The Orlando Magic can blame an abysmal shooting night for a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The solution though might very well be the problem.
The frustration coming from the Orlando Magic was very real following Saturday’s 108-99 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The confidence that had been brimming through the team’s 4-0 start now seems to have completely dissipated. Injuries disrupting the team’s lineup and spacing have gutted the team of any offensive rhythm or flow.
That does not quite describe it though.
Not when there are multiple possessions with good shots at the rims and the kind of shots the Magic are trying to get. Every principle they are pushing is coming up empty.
Take a third-quarter possession that started with Markelle Fultz collecting a rebound and driving all the way to the basket but missing the layup. Only then to see Michael Carter-Williams attack the offensive glass and miss a tip-in. Only then to see him rebound again and find Aaron Gordon open for three.
Gordon, of course, would miss.
There was a possession like this in the second quarter too that ended with a Dwayne Bacon missed three. Over and over again, the Magic would pick up their pace, crash into the paint and kick out to an open shooter only to come up with nothing.
Sometimes the difference in a game is very simple.
"“The thing that stands out before watching the film was missed shots,” coach Steve Clifford said after Saturday’s game. “Maybe the biggest stretch of the game was a missed dunk, a missed layup that led to two open threes for them that they made. it went from us to we should have had a lead to them being up five or six. We certainly had our chances.”"
The Magic shot 40 for 108 (37.0-percent) for the game and 10 for 38 from beyond the arc. Vucevic and Ross combined to score 56 of the team’s 99 points and make 22 of 42 shots.
That means the rest of the team went an icy 18 for 66 (27.3-percent).
But there are unfortunately few answers. Shooters have to shoot and that is often the only way for a team to break out of an offensive slump — to maintain the confidence the next shot will go in.
This is a time where the solution is to reinforce what the Magic did well to jump out to such a strong offensive start and have faith that when open shots come along, they will be able to make them.
A lot of this should come down to shot quality. And this was something the Orlando Magic did well in Saturday’s game.
The Orlando Magic outscored the Oklahoma City Thunder in the paint 46-34, despite making only 23 of 54 shots in the paint. So far this season, the Magic are averaging 48.0 points in the paint per game, 10th in the league. They are shooting 52.9-percent in the paint this season, including leading the league in field goal attempts in the paint not in the restricted area.
Orlando has done well to live in the paint this season. And while the team has relied heavily on mid-range jumper, leading the league in mid-range field goal attempts per game according to NBA.com’s statistics database, these are shots that probably fit the team’s strengths better.
Despite these numbers, the Magic are in the middle of the league with 21.7 paint touches per game according to statistics from Second Spectrum.
Perhaps one improvement Orlando needs to make is to get more shots at the rim — the team has attempted the second-fewest field goal attempts in the restricted area. But right now thanks to the team’s poor 3-point shooting, simple paint touches and kick-outs might have to do.
Perhaps another improvement is not to draw too deep into the paint, allowing defenders to hamper passes back to the perimeter. Cleaner passing is an easy to lead to better shots and driving opportunities.
"“Our offense goes through stretches where we settle a little bit,” Nikola Vucevic said after Saturday’s game. “We take some shots that we can get at any time. We can probably work the offense to get better looks. When you get 3-4 possessions like that in a row and the team scores on the other end, it’s hard to play that way.”"
Still, shot quality did not seem to be an issue.
In Saturday’s game, the Magic went 5 for 22 on 3-pointers where the closest defender was 6+ feet away, according to NBA.com’s tracking statistics. They were 2 for 10 on 3-pointer where the closet defender was 4-6 feet away.
That means that 32 of the team’s 38 3-point shots were categorically good looks. Even for poor 3-point shooters, it is hard to pass up a look like this. This is the shot the Magic want to create.
Steve Clifford said he felt even without watching the tape that his team got good looks from three. There seemed to be no doubt of that and the film will confirm it.
But the results say that Michael Carter-Williams was 0 for 4 from three with good looks like the one above. It will say Dwayne Bacon was 0 for 4 and Aaron Gordon was 1 for 6 from deep. Orlando needed someone to step up without Evan Fournier in the lineup and no one could make the Thunder even think about the 3-point line.
The problem might have been a bad night.
If the Orlando Magic play as they did offensively again, they could score significantly better. This might have just been an odd off night. They happen in the NBA — but good teams still have to find a way to win.
But teams are going to dare the Magic to prove them wrong. And this game is only going to reinforce that as they put more emphasis on trying to crowd Markelle Fultz and keep him out of the paint.
This team’s 3-point shooting even in the good offensive stretches has had its struggles.
Orlando is making just 27.9-percent of its 3-pointers with the closest defender 4-6 feet away and 32.5-percent with the closest defender 6+ feet away. Before Saturday’s game, it was 29.4-percent when the closest defender was 4-6 feet away and 36.2-percent with the closest defender 6+ feet away.
It is not like Orlando is generating a ton of these 3-point shots either.
The Magic’s success is certainly not built on the 3-point line. And especially without Evan Fournier in the lineup, there were precious few shooters to space the floor.
Orlando could certainly work to get more of these attempts — they are a middling team when it comes to generating open 3-point shots. But the success for the Magic’s offense was not built on the 3-point line. But rather on working the ball to open shooters wherever they are and pushing the pace to get to the basket and the foul line.
In the Magic’s four wins, they have averaged 28.3 free throw attempts per game. In their two losses, they have averaged 16.5.
The shooting will either come around or it will not. But putting this kind of pressure on the defense is probably more indicative of the team’s success.
"“You’ve got to keep shooting,” Terrence Ross said after Saturday’s game. “But you have to figure out other things in the game that can get your team going. It usually starts with defense. Any time you can get easy transition buckets or get a stop and get a foul draw to get your rhythm back. It’s tough. It doesn’t swing your way every single time. If you play defense for the majority of the game, you are going to give yourself a chance in the fourth.”"
This all came in a game where the Magic actually had one of their better defensive games. The team gave up 106.9 points per 100 possessions, the third time Orlando has held an opponent to less than 110 points per 100 possessions this season. That should certainly be enough to win games, especially with how potent the Magic’s offense looked through the first four games of the season.
As much as the defense has remained a focus even through the team’s strong play to start the season. None of it really matters if the team is struggling to take advantage. The Magic said they wanted to use their defense to feed their offense.
Orlando had that chance in Saturday’s loss and simply could not convert.
"“We need to make shots when we’re open,” Aaron Gordon said after Saturday’s game. “We missed a lot of open shots. Some nights they don’t go in. But that’s on us to make sure we’re ready to play and our games are in rhythm that way we will knock down shots when we’re open.”"
The unfortunate solution likely comes down to being more aggressive attacking the paint and rim and having faith the shots will turn.