3 observations from the first half of the Orlando Magic’s season

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P.J. Tucker, Houston Rockets, Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
P.J. Tucker has become an odd fit for the Houston Rockets as they explore the next phase of their rebuild. Mandatory Credit: Michael Wyke/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports /

A lack of proactive cutting

All NBA offenses go through bouts of sluggishness — a dearth of healthy movement, both man and ball, that can generate easier opportunities. Anecdotally, it seems this is even more common for this Orlando Magic team, and could partially explain their offensive ineptitude thus far.

Particularly when Nikola Vucevic has the ball at the elbow or on the baseline, which happens quite frequently in Steve Clifford’s playbook, it is all too common to find the other four Magic men standing still.

To start the above clip, Evan Fournier makes a timely cut to clear room for Nikola Vucevic to isolate on the strong side of the floor. But, after two New York Knicks players come to Vucevic, no player in white makes an effort to create off of this advantage.

Terrence Ross does a good job of “filling up”, and then it is incumbent on either Chasson Randle — who was new to the team at this point in the season — or Evan Fournier to move in space and capitalize.

Earlier in the game this same group, with Gary Clark in Khem Birch’s place, showed strong energy cutting off of a Nikola Vucevic isolation:

Randle in particular shows awareness in feining a screen for Fournier as soon as Vucevic puts the ball on the floor. This left New York’s R.J. Barett a step late in following Evan Fournier’s curl cut to the top of the key, and as a result, Elfrid Payton was caught in “no man’s land” thinking there may have been a switch to cover.

Maybe the most underrated aspect of the first half of Vucevic’s 2021 campaign has been his court vision. Stagnation does not afford him and the Magic the opportunity to use this skill set for their benefit.

In Monday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Al-Farouq Aminu showed just how valuable small movements can be in juicing an offensive possession.

Nikola Vucevic’s gravity starts the play, but it is Al-Farouq Aminu’s cut that affords Terrence Ross the room to operate against’ Kristaps Porzingis in space. And even though Ross makes the correct play and scores, if the Magic reverse the ball to the opposite side of the floor they have an advantage 3-on-2.

These cuts afford multiple options in a single half-court possession.

There is no data to support these observations, and even if there were it would likely be hard to ascertain real insight with multiple variables at play in a given NBA possession.

What the numbers do show is that the Magic shoot worse outside of Orlando. Increased emphasis on generating offense proactively through additional off-ball movement might be needed for the Magic’s road-heavy second half of the season.