Orlando Magic find their flow, doing it again is not easy

The Orlando Magic got their offense moving and made shots, making the offensive answers seem simple. (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic got their offense moving and made shots, making the offensive answers seem simple. (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic’s biggest problem this season has been their poor shooting. The answer to that question is both simple and complex to copy a strong win.

Final. 126. 125. 135. 38

The frustrating thing for the Orlando Magic is how simple the answers are for the team struggles.

So much of the Magic’s difficulties — from Saturday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks to everything else — boils down to one thing. The Magic cannot hit shots. Not consistently.

This has been an intractable problem for the team. How do you make up for a team that cannot put the ball in the basket?

If there was an easy answer, the Magic would have found it by now. They would have done something to solve the problem. But the problem persists. Orlando has never been able to find enough flashes of brilliance to sustain its offense and support its defense.

It is perhaps those moments of offensive clarity that frustrate even more. The proof the Magic can indeed make open shots and go on offensive binges.

Monday’s 135-126 win over the Atlanta Hawks gave the Orlando Magic some much-needed relief. The team scored a season-high in points and a season-high 18 3-pointers. The second half, especially, was a clinic in ball movement.

Orlando scored 79 points in the second half, hitting 56.3 percent of their shots and 13 of 25 3-pointers. The Magic recorded 20 assists on 27 field goals.

This all points to a team that moved inside out that sent the ball to the right person consistently and, yes, made shots when they were open.

It is extremely difficult to measure offensive movement and flow. The only thing that points to those results and to anything working is the final score. it is simply a feeling of did the team score effectively.

This Magic team has had plenty of things working against it offensively.

The first being Orlando lacks a true one-on-one scorer. There is no player, especially on the perimeter, for the team to turn to save offensive possessions. They have to work for and with each other to score. Possessions that do not have multiple passes usually end up dead.

The first half Monday saw a lot of this stagnation. After the team built an early seven-point lead, the team’s second unit struggled to keep the ball moving. For at least a part of the second quarter, the Magic worked to set up isolations. The way plays developed was slow.

Orlando made only 48.9 percent of its shots with 13 assists on 23 field goal makes. The offense was only starting to get going but had its struggles. For parts of the first half, it looked like the team was going to face the same difficulty it faced in its last meeting with Atlanta.

That late December game saw the Magic make a strong defensive effort. But their inability to shoot and generate much offensive push ended the game. A lot of that game from a stagnant offense that did not move the ball or use cutting effectively.

And that is the second part for Orlando.

Without a player to lean on in isolation, it is imperative the Magic create motion within their offense. It is something they discussed at length after the team’s loss to the Bucks on Saturday.

Coach Steve Clifford said the team’s passing in Saturday’s game, especially off the dribble, was poor. The inability to make an on-target and on-time pass can disrupt the team’s offense. An imprecise pass gives the defense a chance to catch up and without time to run through the offense, it brings the Magic to its worst element.

This is how the first half went. The Magic still had a 112.0 offensive rating in the first half (well above the team’s season average), but the ball movement changed completely in the second half.

The team started to move more freely. Passes moved quickly around the perimeter and found the open man. The Magic added some energy plays and offensive rebounds to help bolster the offense. Orlando continually got second chances.

This passing and ball movement element is vital to the team’s offense. And it has been missing throughout the year.

Monday was a particularly good passing game for the Magic. According to Second Spectrum, the Magic made 297 total passes in the game to lead to 33 assists and four secondary assists — roughly as 12.5 percent adjusted assist to pass rate.

The team averages 270.1 passes per game, the third-fewest in the league. Their 23.0 assists per game are 24th in the league (also a product of the team’s slow pace and limited possessions). Similarly, the team’s 2.6 secondary assists per game also rank near the bottom of the league.

Where the Magic do not rank low in passing is potential assists. Their 46.5 potential assists per game rank 13th in the league. The team has an adjusted assist to pass ratio of 10.5 percent, meaning that roughly one in every 10 passes for the Magic leads to an assist. That mark is 12th in the league.

This shows how many points the Magic leave on the board because of their shooting. Orlando could be much more effective if the team could only make a few shots.

The Magic are shooting a 53.0-percent effective field goal percentage this season on shots where the closest defender is more than six feet away. That is the second-worst mark in the league. They are shooting just 36.3 percent on these wide-open 3-point attempts on 15.0 3-point field goal attempts per game.

Orlando is in the middle of the pack in getting “wide open” 3-pointers. But they are still at the bottom of the league in terms of field goal percentage.

Shooting is so much at the heart of the Magic’s issues. The question the numbers really beg to ask is how the Magic get their shots and how the Magic run their offense.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

There are no numbers to get to this. Assists, passing and all that get to some of it.

It helps to look at the team’s cutting too. The Magic have some effective cutters in Aaron Gordon, Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier. But they are used there far too little. Or perhaps the team’s poor shooting prevents the opportunity to work through cutting.

According to NBA.com’s Synergy data, the Magic end plays with a cut on 7.5 percent of their possessions, among the league leaders. They score just 1.27 points per possession on these plays and 10.4 points per game.

The Magic get a fair amount of these plays but predictably do not score effectively off them. Aaron Gordon did most of his work in Monday’s game attacking the offensive glass, but he is an exceptional cutter.

Gordon scores 1.58 points per possession off 1.2 cut possessions per game, according to Synergy. That puts him in the 94.2nd percentile of the league. He is one of the best scorers off cuts in the league.

Evan Fournier scores 1.68 points per possession on cuts and Terrence Ross scores 1.41 points per possession off cuts. This is essentially the kind of play the Magic work for. But they still need someone to handle the ball and initiate offense. They need something or someone to kick start this movement.

Part of the Magic’s problem seems to be their lack of ball movement and lack of off-ball player movement. Relying too much on pick and roll, where the team is 14th in the league in pick and rolls involving the ball handler and 23rd in pick and rolls involving the roll man.

This all goes back to passing. A clean pass and a good screen can spring a player open and get them a good shot. It can force the defense to move. And that is what the Magic most struggle with.

Orlando needs to find a way to create movement.

Monday they did that. They moved the ball effectively and efficiently. They got inside the Hawks’ defense and found gaps to kick out or to get to the basket. Orlando had everything working.

dark. Next. Grades: Orlando Magic 135, Atlanta Hawks 126

The offense looked amazingly crisp. Sometimes the answer is as simple as making shots. Often, it is the way they get those shots through passing and cutting that matters more.