The Orlando Magic showcased the offensive system Steve Clifford has chosen to implement this season in their four preseason games.
The Orlando Magic’s 2021 season officially begins on Wednesday when they face the Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat in their season opener.
With a shortened training camp, multiple injuries limiting the rotation, and newcomers joining the roster, Magic fans may be surprised by how different this team looks given that the organization made so few roster moves in the offseason.
And, quite auspiciously, it is the offense that feels different.
Despite his reputation as a defensive coach, Steve Clifford’s offensive game plan in these four games displayed his dedication to preparation on both sides of the ball.
He appears to be as aware as Magic fans that his team will need extra offensive juice this season after finishing 23rd in the league in offensive rating last year. And the playbook he has elected provided it, at least throughout the preseason.
The team felt its offense was rounding the corner last year. The team had the top offense in the league in the 10 games after the All-Star Break before the league went on hiatus. The team did not quite pick up at that level in the bubble, but it finished right in the middle during the seeding round with 111.7 points per 100 possessions.
The team is embracing pace — trying to get out in transition more and play faster within its half-court sets. And it is even starting to play more 5-out sets, encouraging Nikola Vucevic to step out beyond the 3-point line and shoot even more.
Orlando has made some important tweaks to their offense as they try to build up for the upcoming season.
The base set
The most common action the Orlando Magic ran in their four preseason games was a standard “Flex” style set. This appears to be the team’s default motion — that is, the elected system when there is no explicit play call for a given halfcourt possession.
In the first matchup against the Atlanta Hawks, the Orlando Magic opened preseason play with a pin-dow” screen out of the Flex motion to free Evan Fournier for an open 3-pointer.
Flex is usually one of the most simple plays that players learn in middle school when they first play organized basketball. It is a set at that stage that cycles itself naturally with the ball at the top of the key trying to set up a layup for the baseline cut Dwayne Bacon is making here.
This particular inversion of the seminal offense works so well because Evan Fournier sets a back screen for Dwayne Bacon before receiving his own screen from Nikola Vucevic. Second-year forward De’Andre Hunter takes a split second to digest the switch with Bogdan Bogdonavic, and this is enough time for Evan Fournier to make it rain.
What works so well about these sets is how many options a team has to score from them when they set good screens and cut hard.
Another instance running this motion against the Charlotte Hornets provided an easy opportunity for Khem Birch inside.
Okeke shows composure and does not rush the play as it develops — an issue for most rookies — and then makes the right read to the cutting Birch on the slip.
While the Flex motion provided some spark for the Magic in each of the four games, it was their variation sets that provided the more insightful preview of how the team plans to generate offense when their rhythm is disrupted.