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

3 of 3
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers
Nikola Vucevic has taken his game to a higher level as the Orlando Magic try to stay afloat in the playoff race. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Playing through Nikola Vucevic in the clutch

Nikola Vucevic’s early 2021 campaign has been overtly unique, and his performance given the offensive load he is required to shoulder on a nightly basis has been among the franchise’s best ever.

He has also been extra special in the fourth quarter.

Per NBA Stats, Vucevic has the league’s sixth-best effective field-goal percentage among players with at least four field-goal attempts per game in the fourth quarter. The list includes some of the league’s biggest stars. And Nikola Vucevic has been more efficient than other notable clutch performers such as Damian Lillard, Jamal Murray, and James Harden.

Yet, the Magic could still play through their All-Star more when the game is on the line.

In 40 minutes of “clutch” play, defined by the NBA as a point differential of five points or less and less than five minutes remaining in regulation or overtime, Vucevic’s efficiency dips significantly. But more importantly, so does his usage, from 29.5-percent on the season to just 23-percent in such situations.

Because 15 of the Magic’s 36 games have had clutch-considered opportunities, and they are 7-8 in such games, Vucevic’s lack of opportunity may be directly responsible for a select few of the team’s early shortcomings.

The most recent such loss came Wednesday night against the Hawks, an especially difficult one given the Magic led by a dozen points to start the fourth quarter. Orlando scored just four points in the final three minutes of regulation, only on possessions in which Vucevic had a touch.

Notice the degree of difficulty on the shots attempts for the other possessions, when Vucevic was not involved:

When the Magic were down one point with eight seconds remaining in regulation they were forced to go to a rub screen action sending Nikola Vucevic above the arc and Terrence Ross flashing at the free-throw line extended.

On the previously attempted sideline out-of-bounds possession, Atlanta had sniffed out Steve Clifford’s desired action — a two-man “stack” with Vucevic and Ross on the strong-side — forcing Orlando to improvise.

However, the confusion does not absolve Clifford of the decision to send Vucevic away from the basket where he is not as effective working to create off a live dribble above the arc.

To Vucevic and Ross’ credit, both made the right react play under duress and the open attempt Ross created is one that the staff and fans should be satisfied with.

Next. Steve Clifford is still the right coach for the Magic. dark

But it still makes more sense to go through Vucevic directly, and one would expect that going forward the Magic will standardize specific actions for #9 in such situations.