot let the team’s poor offense discourage their defense.

Reeling that in will determine whether the Magic make the playoffs or not, it seems. But ultimately, Orlando has to find a way to score. And what the team is doing is not working.

The question for the Magic as they return from this disappointing and frustrating 1-3 road trip is what do they do to change it? What do they do to get points to stop the 24-0 run that buried them against the Denver Nuggets or the 15-0 run they gave up to the Portland Trail Blazers that put them in an early hole.

The team has tried to preach pace as a way to execute their offense. Part of that is indeed getting out in transition more — something related to getting stops defensively and forcing turnovers. Orlando is 16th with 12.8 fast-break points per game. But that has had troubles.

On one play, Orlando had a two-on-one fast break they completely flubbed with D.J. Augustin trying to drop a pass off to Aaron Gordon who had his layup blocked.  The spacing was terrible.

This is what the Magic have done all year. Clifford has noted some of the Magic’s problem is simply being able to make plays. The team runs through its sets but they do not make plays to beat their man. The offense bogs down.

But it also bogs down because of another element of pace. The team is stagnant offensively and slow to get into their sets. There is often a lot of waiting for the next action. And that limits the options the Magic have to go through their offense.

The team lacks a pick-me-up on that end. The team just moves so slow. It is harder to quantify — although surely teams have metrics to count when they initiate their offense — and the Magic are moving too slowly.

This goes on top of the times Orlando misses open shots — a league-worst 51.8 percent effective field goal percentage on wide-open shots (closest defender 6-plus feet away) on 18.5 wide-open field goal attempts per game (16th in the league). On open shots (closest defender is 4-6 feet away), the Magic shoot 49.1-percent effective field goal percentage (27th in the league) on 23.1 field goal attempts per game (also 27th).

The issue is not necessarily the Magic are not getting good looks — although they certainly could do better. The issue is they are not getting them in rhythm or at the pace they want.

The Magic have to do better. And what they are doing right now is not working.

The team still runs much of its offense through Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier. That makes the most sense. They are the two best offensive players. But Orlando certainly has to find a better balance.

What Orlando was not doing — at least not until the end of the game — was running pick and rolls with Markelle Fultz. Despite his potential impact as a driver, the Magic only gave him a 14.9-percent usage rate. That was even lower than Jonathan Isaac.

For the season, the team has a 106.4 offensive rating with Markelle Fultz on the floor, the second-best mark on the team. Mixing in pick and rolls with Fultz and Vucevic would give the Magic a different dynamic — and also move Fournier off the ball where he can be used more effectively as a shooter.

This has started to occur with D.J. Augustin in those bench units. He is darting through the lane and getting the defense to move, setting others up and finishing around the basket. There is a way to take what is working with that bench unit and have it work with the starters.

Having Evan Fournier off the ball to spread the floor would create more cutting lanes for Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon. The Magic need to mix up their attack more.

Trusting Fultz more is one way the Magic can expand their offense. They still need to hit shots. And relying on Fultz to create everything for the team is still a tall ask. He still turns the ball over a high rate. Like everyone else, Fultz works best in open space where he can get going downhill.

Like with Gordon and Isaac, the Magic have to do a better job putting those players in better situations to score and finding ways to keep them involved.

Of course, it all goes back to the original problem. The Magic do not make shots. All of this does not really matter if the team does not make shots. That is the difference in a lot of these games. The margin for defeat for the Magic is directly traced to the team’s 3-point difference.

Orlando needs to improve its defense and its 3-point defense. That is the start of everything. But the Magic will have to find new ways to get those shots.

Grades: Portland Trail Blazers 118, Orlando Magic 103. dark. Next

What they are doing is simply not working. Not that they or anyone else needs to tell them that.