Orlando Magic Playbook: How the Orlando Magic wall up Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the central focus of the Orlando Magic's defense. And their wall has held up in slowing him down some. (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images)
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the central focus of the Orlando Magic's defense. And their wall has held up in slowing him down some. (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic have faced a tall order against Giannis Antetokounmpo. Their strategy to wall off the paint has met some positive results.

Everything with the Milwaukee Bucks revolves around Giannis Antetokounmpo.

From the moment the Orlando Magic stepped into this series, they knew how they defended Antetokounmpo would determine whether they would be able to win or compete in the series. Doing this with Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac out was an even taller task.

The Magic understood there was no stopping Antetokounmpo. He was going to score and get his. He is simply too much of a force, too athletic and too big to completely stop. His jumper, while still his biggest weakness, is developed enough that he can keep teams at least a bit honest.

Even a good job on Antetokounmpo is going to create a gaudy stat line.

In the four games of this series, Antetokounmpo is averaging 31.3 points per game, 15.8 rebounds per game and 6.8 assists per game. He is shooting 57.8-percent from the floor with 53 of his 83 shot attempts coming in the restricted area.

Antetokounmpo has been very good in this series. But that does not tell the whole story. Giannis is the hub for the Bucks and that hub has been a bit clogged.

The only positive stat for the Magic are the 4.0 turnovers per game they are forcing against him.

After the Magic’s loss in Game 2, coach Steve Clifford said he thought his team had played Antetokounmpo well. Then he looked down and saw Antetokounmpo had 28 points and 21 rebounds, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players in Bucks history with 20/20 games in the playoffs.

Indeed, the Magic largely have to feel they have played good defense on Antetokounmpo. The turnovers are a sign of the kind of defense they are playing against Antetokounmpo.

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  • How? It is simple — the wall.

    "“You got to create a wall,” Terrence Ross said after the Magic’s Game 1 win. “Giannis lives in the paint. The whole team gets to the paint with ease. We have to lock the paint down and make them pass out of the paint and get out to their shooters on the wing. We know they are going to make some. But that’s how we’ll live.”"

    Why do we build the wall?

    The Orlando Magic’s strategy defensively against Anteokounmpo has been to try to wall him. It is a term of art for trying to clog the lane and prevent any direct path to the rim by having players essentially stand together and block the way forward into the lane.

    It forms a literal wall of bodies that makes it even impossible for a player like Antetokounmpo to slither by — something he is very good at even at 6-foot-11.

    It is meant to force Antetokounmpo to slow down and make a decision. Either bowl through and risk an offensive foul or slow his pace and try to dish out to the perimeter. That is where the Magic have to scramble back and contest. But that little bit of time where Antetokounmpo slows down is enough to change the Bucks’ offense — a group that is completely dependent on rhythm and passing.

    It is all designed to get Antetokounmpo to slow down or get rid of the ball.

    And for the most part, despite Antetokounmpo’s gaudy stat lines, the Magic are doing a good job. They have created some textbook examples of how to play a wall defense.

    The whole goal of the wall is to throw as many bodies into Antetokounmpo’s way and vision as possible. It forces him to retreat and slow his action. He cannot get straight to the basket. And that disrupts he Milwaukee Bucks’ offensive rhythm.

    Gary Clark has done some incredible work positioning himself to make the initial stop. But he cannot do it alone. Positioning alone is not going to slow down Antetokounmpo.

    Clark is able to direct Antetokounmpo toward the help. At the onset of this play, Nikola Vucevic is positioned near the free throw line to protect for the drive and Markelle Fultz is also there.

    This is the wall.

    As Antetokounmpo comes around the screen, Vucevic hangs at the foul line forcing Antetokounmpo to stop his drive. That gives Vucevic time to catch up to the roll man and stop the drive. So as Antetokounmpo drives, Fultz is able to dig in and present a second body for him to think about.

    He still gets to the rim, but the wall has its effect. It has slowed him down and disrupted his timing.

    It can be really tough to slow down Antetokounmpo in transition. There the team does not have the chance to set itself up and get into an ideal position.

    Here it is imperative then that the team present those bodies to slow him down.

    In this play from Game 1, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic do some good stunting to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo down and give James Ennis the chance to recover. But the Bucks are still in transition mode and you can see all five Magic players are staring at Antetokounmpo. Three, including Ennis, are in a position to crowd Antetokounmpo if he attacks the lane.

    He does and Fournier quickly closes the lane like it is an elevator screen — an action the Magic will sometimes use for to spring Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross open as shooters where they run between two Magic players who then “shut the door” on his defender after he runs through.

    Fournier closes the door and Antetokounmpo is not able to get all the way through in time.

    You can see though how one step in the wrong direction or being a hair late in this strategy can lead to problems. Fournier very well could have been called for a foul on this play if he is late.

    And Antetokounmpo is still more than capable of beating it.

    Beating the Wall

    The best way to beat the wall is to just outrun it. It is not like the Magic have a lot of speedy defenders who can recover. And the primary defender in Gary Clark is not exactly the fastest to recover and adjust when Giannis Antetokounmpo is coming at him full speed.

    The wall is meant to slow him down. So when it is not set up, Antetokounmpo can simply run by it.

    This is perhaps where Evan Fournier has struggled most in this series. His timing and positioning has been a step late. And that step is everything against a player like Antetokounmpo.

    He has also found success in the series by out-leveraging the wall, pulling the defense one way and then driving past it away from the help — a favorite tactic to beat people in NBA 2K because Antetokounmpo is very much a video-game character.

    This is why it is vital the Magic be set up before he gets downcourt.

    The key to a good wall is to have the main player shade Antetokounmpo toward the help and just present bodies that will get him to slow down or divert him away from the basket. At a certain level too, the guy guarding Antetokounmp has to absorb the initial contact.

    The wall has to present no give, so to speak.

    Just presenting the wall here is enough to get Antetokounmpo to play not on instinct and force. He sees the wall forming with players flanking Clark on either side and becomes indecisive.

    Forcing decisions

    This is where the Orlando Magic have done a good job.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 4.0 turnovers per game in the series. Gary Clark and Khem Birch have done good work to force charges and hold their ground — taking that initial hit is a big part of defending Giannis Antetokounmpo. You have to hold your ground and provide some physical resistance.

    Forcing Antetokounmpo to slow down takes him out of his comfort zone. He is best reacting and going headlong into the defense. When he has to pull up and think about how to attack a defense, that is where he makes mistakes.

    And this is why teams favor the wall approach to defending him.

    On this play from the second half of Game 4, Gary Clark provides good initial defense but gets caught up in the screen from Eric Bledsoe.

    But Evan Fournier and Markelle Fultz do a great job closing down the lane and forming their own little wall. Antetokounmpo has to adjust quickly and he travels. The Magic have caught him in several of these situations.

    The Bucks have started trying to use rub screens like the one from Bledsoe to free up Antetokounmpo and prevent the Magic from overloading on him, taking one player who would form the wall away from Antetokounmpo.

    In the fourth quarter of Game 4, they would have Kyle Korver cut in front of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the wall, forcing Terrence Ross to trail and leave the space open he would have used to help wall up the paint.

    But Antetokounmpo has definitely figured things out. And this is where the Magic made their gamble. They bet they could close out on the 3-point shooters or rely on their inconsistency with the fast-break and Antetokounmpo’s constant pace to the rim cut off.

    In Game 4, the Bucks made 3-pointers. That was the major difference between Games 1 and 4. Milwaukee hit 17 of 41 (41.5 percent) from beyond the arc. Antetokounmpo assisted on six of them (he had eight assists in the game).

    The Magic have been willing to pack the paint to make Antetokounmpo’s life hard in the paint and limit his attack. Even though Antetokounmpo has scored a lot and most of it has come in the paint. But it still feels like the Magic have done a good job limiting him.

    It has not been a free run to the paint. But Orlando has certainly over-committed to stopping him in the paint.

    Orlando Magic
    Orlando Magic /

    Orlando Magic

    On this play, they work to get Antetokounmpo the ball in the mid-post where the Magic cannot completely set up their wall. Four of the Magic’s five players are in the paint by the time he makes his move. Evan Fournier has crashed down (rightfully) to limit the drive.

    And that gives Antetokounmpo the free look to the perimeter if his shooters can hit. Orlando has made its bets and it is lying in them.

    Beyond the wall

    But it that gameplan all centers on slowing down Antetokounmpo. Overall, the Orlando Magic have done some good things with their defensive scheme. He has had moments where he beat the wall and out positioned the defense.

    Certainly, Orlando would be better for having Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac out there because of their ability to defend him one on one. Gary Clark has done well, but there are plays where Giannis Antetokounmpo just blows by him because Clark is a half-step late and simply cannot recover the way those players almost certainly could.

    This series has been about margins of error. And the Magic have virtually none.

    Still, they have put up some resistance. And it starts with the wall they have built to slow Antetokounmpo.

    The Magic have exposed to other teams how to slow him down in some fashion. At the end of the day, Orlando probably did not have enough to cover everything Milwaukee does.

    Next. Orlando Magic will need offensive force from the start. dark

    And Antetokounmpo is still far too good to completely stop.