5 Orlando Magic lineups that are struggling and how to save them

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Terrence Ross, Khem Birch, Orlando Magic
Terrence Ross and Khem Birch have both made major contributions to a second unit that is proving to be a problem for Orlando Magic opponents. Mandatory Credit: Shawn Thew/Pool Photo viaUSA TODAY Sports /

Cole Anthony-Evan Fournier-Terrence Ross-Khem Birch-Nikola Vucevic

28 minutes, 103.3 Off. Rtg., 122.0 Def. Rtg., -18.7 Net Rtg.

Cole Anthony-Evan Fournier-Terrence Ross-Gary Clark-Nikola Vucevic

17 minutes, 113.5 Off. Rtg., 131.3 Def. Rtg., -17.7 Net Rtg.

If the Orlando Magic were going to find success trying to pair up their two centers in Khem Birch and Nikola Vucevic it would need a few things to work. Coach Steve Clifford admitted that after trying it and failing with it last year and then finding a new way to make it work.

Essentially, he said his failure last year was playing Birch as a true power forward rather than blending the roles for Vucevic and Birch at the two post positions. Now, his plan was to play Birch at the 4 on defense and the 5 on offense, keeping him close to the basket and taking better advantage of Vucevic’s floor spacing as a shooter.

It would make logical sense then that the best way to make this work is to surround those two post players with as much shooting as possible. It is hard for this roster to have much better shooting than Cole Anthony, Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross.

But the one thing that would make this lineup workable is if it played strong defense. With Birch in the lineup with a veteran group, the Magic should expect to see strong defensive lineups. But that has also not been the case.

It would be hard to find lineups with the Magic’s four best positional shooters struggling this much. In fact, that quartet has a 100.6 offensive rating on the court together in 72 minutes and a -16.4 net rating overall. And that is in addition to unexpected defensive problems.

Nothing works when this group is on the floor and that makes it harder to justify playing them even if there is logic behind trying it.

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  • Obviously, a lot of those minutes (28 of them) came with Birch at power forward. Another 17 came with Gary Clark on the floor. The Magic fared better with Clark on the floor with a 113.5 offensive rating but a still horrid -17.7 net rating.

    That quartet with Aaron Gordon at power forward? It has a -23.3 net rating and an 80.0 offensive rating in 15 minutes.

    In nine minutes, the Magic have a +12.2 net rating with James Ennis at the power forward. So there is something there that can work. But why those other groups do not work and Ennis does is strange. It might have to do with opponent quality and so these numbers might need more context.

    Still, the logic of putting all the Magic’s best shooters on the floor at the same time should work. The team desperately needs shooting. But the plain fact is that grouping does not work well at all.

    It all starts with the team’s defense. The group just does not defend well enough. And while the Birch-Vucevic pairing is certainly a problem the team should probably work to avoid. Inserting a player like Al-Farouq Aminu to give the team a more solid defensive base probably would not work well with this group either — it does not with Gordon, after all.

    And that is a problem because this lineup with Gordon is how the magic will prefer to finish games when they are at full health.

    The real solution might be to keep a defensive-minded forward in with this group and replace the power forward in some fashion. This is the kind of lineup where the Magic probably need James Ennis the most to give some defensive solidity.