Rebounding, transition the secret to Orlando Magic’s early success

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Khem Birch, Orlando Magic
Khem Birch has established himself as the best offensive rebound threat for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /

Offensive rebounding

The Orlando Magic’s ability to create easy opportunities on second-chance looks has been vital to their success this season.

Even when they are unable to generate a high-percentage shot on their initial action, they have designed their sets to provide secondary opportunities to score.

So far this season, the Magic have a 26.8-percent offensive rebound rate, 13th in the league. The team’s 28.9-percent offensive rebound rate in wins would place the team sixth in the league. This is a good measure of whether the Magic are playing with the necessary activity on offense.

Overall too, the Magic score 13.0 second-chance points per game are 13th in the league.

What is impressive is how the Magic have integrated this into their gameplan. The Magic ranked 19th in second-chance points per game (12.7) and 16th in offensive rebound rate (26.7-percent) last year.

This was a noted focus for Steve Clifford as he game-planned for this season.

Notice the placement of the four Magic players in the clip below when Terrence Ross attacks the basket — no one is above the free-throw line:

Instead, both Khem Birch — the Magic’s best offensive rebounder — and Gary Clark rim run with Terrence Ross. For most teams, Clark would be the “retreat man” to prevent an easy Dallas attack, given he was located at the top of the key when Ross drove.

NBA offenses can be strategically passive on live-ball rebounds — most deferring to prevent their opponent from generating easy offense in transition rather than gamble for a second-chance shot.

But Clifford has recognized this strength in his team and is self-aware of the need to generate easy baskets this season. It may not be his “preferred” way to play, but he is willing to employ this machination if it helps his team win.

Cole Anthony provided an even more obvious example of Orlando’s focus on the offensive glass in their second matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder:

In addition to showcasing Anthony’s instincts and hustle, this clip puts into perspective the Magic’s emphasis on offensive rebounding. Very few point guards ever make an attempt at a rebound in these halfcourt situations, particularly when they are spaced beyond the 3-point line.

Surprisingly, listed at (a rather generous) 6-foot-3, Anthony is the team’s second-best offensive rebounder by the numbers. His rebound rate on field-goal attempts is 5.4-percent, which ranks in the 94th percentile among point guards, per Cleaning the Glass.

Along with Khem Birch and Cole Anthony, Michael Carter-Williams is among the team’s best at hunting offensive rebounds. He is adept at slithering around unsuspecting big men and timing his attack at the optimal time.

There is a reason Steve Clifford has such reverence for Michael Carter-Williams’ play, and why he was initially tasked with starting in place of Evan Fournier while the latter has sat with back spasms. In a six-point victory over Miami, these two plays may well have been the difference between a win and a loss.

Offensive rebounding is one of the reasons the Magic bench has been more efficient offensively than the starters in a very small sample size. It will be worth monitoring how this is impacted by Anthony’s transition to the starting lineup.