Offensive rebounding a new aim for Orlando Magic’s versatility

Aaron Gordon has become adept at chasing his shot and getting offensive rebounds, an easy way for the Orlando Magic to steal points. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Aaron Gordon has become adept at chasing his shot and getting offensive rebounds, an easy way for the Orlando Magic to steal points. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic have not had a mindset of going after offensive boards. But their versatility and need to create points make the offensive glass vital.

The Orlando Magic always knew they had to scratch out offense wherever they could find it.

The realistic but still optimistic Steve Clifford said at the beginning of the season that his team needed only to be in the top half of the league in offensive rating to have a chance to achieve their goals. They would always count on a strong defensive effort.

Nobody saw the offense struggling this much. Even without a clear go-to player or consistent shooting, the team fell to the bottom of the league in almost every offensive category. The team only recently climbed above the 50-percent effective field goal percentage mark.

The offense has started to come around for the team. The Magic have scored at least 105 points in their last 12 games. Better shooting has been a part of it. So too has been an emphasis on getting out on the break more.

Really the Magic are doing all they can to find points wherever they can get it. Including doing something Clifford and coaches along his line rarely do — attacking the offensive glass.

Orlando has to get baskets however the team can get them.

"“We’ve emphasized offensive rebounding for a big part of the year,” Clifford said after the team’s shootaround on Feb. 28. “Losing [Jonathan Isaac] and [Al-Farouq Aminu] has hurt that. But we need offensive rebound baskets. We used to say the 5-man can rebound, everyone else can get back. Now, to me, they’re reads. You have to be able to both be on the glass and when you can’t get it, get back. That’s something we talk about every game day.”"

Steve Clifford likes to refer back to his time coaching with Stan Van Gundy. And one of the hallmarks of Van Gundy’s teams from the late 2000s was an approach that eschewed offensive rebounds.

The trade-off was that by not pursuing offensive rebounds, the team would get its defense set. And, of course, with the best defense in the league, nobody was scoring on the Magic.

It made sense for this year’s team to follow a same path. The best way to beat the Magic and their strong defense was to score in transition before they could get set. And so by not chasing offensive rebounds, the team would not be exposed to transition points.

Times have changed

Things have changed though as Clifford noted.

Teams are adept at getting out in transition anyway — even on made baskets — and so there is an inefficiency to exploit. If teams are leaking out more, there are more opportunities to steal points and possessions through offensive rebounds.

For a Magic team with few offensive options, that was something worth exploiting. And clearly Clifford has been willing to shift this philosophy — which predates Stan Van Gundy to Jeff Van Gundy and Pat Riley — and give players more freedom to attack the offensive glass.

It is still not a major component of the team’s offense, but it is something that is on the rise for Orlando.

At the time of the league’s suspension, the Magic rank 14th in the league in offensive rebound rate at 26.8 percent — meaning they get an offensive rebound on roughly a quarter of their misses. They average 12.8 second-chance points per game, 17th in the league.

In the last 13 games, the Magic are 11th in offensive rebound rate at 27.7 percent and they are 13th in the league with 13.8 second-chance points per game. It certainly helped they scored 23 second-chance points in the 126-106 win over the Houston Rockets earlier this week.

That certainly helps skew the numbers. That game itself was unique because of the Rockets’ lack of size. But with Houston trying to run and pick up its pace with the smaller lineup, attacking the offensive glass was a bit of a risk.

Interestingly in that game, the Magic grabbed all 13 of their offensive rebounds in the first half. Many of them were players following their own shots and getting boards. You will still see there are few players in the paint when the shot goes up. The Magic are still trying to get back.

The numbers clearly show the Magic are putting more attention on the offensive glass without selling out for them. It has been a small, but important, piece of the team’s offensive revival.

Selective Aggression

The Magic are still very selective with how and with whom they attack the offensive glass. Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic seemingly have the freedom to read when to attack the offensive glass. If a player is by the basket, he is probably encouraged to see if he can get the board or follow his shot.

Steve Clifford noted specifically that Aaron Gordon has so many responsibilities on both ends of the floor, that it has been tough to have the energy to add the responsibility to hit the offensive glass on top of that. This might be another way injuries have affected the team.

Gordon had five offensive rebounds in that game against the Rockets. Almost all of them came from him following his own shot. Gordon is very adept at getting into the lane and putting himself in a position to rebound his own shot from his step-through and slow-mo Euro move.

This is clearly an area where Jonathan Isaac’s absence (and even Al-Farouq Aminu’s absence) is felt most. The Magic could trust both of them to cover whichever assignment Gordon is on, allowing him or them more freedom to seek gaps to attack the offensive glass.

Except for those few situations, the directive is to get back and protect against transition. Offensive rebounding is still not a big part of their game or their strategy even if it is increasing.

Part of the Success

Last year, the Magic were 22nd in the offensive rebound rate at 25.9 percent and 25th in second-chance points at 12.4 points per game. Not a whole lot has changed for the team year to year.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

During the team’s playoff run last year, the Magic posted a 26.9-percent offensive rebound rate, 15th in the league, and still 12.0 second-chance points per game, 25th in the league.

Last year’s run came because of improved and heightened defense along with the team getting an offensive spark and hitting more shots from the outside. The Magic found a way to create offense.

This year, offensive rebounding has been at least part of the formula.

"“It starts a whole new possession,” Mohamed Bamba said after the team’s shootaround on Feb. 28. “Whenever you can get the ball back and get a chance to score, it brings our numbers offensively up. . . . You read it. I err on the side of aggression. Sometimes when I think I can get it, I try to go for it. It’s either 100 or zero.”"

And that is what offensive rebounding is supposed to be. It is a way to create some extra possessions and extra offense. For a team that has struggled to score consistently, offensive rebounds are a way to steal a few points.

The players you would expect to have high offensive rebound rates are the centers — Mohamed Bamba (9.9 percent), Khem Birch (8.1 percent) and Nikola Vucevic (7.1 percent). It is still a center’s game. The sneaky good offensive rebounders are Jonathan Isaac (5.7 percent), Al-Farouq Aminu (5.3 percent), Michael Carter-Williams (5.2 percent) and Aaron Gordon (5.1 percent).

With the athletic and long players the Magic have, offensive rebounding should be a priority when it makes sense. They should be willing to have at least one player attack the offensive glass on each possession and even two if a lane opens up to get in good rebounding position.

This is another way for Orlando to use that versatility and length in its favor.

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It is also simply a way to manufacture and steal points. For a team that has long struggled offensively, that can be just as important. And it will be important again to help the team get back into a rhythm once the season starts up again.