Orlando Magic finally hitting their stride offensively

Charlotte Hornets
108
Orlando Magic
117

For the early part of the season, the Orlando Magic struggled offensively. In the wake of Markelle Fultz’s injury, the Magic seemed to struggle to get organized and generate good shots. The team was reorganizing on the fly and trying to find its way to play all over again.

Nobody expected Orlando’s offense to be stellar, to begin with. But nobody expected it to be this bad. For much of the first quarter of the season, the Magic were shooting worse than 30-percent from beyond the arc.

But as of late, the Magic have found their stride offensively.

“When we play as selflessly as we play, the ball is going to find open piggies,” Cole Anthony said after a career-high 21 points in Monday’s win over the Charlotte Hornets. “That’s the key thing right there. Nobody is here trying to take bad shots. We all took good shots and found each other when we were open.”

The team is scoring again, topping 100 points in three consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 29. And that, as much as anything, has given Orlando the chance to win games again.

Orlando’s offense took a major dip after a blistering start and is only now bouncing back.

The Magic started the year with a 108.4 offensive rating through the first eight games of the season (through the game Fultz got injured). That was good for 19th in the league. They had a 49.9-percent effective field goal percentage, 29th in the league.

These were not world-beating numbers. But they were good enough to keep the team winning with a defense that was starting to surge.

From Jan. 7 (the day after Fultz’s injury) until the game last week against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Orlando Magic’s offensive rating dropped to 98.7 points per 100 possessions, the only team averaging less than a point per possession, with a 45.9-percent effective field goal percentage.

But in the last three games, the Magic have found something of a spark. Orlando is averaging 111.9 points per 100 possessions. That is 15th in the league. And their 55.9-percent effective field goal percentage is fifth-best in the league.

Even in a small sample size that is a sure sign of progress.

They can thank a suddenly hot streak from beyond the arc. In each of the last three games, Orlando has hit at least 17 three-pointers for a total 53, which ties a team record for most threes within a three-game span.

The Magic’s 3-point percentage has risen to a modest 34.8-percent. That is 25th in the league. But it is still so much better than it was even a week ago.

“The three is a big part of today’s game,” Nikola Vucevic said to FOX Sports Florida’s Dante Marchitelli after Monday night’s game. “We need to make those if we want to be able to score efficiently at a high rate and be able to win games. That’s something we struggled with at times. But it was good to get them tonight.”

Against the Hornets on Monday, the Magic made a season-best 19 triples on 37 attempts. Evan Fournier had five 3-pointers, while Nikola Vucevic and Cole Anthony each had four. Orlando had 31 assists against

This came after back to back games where the team hit 17 3-pointers, the team’s previous season-high. Orlando has suddenly found some rhythm and confidence from beyond the arc. That has helped take the team’s offense to another level.

But it is much more than that.

Fournier’s return has played a key role in the Magic’s offensive surge. He has taken the pressure off everyone offensively since returning from an eight-game absence.

Fournier is averaging 22.5 points and 5.8 assists per game in the last four games. He has shot 47.7-percent from the floor and 42.4-percent from beyond the arc.

Since he has been back, Orlando has scored 109 points per game with a 109.3 offensive rating. The team is 2-2 after losing six straight games.

In addition, Anthony has been vital for Orlando. After struggling with his shot early this season, Anthony has found his rhythm offensively. The rookie scored a career-high 21 points against the Hornets on 8-for-12 shooting, making four of five from three.

In his last five games, he is averaging 12.6 points per game while hitting 66.7-percent of his 3-pointers. He has looked a lot more comfortable on the floor and made significant progress in organizing and running the team.

The Magic suffered a major blow when Fultz went down with a torn ACL, he was a major part of what they did offensively, but Anthony is proving to be a good fill-in.

“I think tonight was his best game,” coach Steve Clifford said after Monday’s game. “The thing I like most about him is he’s played better and better every game as we’ve gone along. He’s diligent, he watches a lot of film. He does as much extra as he can. He has made really good strides already and I think he will continue to do so.”

That is the kind of progress the Magic are hoping to see continue as the season moves on with him. That is the kind of growth the team would expect.

It is also what a team would expect as they get more comfortable playing together. And since Fultz’s injury, that is certainly what is happening.

Orlando has had to break some tendencies and find ways to replace what Fultz did for them in many ways.

The Magic’s poor shooting in many ways came from fundamental things that were breaking down long before a player took a shot. Many players on the team credit their improvement offensively to better ball movement.

“Offensively, we’re finally playing the way we need to,” Vucevic said after the game on FOX Sports Florida. “Moving the ball, playing for each other, trying to get everybody going with a lot of action and a lot of movement. I still feel like we are hurting ourselves with some plays. We take care of those and it could be much easier for us. We’re taking steps in the right direction. Hopefully, we can continue to do that.”

The Magic have been an uncharacteristically low assist team this year, averaging 22.4 assists per game, the third-fewest in the league. But in the last four games, the Magic have seen that jump to 28.3 per game, the second-most in the league since Jan. 20.

According to tracking data from Second Spectrum, the Magic accounted for only 44.6 potential assists per game. But since Jan. 20 (but not including Monday’s game), that number too has jumped to 50.7 potential assists per game.

That number is more in line with last year’s 47.9 per game the team averaged.

Of course, a potential assist is meaningless without making shots. so it is clearly the combination of moving the ball better and hitting from the outside that has led this surge.

Orlando certainly did both on Monday with 19-for-37 shooting from deep and 31 assists on 42 field goals. That is how the team tallied a 112.5 offensive rating, the fifth-best offensive output of the season so far.

“Honestly, that’s something coach has been preaching all year just to move the ball,” said Dwayne Bacon, who scored 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting, after Monday’s game. “There are going to be open shots, we just have to knock them down. Tonight we actually moved the ball, got open shots and knocked them down. If we do that every night, we have a chance to win the game each and every night.”

It looked like it was going to be a down year for the Magic as they struggled offensively without Fultz. But with the return of Fournier and the emergence of Anthony, it looks like the Magic can muster up some wins, as long as they continue to move the ball and knock down open shots.