Sparking the Orlando Magic’s offense is all about pace

Markelle Fultz and the Orlando Magic made a strong first impression in their season opener. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
Markelle Fultz and the Orlando Magic made a strong first impression in their season opener. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic finally found their offensive spark. It came with an uptick in pace and a better understanding of how to move and score effectively.

The Orlando Magic are not a team that wants to sit still. Especially at this time.

The frustrating part of the league going on hiatus when it did was how well the Magic were playing heading into it. A team that had struggled so much offensively finally saw everything click into place for them. Orlando had found the formula.

Since the All-Star Break, the Magic had the top offense in the league, scoring 117.8 points per 100 possessions. It was not just about making shots, which the Magic absolutely were doing. This was about something much more fundamental in the Magic’s struggle throughout the season.

It was about pace.

Orlando to that point and for much of the season had one of the worst offenses in the league. The team played at one of the slowest paces in terms of possessions per 48 minutes in the league.

Before the All-Star Break, the Magic scored 105.5 points per 100 possessions (27th in the league) with 98.2 possessions per 48 minutes (28th in the league). Orlando was playing fairly slowly in terms of the number of possessions. But also within the offense.

Those basic numbers flipped after the break. The Magic had the top offense in the league with 101.7 possessions per 48 minutes (12th in the league).

Orlando probably cannot count on the top offense in the league for a long period of time, but picking up the pace in terms of the number of possessions is probably in line with the Magic’s original vision.

Coach Steve Clifford has talked about playing with a better pace throughout the course of the season. He wanted the team to get out in transition more and leverage its athleticism.

It is hard to say why this did not happen. The Magic got stops that should have led to transition opportunities, but the team remained bogged down. Their poor shot-making did not help matters. Orlando was struggling to score.

But the pace problems went beyond that. We surveyed the team’s pace in early February. The team knew then it was something they had to resolve. They were not playing at the pace they wanted.

It was a struggle that nobody had a finger on at that point. Markelle Fultz suggested the team often got out of its pace when teams made baskets. Perhaps the team was still being cautious with their young point guard or players were too constricted with a new offense.

Still, that does not quite explain everything or why things went south. Nor does it explain why things have suddenly changed.

First, the numbers:

Before the All-Star Break, the Magic spent 12.0 seconds per possession to take a shot, according to Inpredictable. That was the sixth-lowest mark in the league. The team took 15.9 seconds to get to a shot after made baskets, the worst mark in the league. And, most troublingly, 7.5 seconds to a shot after a turnover, 23rd in the league.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

That is not a team playing quickly or moving through their sets. That is a team going through its sets deliberately, stopping the ball and having to get a shot off quickly as the shot clock expires.

That is not a formula this Magic team was built for. The offense clearly suffered for it.

After the All-Star Break, those numbers changed in important ways. According to Inpredictable, the Magic spent 11.8 seconds per possession to take a shot, moving them up to 15th in the league. But things changed in other areas.

Orlando still struggled to move against set defenses after made shots — 15.6 seconds to shot, 23rd in the league. But after defensive rebounds, the Magic pushed the pace a lot better. They were third in the league getting a shot up an average of 9.1 seconds into a possession after defensive rebounds and fourth after a turnover, getting a shot up 6.1 seconds into the possession.

Obviously, a quick shot does not necessarily mean a good shot. But the combination of the offense moving to get quality shots quicker, the increased possessions and making those shots all point to the Magic finding a better formula.

Noting especially the Magic seem to be best offensively with their pace after missed shots tracks well with the fact this team hopes to use its defense to spur its offense. The Magic are always going to have to work against a set defense more than other teams.

Even though the Magic will have to rediscover their rhythm whenever they get back, this seems to be the most ideal way for them to play.

So those are the numbers. Finding out what is actually behind them is the most important thing for the Magic and their development.

The easy answer is Markelle Fultz’s maturation. And that is certainly part of it.

Fultz has gone through the ups and downs you would expect from a rookie. But he had started to find his stride after the break. He is averaging 12.9 points and 6.6 assists per game since the break.

Pace had a big part to play in that. Nobody seems to get the Magic moving quicker and in and out of the lane as fast as Fultz does.

For the season with Fultz on the floor, the Magic play at 100.2 possessions per 48 minutes. Since the All-Star Break, the Magic have played at a pace of 103.3 possessions per 48 minutes. That is nearly two possessions per 48 minutes more than the team’s average in that time.

But it is not all about that number. The team plays at a faster pace in terms of number of possessions with other players on the floor, including Evan Fournier, who many people believe slows the ball down.

Observationally, it is clear Fultz gets the team into a different rhythm. They seem to move faster and into their sets quicker. Fultz is a player who is in constant movement, able to weave in and out of the lane and create holes for Magic players to cut.

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It is not just Fultz though.

Aaron Gordon has also picked up his movement too. He is making quick decisions and playing aggressively. It shows not only in his increased scoring and efficiency but also in his passing where he is averaging 15.4 points and 6.8 assists per game since the All-Star Break

According to Second Spectrum, Aaron Gordon averages 1.36 miles traveled on offense per game. Since the All-Star Break (Markelle Fultz was at 1.24 miles and Evan Fournier at 1.31). Since the All-Star Break, Gordon is up to 1.54 miles, Fultz to 1.31 and Fournier to 1.32.

Certainly, more possessions mean more distance covered on offense. The numbers do not mean the movement is necessarily productive.

But seeing how much Gordon and Fultz picked up the distance they traveled on offense suggests that their movement and the overall improvement movement within the offense.

The improved production and usage correlate with the Magic moving more. And that correlates with the team’s increased pace within its half-court set. The Magic are doing more within their offense.

They have gotten two of their best players going by increasing this movement and motion. And the rest of the offense has started to flourish because of it.

It is all a sign of pace. A sign the team has found its rhythm and its way to score effectively and efficiently.

dark. Next. How the Orlando Magic answered our questions this year

Like everything has always been, it is about pace.