The Magic will finish with a top-5 defense
Defense was the Orlando Magic’s calling card last season. But in order to further their success, they must aim for a top-five defense along with a top-five offense.
Much of their offense will start with their defense. If the team is trying to play with pace and get out in transition, the Magic have to use their defense to feed their offense.
That has been a big reason why the Magic have been able to win late in their first four games. Orlando’s fourth-quarter defensive rating is at an astonishing 90.4 points allowed per 100 possessions, the third-best mark in the league early on this season.
For the whole game though, the Magic’s defense has been anything but consistent so far. Orlando ranks 12th in the league giving up 106.4 points per 100 possessions. Coach Steve Clifford has lamented the team’s poor pick and roll defense and players have noted their need to keep getting better on that end.
It is still early, but the Orlando Magic’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder was a small step in the right direction. The team gave up 103.9 points per 100 possessions. The team locked in long enough to win by double-digits for the first time.
The defense might not be as bad as everyone thinks and it could be making some needed steps forward.
In the past two seasons, the Magic have finished in the top 10 in defensive rating and also in the top five in opponents’ points per game. Perhaps consequently, they also finished in the top half of the league in blocks and steals in the past two years.
While it may seem outlandish to say, the Magic could finish the season as a top-five defense in the league. Here’s how:
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Of the nine teams ahead of the Orlando Magic in defensive efficiency, two of those teams — the Toronto Raptors and the Oklahoma City Thunder — both took major hits to their rosters. The Raptors lost Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka while the Thunder lost Dennis Schroder and Chris Paul. This could hypothetically open the door for the Magic to move up.
With this capable roster the Magic have, any changes in defensive rating will have to take place internally. Elevated play from players like Markelle Fultz and Aaron Gordon, especially with the absence of Jonathan Isaac, will be integral to the team’s defensive success.
Fultz has already shown a level of maturity to his game that we’ve all been waiting for. After making key plays in their first win against the Heat, Fultz is in a position to have a career year.
Aaron Gordon will also be a player to watch out for on the defense. Gordon is physically gifted in ways that other players aren’t and he has shown flashes of enticing defensive potential.
Gordon will most likely be tasked with guarding opposing forwards. This will require intense, physical and detail-oriented defense from Gordon which he has shown to be capable of.
Fellow guard and defensive specialist Michael Carter-Williams is also in a position to succeed.
Carter-Williams was the key to the second unit’s success as he is a willing passer but is an active disruptor on defense. Standing at 6-foot-6, Carter-Williams is capable of defending both guards and wings while also blocking shots in the paint.
His defensive prowess and energy is what will allow the second unit to thrive, especially with the additions of Chuma Okeke and Cole Anthony who will take time to adjust to the physicality of the NBA.
The Magic have a lot of ground to cover between where they are and being a top five defense in the league. But it is not impossible.
Taking into account movement in the East and the personnel that they have, while it is bold, a top-five defense is what the Magic should strive for this season.