Orlando Magic cannot try to do too much to get out of this rut

The Orlando Maagic retained James Ennis for familiarity and defense. But his poor shooting and inconsistency has left the Magic bare. Mandatory Credit: Kathy Willens/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Maagic retained James Ennis for familiarity and defense. But his poor shooting and inconsistency has left the Magic bare. Mandatory Credit: Kathy Willens/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports /

There is a lot on Frank Mason’s plate as he dives right into his time with the Orlando Magic.

As a needed refresher even for players already on the team, their practice was spent Thursday trying to get the new acquisition up to speed with his playing group. The team worked on the sets they have to get Terrence Ross open. Tomorrow’s shootaround will be spent working with Frank Mason on adding Nikola Vucevic’s packages to his knowledge.

It will be a limited play set when Mason dons a Magic uniform for the first time. But the team is hoping he can provide some stability to a team that has lost its way.

"“This league is all about opportunity,” Frank Mason said after practice Thursday. “I’m blessed to be able to step right into an opportunity to play the backup point guard. I’m looking to be successful and do whatever the team needs me to do so we can get wins.”"

Mason said he believes he can catch on quickly because of his experience in drive-and-kick offenses. He said his time in the G-League helped him learn how to manage games better and shoot better off the dribble. He was certainly someone who needed the time to expand his game.

But Mason is like so many players now stepping into redefined and new roles. There is a temptation to try to do more and make up all the lost ground in one fell swoop.

The Orlando Magic have had to shift and change roles, often putting their players in uncomfortable positions. The team needs to reset and keep things simple, playing to their players’ strengths.

This is often how a team ends up further in the hole though. Players who try to do too much — like the constant driving deep into the defense with no outlet to kick out that led to 17 turnovers in Tuesday’s loss to the Toronto Raptors — often bury the team deeper.

Just like coming back from large deficits, often the way out is by doing the simple things better and with more focus. The Magic have to do better at these simple things, controlling what they can control and performing their regular roles at a higher level.

A little bit of a reset for the season was in order to try to get things back under control. Everyone needed a breath. And perhaps the greatest lesson the Magic can give right now is to remember to do what they are best at for now.

This is something of a fallacy of losing so many players to injury.

Here is might be better to talk about how the Magic can get Terrence Ross more shots in the normal flow of the offense or how the team can create better space for someone like James Ennis to get his cuts to the basket.

No, there will not be Markelle Fultz to drive into the lane. Frank Mason can do some of that, but nowhere near the level. It is not like replacing the real thing, so to speak.

But asking a player to do more than he is probably capable of or that player trying to pretend to be a player he is not will ultimately hurt the team more.

Ennis is a good example of someone who has stuck to his role. He has averaged a meager 5.5 points per game. The problems offensively elsewhere have kept him from getting the spot-up or cutting opportunities that make him valuable offensively.

But the Magic are not about to ask him to do more than that. He is not getting curls or isolations called for him. That would not be the best way to use him.

And as he continues to work into the lineup, they hope his defense can be a bigger spark.

"“I think sometimes what happens is and it happens to a lot of these guys is he is here for a certain reason,” coach Steve Clifford said after practice Thursday. “[Ennis is] a defender. He’s a tough guy. And that’s what he needs to play to play his best. Play to your strengths. Play away from your weaknesses. There are a lot of guys who go from solid players to not very good players because you have people telling them to expand your game. It just doesn’t work that way.”"

Injuries create an opportunity for players to get more shots and play a bigger role for the team. But it should not necessarily change how a team plays or how these players get those shots. Really what it should do is merely change the number of plays called for them not necessarily their usage.

That is probably an oversimplification. But the truth is the Magic have had to change things up too much.

One of the things the Magic have struggled with — both coach-implemented and player-driven — is trying to do too much to make up for the lost players. It has hurt execution on the court.

Some of this change is certainly unavoidable. But it has knocked the team completely out of rhythm and into disorganization. Nobody seems certain what to do or where to be.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The injuries the Magic have faced have forced them to shift and change roles. But it has taken players deep outside their comfort zone.

Khem Birch is playing at power forward for long stretches — he and Nikola Vucevic share the floor for about 11.1 minutes per game. Aaron Gordon was playing backup point guard minutes. The team was trying to do a lot of things to make their regular playing groups work.

It simply is not working though.

The Magic have played with the worst offense at 103.0 points per 100 possessions since Markelle Fultz’s injury on January 6. They have the worst net rating in the league by six points per 100 possessions at -13.3 points per 100 possessions in that time.

Orlando is hoping a few days off and a new player will allow them to reset some things and get back on track. The team also seemed excited to report that Al-Farouq Aminu is getting closer to a return and could be back during the team’s West Coast road trip next week.

But it will be a long road regardless.

About the only thing Clifford did not try in this time was expanding his rotation or switching out for the few players he had on his bench.

Like the disorganization on the court, the Magic have had to ask a lot of players to do a lot more than they planned to do. Or, perhaps, players trying to do a bit more to make up for the loss of such important players.

Whatever the case, the Magic need a reset and a reminder of what they are good at to get out of this hole. They have to understand that doing too much or acting too much out of character is likely only going to make things worse.

Next. Mohamed Bamba's lack of game time adding to frustration. dark

Simple is often the best answer.