A point guard solves a lot of Orlando Magic’s problems with Michael Carter-Williams’ return

Michael Carter-Williams' return gave the Orlando Magic a huge boost and organization to pull out the win. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Carter-Williams' return gave the Orlando Magic a huge boost and organization to pull out the win. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports /

123. 38. 112. 84. Final

On the first play of the Orlando Magic’s 123-112 win over the Sacramento Kings on Friday, Nikola Vucevic probably knew everything was going to be all right. A staple of his offensive repertoire was finally available to him again. Just a simple play of chemistry that the uninitiated just have not mastered.

Michael Carter-Williams, playing his first game since Jan. 4 after dealing with a foot injury, was starting at point guard. He is a veteran player who has played with Nikola Vucevic before (no offense to Frank Mason as he tried to learn the Orlando Magic’s offense on the fly). He knows exactly where Vucevic will be at all times.

So the first play of the game was a simple pick and roll. Nothing too complex. But it was so different than what Vucevic had played through in the last few games.

Michael Carter-Williams got into the paint and drew the defense around him, threatened by his driving and finishing ability. And then he pitched it back to Vucevic for a three at the top of the key.

The Kings struggled to track Vucevic at the top of the key, where Vucevic is the most efficient shooter in the league. He took all eight of his 3-point attempts, including a career-high-tying six, from that spot.

But he only gets to that spot if he has a guard who is driving into the lane and pitching back to him. The Magic’s offense can only really function if there is a player getting everyone to their spots and initiating the offense.

Even just having Carter-Williams back in the fold changed everything about the way this team can operate.

"“That’s his natural position,” coach Steve Clifford said after Friday’s win. “It does take a lot of different effort and thinking [to play point guard]. Just having Mike on the floor was a plus. We played from ahead because of the stretch he had in the second quarter. It was a huge lift to have him back.”"

Carter-Williams blew through whatever minute restriction he had in his first game in five weeks. Clifford said after the game that the training staff raised his minute cap when Carter-Williams reported he felt better than expected at halftime.

Carter-Williams ended up playing 27 minutes, scoring 21 points and dishing out seven assists. He also grabbed seven rebounds for good measure, showing the versatility that has made him one of the Magic’s most versatile two-way weapons.

His 15 points in the third quarter, especially, helped the Magic stake a double-digit lead and balloon it to 20. Everyone seemed to play a lot better with him on the floor. Carter-Williams was not the sole reason for the team’s spark, but the Magic posted a season-best 124.2 offensive rating in the win over the Kings.

"“I think it is definitely a relief for the guys,” Michael Carter-Williams said after Friday’s win. “They are used to running the wings and playing the 2 and the 3. They are more comfortable in that area. Having me on the floor and guarding the point guard and getting into sets is easier for them. They do a great job and did a great job adapting to playing different positions.”"

The Magic will still need Dwayne Bacon and Terrence Ross to play some point guard with Frank Mason still out with a strained groin (and now James Ennis suffered the same injury) and Cole Anthony dealing with discomfort from a strained shoulder. Those lineups do not go away.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

But the organizational difference is still pretty clear.

Clifford said Thursday’s game turned when the Golden State Warriors put pressure on the inexperienced ball handlers, forcing the team to slow down into their offense and forcing some turnovers.

The Kings tried switching defenses throughout the night and brought pressure too. In one press break, the Magic picked up the ball in the backcourt and did not have an outlet in the middle. The team nearly turned the ball over before Khem Birch was able to get get the ball back to restart the possession.

This is something teams simply cannot get away with when Carter-Williams is on the court. He has a feel for how to run a team that the others are lacking.

That is not their fault. But the offense clearly benefited from that level of organization and composure. Carter-Williams understood when to attack, when to facilitate and when to speed up or slow down the pace.

The Magic were operating without a quarterback in this sense — Anthony is a natural point guard, but as a rookie, he is still learning these things and still getting more responsibility as the lead guard.

"“It was a huge boost,” Vucevic said after Friday’s game. “He brings a ton of energy for us on both ends of the floor. It was big for us. It was great to have him back. I think his energy rubbed off on everybody. We know MCW, he knows us. We have played with him and he knows our offense and how to run things. It was good to have someone we have played with for a while. That familiarity helped us also.”"

The Magic will still need everyone to get their offense cooking again. The team, despite some losses recently, seem to feel confident they have found a more solid defensive groove — Friday’s 112.0 defensive rating is nothing impressive but also marks the first time the Magic had recorded three straight games giving up fewer than 115 points per 100 possessions since Markelle Fultz’s injury.

The big issue for this team to solve is still its offense. But getting the defense in a better place and getting a true ball handler back will boost the team’s chances to take advantage of their defense.

Carter-Williams very clearly made a big difference in his minutes. And having his edge defensively back in the lineup can help change the team.

Orlando Magic not accepting fate as they battle through injuries. dark. Next

Having that kind of stability on the roster has helped the Magic put a lot of players back in their right spots. And the team finally has some playmaking stability to try to right their ship.