Orlando Magic point guards pace the team, give them attacking balance

D.J. Augustin has helped pace the Orlando Magic's second unit and given them a way to score. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
D.J. Augustin has helped pace the Orlando Magic's second unit and given them a way to score. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic rely heavily on point guards Markelle Fultz and D.J. Augustin to pace the team and give an attacking balance necessary to win.

Orlando Magic point guard D.J. Augustin said he tunes out the oohs and aahs as he drops another player in his wake. Maybe after the game, he will hear the noise from social media or on the replay on the jumbotron.

During the game though, he is in the moment. He is reading the defense and trying to figure out what his team needs and when to deliver it. Always dribbling and always searching.

D.J. Augustin, as much as any player, is good at darting through the lane, keeping his dribble alive and probing for a way to attack.

How quickly he operates and how much movement he creates off his drives — let alone the energy gained from making shots — is all-important to how he operates. It is all-important to how the whole team operates.

The Magic seemingly go at the pace their point guards play.

As much as any player, Augustin has to be a master at controlling pace and keeping things moving.

"“I take what the game gives me,” Augustin said after practice Tuesday. “I never go out there and pre-determine what I’m going to do. I just play the game. If I have a shot or a layup, I take it. If not, I try to find my teammates and get them open shots. You can’t predetermine I think.”"

That is the burden of a point guard. They more than any player has to take the temperature of the team and read the game to find the best advantages. They have to do so at a fast pace as the Magic especially want to get the team moving quickly through the half-court.

This has been a constant battle for the team — and a focus throughout the year, really. The Magic have not always found the right half-court pace to play at.

Augustin certainly has had his struggles there. His tendency to rely heavily on pick and rolls — nobody runs more pick and rolls than D.J. Augustin at 58.7 percent of his possessions and only Evan Fournier is more efficient (0.97 points per possession for Fournier to 0.95 points per possession for Augustin) — can bog the offense down.

It has taken some time for Augustin to get his footing with the bench units and learn to play with new teammates. But his spark is undeniable. Augustin is averaging 14.0 points per game and 6.2 assists per game while shooting 40.9 percent from three in 28.3 minutes per game in his last six games.

Still, Augustin has been fairly effective. The Magic built a lot of their lead in the second quarter with Augustin in the game (the team was +12 as Augustin scored 12 of his 16 points in the second quarter).

Augustin said his goal for the season is to be consistent and help the team build into a winner. And that is still a work in progress. His third-quarter work was a struggle as the Magic went -6 with Augustin in to end the third quarter. Augustin’s inability to find holes in the defense or create that pace and movement was at least part of why the Brooklyn Nets climbed back into the game.

It is easy to see just how vital point guard play is for the Magic. Play at the wrong pace or struggle to keep the team moving and the offense can flounder fairly quickly.

This is where Markelle Fultz came in and changed the game Monday night. For a little bit, Markelle Fultz looked like the best player on the court for either team.

"“At the end of the day, simplistically put, the best players are going to know when to shoot, when to drive, when to pass,” coach Steve Clifford said after practice Tuesday. “For some of them, the better players, it’s going to change depending on the game, what time it is and all of that.”"

From the moment Fultz stepped on the floor in the first quarter, he brought energy to the game and was on the attack. His early nine points set a tone for his own game.

But his personal 7-0 run broke a 78-78 tie in the fourth quarter and sparked a 15-1 run. It was the perfect example of how a point guard can lift everyone’s game up and give the team the exact push it needs.

Fultz started the run with a drive and finish at the rim over some tough defense. He then got the ball in transition and pushed it before the retreating Nets could set up for a layup. That play became infectious as Augustin pushed the ball the next time up and dished it to Fultz for a corner three.

The Magic might have played at a slower pace during those final seven minutes (91.7 possessions per 48 minutes in that stretch compared to a full-game pace of 101.5 possessions per 48 minutes), but they played much faster within their sets. There was definitely a new energy and rhythm to the team. They played faster within their sets.

And that all starts with the point guard. Specifically Monday, with Fultz.

He said after the game he wanted to be more aggressive. And that proved to be a big difference.

"“Yesterday, I had a chance to be aggressive and get to the rim and score the ball in transition,” Fultz said after Tuesday’s practice. “That opened up my mid-range game and a couple of threes. It’s all a mindset going into the game. I try to have the mindset. As the game was going on, I have to adjust to how they are playing me, how the team is doing. It’s just being a point guard. You have to read how your teammates are doing, how you are doing yourself and how your team is doing.”"

Fultz is still getting the feel for playing point guard at the NBA level. He is seeking consistency and getting his feel for the game and managing a playoff-level team.

Fultz said he has exceeded his expectations this season. He said his hope was to get through the season healthy and continue to grow. Fultz said he certainly still has more of that to do. But his 25-point outburst in a game the Magic had to have was telling.

So too was it telling that he did so when the team was tired and needed an energy pick-up. Really the only kind of energy that a point guard could bring. Everyone within the team says Fultz is going to continue to get better if he keeps playing this season.

Despite this being the first time the Magic were able to practice since Jonathan Isaac’s injury last week, Steve Clifford said he was not able to do everything he wanted to do with the team. He noted last night both the Magic and the Nets looked sluggish. So it was more of a teaching day than getting any hard drill work for the Magic.

Orlando continues on in a difficult stretch in their schedule where a lot of games are loaded up — and that long six-game road trip is on the horizon starting Friday.

For sure, to get through this stretch it will take a point guard managing the team’s pace and finding ways to get the team going.

Next. 5 options to bolster the Magic's forward depth. dark

The point guard position has quickly become the most important position for teams around the league. The Magic have two guards who are still working to get the team playing at the right pace consistently.