The Orlando Magic knew after last season that shooting would be a premium. Even in a limited offseason, the team failed to address their biggest weakness.
If there was one thing to take away from last season when it comes to the Orlando Magic, it is that the team desperately needed to improve its shooting in order to progress.
That has not been the case in the early stages of the season despite the team boasting a winning record of 6-5.
The Magic once again had a quiet offseason, re-signing key rotation players from the previous years like Michael Carter-Williams and James Ennis and bringing in wing Dwayne Bacon from the Charlotte Hornets to provide some more depth.
Orlando’s biggest investments came by the way of new contracts for Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac, neither of whom are reliable shooters and both of whom are set to miss this entire season through injury.
In the 2020 season, the team ranked fifth-worst for 3-point percentage (34.3-percent) and ninth-worst for 3-pointers made per game (11.1 per game). They also ranked as the fourth-worst for field-goal percentage (44.4-percent) and two-point field goal percentage (50.2-percent).
Overall, the team had the fourth-worst effective field goal percentage (50.6-percent) and the eighth-worst offensive rating (107.9 points per 100 possessions).
The shooting and offensive weaknesses were clear, despite the team reaching the playoffs. But they simply have not been addressed. This season’s shooting numbers tell an unpleasant tale.
Orlando is second-worst for three-point percentage at 32.5-percent, third-worst for three-pointers made per game at 9.6 and second-worst for field-goal percentage at 43.6-percent. The team has the second-worst effective field goal percentage (48.9-percent), adding up to the sixth-worst offensive rating in the league (105.5 points per 100 possessions).
Looking at these numbers, it is remarkable that the team has done as well as it has in these opening 11 games. But it is also a sign the team could fall off quickly.
The team’s weaknesses are catching up on them.
The Magic have lost the past three games, albeit to superior opponents, and much of that can be attributed to some poor shooting displays. The team shot just 42.9-percent from the field against the Milwaukee Bucks, 42.7-percent against the Dallas Mavericks and 38.2-percent against the Houston Rockets.
This team cannot expect to win many games posting those sorts of numbers. Just as concerning was the team’s 3-point percentage stats against Houston and Dallas, which stood at just 27.6-percent and 19.4-percent respectively. The Magic seriously lack the flexibility that better perimeter shooting would provide.
Some of this can be blamed on injuries.
Evan Fournier, the team’s best 3-point shooter with 2.6 per game at a rate of 39.9-percent last season, has missed much of this season with back spasms. Fultz’s efficiency and shooting was below par but the team misses his aggressiveness and creativity. Meanwhile, Chuma Okeke had also shown glimpses of being a solid shooter before being sidelined with a bone bruise.
Similarly, rookie Cole Anthony, who was expected to add some shooting to the team, has struggled out of the gates. He has made only 6 of 33 3-pointers (18.2-percent) so far this season. The team does not seem especially concerned but Anthony is starting now. Production matters.
None of this has helped the Magic. But even with a healthy team, the shooting concerns remained. The team did not post higher than 36-percent shooting from 3-point range during the four-game winning streak to start the season, a number that would rank them around the middle of the NBA.
Things had looked more encouraging in the back-to-back wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Orlando shot 44.1-percent and then 41.4-percent from three in the victories, due largely to Aaron Gordon finding his shooting touch from the perimeter. These numbers could not be recreated over a whole year. But for the majority of the season, the Magic have not gotten near these totals.
But if the aim is to make the playoffs again despite a heavily weakened roster, something has to be done to address the lack of reliable shooting.
Trades could still be made closer to the deadline but the decision was made to continue down the current path during the offseason, despite the clear shooting problems that hindered the team last year.
It means there is still a massive reliance on Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross for their offense. Vucevic has been outstanding this season, averaging 22.5 points per game off 50.3-percent shooting and 41.8-percent from three. Ross has dipped in the recent losing run but is still acting as the team’s spark plug, averaging 16.5 points and shooting 40 percent from three.
Gordon has enjoyed a pretty strong start to the season too and is knocking down an improved 35.7-percent of his threes while going 48.2-percent from the field. But he will certainly need to show this consistency over a longer period if he is to be considered a reliable shooting option.
Ultimately, shooting is still often proving to be the difference between winning and losing particularly against the stronger teams. The Magic were blown away by a superb fourth-quarter shooting display against the Bucks despite still being in the game at the end of the third. And they were punished by the Rockets, Mavericks and 76ers for the same thing.
The team lacks effective spacing because of the lack of shooting. It makes the task for opposition teams a whole lot easier and means the Magic’s margin for error is a lot smaller, particularly with the injury problems.
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Fournier and Okeke returning this season will help. Both can space the floor. And while Okeke still has a lot to prove, the early signs suggest he can be a reliable option to knock down shots.
Orlando has a big choice to make this year. Eventually, the time will come to move away from the experienced core and look towards the future, something the front office could do this season with both Fultz and Issac out injured. A realistic option would be to sacrifice a playoff spot and try to start building a team for the future that can shoot better and is more suitable for the modern NBA.
But if the front office is still confident that this team can make the postseason despite big injuries to two key players in Fultz and Isaac, something must be done to improve the offensive deficiencies and shooting weaknesses. Looking to acquire players who can knock down catch-and-shoot threes and with strong jump shots are not easy to find but this should be the aim if making the playoffs is still the goal.
There is no reason why the team in its current format cannot still make the postseason if key players perform at a high level consistently throughout this year. Vucevic, Gordon, Ross and Fournier are all established players that belong on playoff teams.
But the shooting weaknesses are big enough for change to be required. Making moves in the trade market is always a balancing act between risk and reward but doing nothing is not the answer.