Orlando Magic Playbook: Orlando Magic trying to get their defensive mentality back

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Prep Work

Steve Clifford’s philosophy for preparing for the regular season with the shortened training camp and offseason was to get guys playing. He installed enough offense and defense to have some basic organization, but he has not been able to install a full offense and defense.

He admits this fully. The team is not where it would be in a normal training camp. But he believes no team is where it should be this close to the season.

The team is trying to add some new schemes and admittedly the team has not fully installed them. The team has not been able to implement some schemes fully.

This includes blitzing pick and rolls, something the team rarely did last year until the end of last season.

There is a lot going on in this clip from Thursday’s game.

Khem Birch does a good job blitzing the screen, but the Charlotte Hornets have a good plan to attack it and the Orlando Magic are a bit disorganized behind it. Chuma Okeke is still learning to anticipate defensive rotations. He is caught guarding two guys — the roll man and Miles Bridges at the top of the key.

Khem Birch sticks with Devonte’ Graham a bit too long and Cole Anthony has to stay in the paint to tag Bismack Biyombo. That leaves the corner open and Anthony is just a hair late to get there to contest.

This was by no means the worst example of the Magic’s defense when trying to blitz pick and rolls. But it shows how this is not quite a second-nature strategy for the Magic. The biggest thing the Magic need is practice.

If the team is going to make mistakes and figure out if this can work, this is the time to do it — in the preseason where the result is not so important.

This will be something to watch throughout the season.

Magic fans have asked for the team to mix up its pick and roll coverage for a long time. Because Nikola Vucevic does not have a ton of mobility, the team has often used drop coverages. Clifford long said this was the best strategy to prevent penetration even if it means giving up mid-range jumpers.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

But that tune appears to be changing. Clifford said after Thursday’s game he now believes teams have to mix pick and roll coverages. Playing one way becomes too predictable and teams can adjust and attack it.

Offenses are becoming far more sophisticated which makes playing defense even harder.

"“We blitzed a lot more after the All-Star Break and into the bubble and it was very good for us,” Clifford said after Thursday’s game. “It killed us in the first quarter. We’re not organized behind it. We haven’t spent a lot of time on it, I just wanted to do it. I think it’s the way to go in the NBA now. You can’t just drop. We have to be able to blitz and play our way out of it. I think that unless you have incredible talent, I don’t think you can have just one pick and roll coverage anymore.”"

Still some things cannot change.