Shooting won’t solve the Orlando Magic’s open shot problem

Nikola Vucevic again struggled to get free and make his shots against the Toronto Raptors. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Nikola Vucevic again struggled to get free and make his shots against the Toronto Raptors. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are struggling offensively. But more distressingly, they are missing tons of open shots and there is no easy answer to solve it.

On an early possession in Friday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks, the Orlando Magic worked the ball perfectly around the perimeter. Aaron Gordon driving in transition out to Markelle Fultz for a quick pass to Nikola Vucevic at the top of the key.

It was a wide-open 3-pointer Nikola Vucevic took without hesitation.

Clank. No good.

Still good execution. It is a make or miss league and you can live with the results if the execution is good.

The next possession, Nikola Vucevic handed the ball off to James Ennis for a 3-pointer with the Dallas defenders flat-footed and not quite set. James Ennis’ three missed. The Magic rebounded again and gave it right back to Ennis.

Another open three, another miss.

Perhaps not the best shot selection early on in the shot clock and early in the game, but the Magic and any NBA team should expect to be able to hit these outside shots with the defense not really into them yet. Vucevic and Ennis are supposed to be two of the Magic’s best shooters.

An open shot should be reliably good, even from deep. Even on a poor shooting team.

As the Magic fell deeper and deeper into the hole, they could only throw their hands up in frustration with the shots they were missing. Their defense did not help matters but without a doubt, the team’s offensive frustrations have played a role in some of their defensive slow down.

It is overly simplistic to say, but the Magic just need to make shots.

"“We had a bunch of open shots,” coach Steve Clifford said after the Magic’s loss to the Mavericks on Friday. “Vooch had a bunch of open shots early in the game that we need to be made. You’ve got to make those shots. We’re shooting wide-open shots. You’ve got to make them. In this league, it’ shard enough to get an open shot, you don’t turn it down. What’s a better shot than a wide-open rhythm shot? You’ve got to make them.”"

The Magic are missing an inordinate amount of open shots. And it is becoming clearer and clearer they cannot shoot their way out. There has to be another solution.

But the answer might simply be they need to make shots. A powerless and powerful answer that has no easy solutions.

Orlando shot a season-high 43 3-pointers in the loss to Dallas on Friday. The team made just nine of them.

According to’s player tracking statistics, the Magic took 27 field goal attempts with the closest defender more than six feet away. They made only five. Orlando was a mere 3 for 23 on 3-pointers where the closest defender was more than six feet away.

With the closest defender 4-6 feet away, the Magic were a still-not-respectable 13 for 31 from the floor, including 4 for 14 from deep.

That means 37 of those 43 3-pointers came with the closest defender more than four feet away. Those should be reliably open and quality shots. Any team worth its salt should make those at an efficient clip.

It is safe to say the Magic executed their offense fine to get open shots. They bricked them at an alarming rate.

"“We had some good wide-open looks we just didn’t knock them down,” Vucevic said after Friday’s game. “Maybe sure some could be better. But I think we got pretty decent looks and we just didn’t knock them down. That’s been an issue for us during the year quite a bit of times. We just have to knock shots down. It’s part of what we do. It’s the biggest part of what we do. You have to score efficiently. I didn’t feel like we were taking anything bad. We got open shots, we just didn’t make it.”"

This has been a recurring problem for the Magic throughout the season. Especially in games where the Magic take a lot of 3-pointers.

In the loss to the LA Clippers on Jan. 16, the Orlando Magic took 42 3-pointers with a tidy 14 makes. The Magic were 8 for 25 on shots where the closest defender was more than six feet away, including 7 for 20 from deep.

In the loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 8, the Orlando Magic took 40 3-pointers. Of those 40 attempts, 25 occurred with the closest defender six or more feet away (with six makes). The Magic were 2 for 9 on attempts in that game where the closest defender was 4-6 feet away.

For the season, the Magic are 16th in the league in getting “wide open” shots (closest defender is six or more feet away) with 19.3 attempts per game. They are 16th in “wide open” 3-point field goal attempts at 15.2 per game.

Orlando shoots just 38.3 percent on these attempts, the worst mark in the league. The team’s 52.4 percent effective field goal percentage is also worst in the league. The team’s 35.8-percent 3-point field goal percentage is third-worst in the league.

Vucevic leads the team with 5.5 field goal attempts per game categorized as “wide open” and shoots 34.5-percent on these shots. Vucevic got 4.0 such attempts per game and made 44.3 percent of those shots, with an effective field goal percentage better than 50 percent.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Evan Fournier gets 3.2 “wide open” attempts per game and shoots a more respectable 50 percent. At least he is a reliable shooter at seemingly every level. The one player Orlando has relied on consistently on that end this year.

These shots are a reflection of the offense in general. The Magic’s offense is struggling without a doubt. And it has become only worse because of these missed shots when the offense actually works to get a good shot.

The answer is surprisingly simple, yet still seemingly complex. Orlando had only one thing to say after another difficult defeat Friday because of poor shooting.

"“We’ve got to make shots,” Aaron Gordon said after Friday’s loss. Gordon is shooting 35.8 percent on 2.5 wide-open attempts per game this year. “They were there for us to make. We’ve just got to make them.”"

On one hand, Clifford is right that there is not much more the team can do. When players get open shots, they have to make them.

But shooting is clearly not the way to solve this problem. The Magic are missing their open 3-point shots. These are partially shots opponents do not mind the Magic taking. Especially in a game like Friday, it seemed like Dallas was willing to let Orlando take all the shots it wanted.

Maybe the Magic could look to pump fake, take a step in and take a mid-range shot. The mid-range shot is only a bad shot analytically if a 3-pointer can be made more efficiently. That is clearly not the case right now.

Right now, the Magic need to take shots they can make. So maybe engaging the second level of defense can get them more shots near the rim or open up corner 3-pointers, a higher-percentage shot.

That too might be overthinking things. Maybe the answer is simple enough: Make shots.

Next. Nothing is the same as last year's run for Orlando Magic. dark

The very thing that can save the Magic is the very thing burying them right now.