The Orlando Magic may not have a player that can take over their offense, but they do have ways to improve their late-game offense.
Last season when the Orlando Magic took teams off guard, they were able to use the Evan Fournier–Nikola Vucevic pick and roll to great success late in games. Evan Fournier had a pair of buzzer-beating shots and the Magic proved to be an effective late-game team.
They had enough unpredictability to keep teams off guard and close games. Terrence Ross always seemed capable of going off and turning a close game into a quick blowout.
Although this season has shown some success, it has also been very predictable. The Magic have had to force a lot of contested shots late in games and they have committed their share of turnovers.
The question of who should have the ball late in games has really split the Magic fan base. Some people have argued the ball should be in Fournier’s hands. He has a track record of big shots and has statistically been one of the best players in clutch situations during the last few years. Coach Steve Clifford often says Evan Fournier has the courage to take big shots like these.
Others have argued Markelle Fultz should be leading the team down the stretch. He is the best at creating separation and getting into the lane to collapse the paint. He is a far better playmaker and can set up teammates better to get the best shot overall.
But the answer is a little more complicated. It is not about one player.
The Magic should be less predictable and use both players in late-game situations.
For a while, it was clear the Magic could only rely on the Evan Fournier-Nikola Vucevic pick and roll for their late-game offense to be effective. But with Markelle Fultz proving he can take over games late should be used and this would make the Magic more dangerous.
Last year, Orlando was 22-25 in games within five points in the final five minutes. The Magic had a -3.3 net rating in “clutch” situations according to NBA.com’s stats database.
This year, Orlando ranks 23rd in clutch games with a 9-14 record and 25th in points. the team has a -10.3 net rating.
The Orlando Magic are barely breaking even and have struggled even to close out some of the wins in these situations — sweating through the win over the Philadelphia 76ers most notably.
This is almost solely relying on the Fournier and Vucevic as the team’s go-to late-game combo.
Fournier takes 1.7 field goal attempts per game in these clutch situations, followed closely by Vucevic with 1.5 per game. Unlike previous years when Fournier was efficient late in games — last year, for instance, he shot 43.9 percent on 1.4 attempts per game — Fournier is hitting just 28.9 percent of his late-game shots.
As teams have gotten film on the Magic, they have started to struggle late in games and ended up taking bad shots, whether it is Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic or Terrence Ross who have the green light to shoot.
This can be effective if Orlando had another option they can go to late in games. Or someone who can better set them up for open shots, rather than simply relying on their two-man actions to create offense.
Fultz seems to be the other option for the Magic late in games.
He has shown that he can take over games and win them down the stretch. An example of this would be the 119-118 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. Fultz assisted a Vucevic three and followed to score in back to back positions.
He has had several clutch moments this year too, including a steal and dunk to defeat the Washington Wizards in his first breakout game.
Fultz has a small track record of coming up big in these moments and the stats back it up. He scores 1.4 points per game in clutch situations while shooting 52.2 percent on the third-most clutch field goal attempts per game. He has added a team-high 0.6 assists per game in clutch situations.
The Magic have turned to him in limited situations, and he has delivered so far this year.
There have been moments now Orlando can be less predictable by having multiple looks late in games. But they have to be willing to give Fultz more responsibility down the stretch of games.
Orlando may not have a player that can take over their offense completely or isolate to get a good shot. But they do have ways to improve their late-game offense.
They have options to improve their chances to win games, but it all comes down to whether or not they are ready to give Fultz the ball late in games and let him create for others or score on his own. Making Fultz an option, would also allow the Fournier-Vucevic pick and roll more space to operate and get a better shot.
With a playoff race that appears to be tightening as Orlando continues to struggle, winning close games will become paramount. And this is clearly an area where the Magic must improve.
The Magic must be willing to trust other players to make plays when it counts most, and that will make them more dangerous down the stretch of games.