Orlando Magic showing their lack of offensive investment

Nikola Vucevic has turned in an incredible offensive season. But he is often doing it alone for the injury-depleted Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Nikola Vucevic has turned in an incredible offensive season. But he is often doing it alone for the injury-depleted Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

97. 38. Final. 102. 110

The pressure to deliver was abundantly clear every moment the Orlando Magic were on the floor.

The team’s margin for error remains incredibly small thanks to all the injuries. And, indeed, some of the team’s best offensive players are out. The players the magic were supposed to — and one day will — rely on are all on the shelf. All that has been left is Nikola Vucevic and a returning Terrence Ross.

Even when this team has a modicum of health, the problem persists. The biggest issue facing the Magic. One they cannot dig themselves out of at this point.

Orlando buckled down in a game where the team was down so many key figures. The Magic watched Vucevic and Ross each put up 30 points and still not be enough. It was not even enough for a strong offensive game.

The Magic scored only 97 points and posted a 100.0 offensive rating. Even with Ross and Vucevic both draining 3-pointers, this is not how the modern NBA is played.

At this point, after three straight above-average defensive performances that all ended in losses, it is clear what the team’s problem is. It was always clear.

The Orlando Magic’s defense has become well established, but the team’s offense continues to hold it back and the lack of investment on that end has put the team in this deep hole.

The Magic do not have enough offensive weapons to compete beyond being perfect. This would be the case too if they were fully healthy. But it has become even more obvious as the players the Magic invested in to back up their best players have struggled to piece everything together.

"“After losses, especially one tonight where you put so much into it and it’s things you can take care of like turnovers that hurt you, it’s just frustration,” Vucevic said after Sunday’s loss. “It’s disheartening. It’s hard to deal with it. You put so much into it on the floor each night. It seems like we can’t catch a break. I think one thing we have done all year is we keep bringing it and we keep fighting. Teams have to play us seriously and we bring the best out of them and it shows. It shows a lot of our character and fight. Hopefully, we can catch a break.”"

Defensive culture

The Orlando Magic are not winning or losing games as much for lack of talent at this point. But rather it feels like it is because of a lack of offensive talent. When their top players go down, they take the entire offense with them.

The Magic once again had a strong defensive effort. The Magic gave up just 103.0 points per 100 possessions in Sunday’s loss to the Miami Heat. It was the third straight game, the Magic posted a better-than-average defensive rating. Orlando’s defense has started to come around.

But the reason why the Orlando Magic lost those three games — including Friday’s blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs —  was because of their poor offensive execution. It was all about the turnovers.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The numbers have become wrote now — the team still ranks seventh in the league in turnover rate but 17th in the opponent points of turnovers. Coach Steve Clifford was correct to analyze that the only reason the defensive numbers looked poor in the last three games was because of those turnovers.

In Sunday’s loss, the Magic gave up 23 turnovers for 26 Heat points. It is safe to say this was the difference in the game. The Magic’s defense when it could get set did its job and played really well. That is something the Magic can hang their hat on.

But clearly, it does not matter if the offense is unable to do its part. The team has to be a low-mistake team to have any chance of success. And that margin for error has narrowed with all the injuries.

"“That’s three games in a row where turnovers are crushing us,” Clifford said after Sunday’s loss. “Our effort is good. We’re doing some good things. It doesn’t matter. With a team like ours, if we’re not low turnover, we have no shot.”"

The fact the team continues to put in the effort defensively despite all the injuries and a now-eight-game losing streak is a sign the team still has a healthy culture. The team is not giving up on the season if they are sinking down the standings. At least, for now, the Magic are still trying to win games.

The goal certainly should be to remain a strong defensive team. As Vucevic said after the game Sunday, teams still know they have to play well to defeat the Magic. They know they are going to have to fight to get a win.

The future build

At this point though, the Orlando Magic have to have some focus on the future — the trade deadline is 10 days away. The team has to be thinking about how to build its team for the 2022 season and beyond. And it is clear what the Magic have to do.

This team’s offensive shortcomings and intense focus on hard-nosed defenders have come at a cost.

No team should have to plan for being down four starters and several other rotation players. Every player has missed significant time this season except for Nikola Vucevic and Khem Birch. And so the players the Magic have chosen to invest in for the meantime have shown this team’s priorities and their holes.

They re-signed defensive-minded players in Michael Carter-Williams, Khem Birch and Gary Clark. They spent their biggest free agent chip on Al-Farouq Aminu. They drafted a defensive big with some offensive talent in Mohamed Bamba and a versatile defender in Chuma Okeke. They all work to add to the team’s defense. But their poor or inconsistent offensive games have hurt the team when they are needed to step up.

The Magic have a very obvious lack of shooting. But they also have a very clear lack of offensive creativity.

Dwayne Bacon was a solid signing as someone who can create his shot off the dribble and get to the lane. He has been a better shooter than anticipated too. He is not consistent enough to have a permanent rotation spot, but the Magic have had no other choice.

Every other player though is known more for their defense than for their ability to do the most important act in the game — put the ball in the basket.

Held together

The Orlando Magic were always held together carefully. The team could not afford to lose any key players or they would be at a major disadvantage, especially offensively. Even at full strength, the Magic are not a great offensive team.

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As the Magic begin to assess how they move forward, this is what they need to change. They need guys who can score, plain and simple.

The Heat are again a good example for the Magic to follow. They have drafted players who are good shooters and scorers and then molded them into strong defenders within the team’s scheme.

The knock on Tyler Herro in the draft process was that he did not have good defensive size or versatility. His sooting would make up for that. But he has proven to be a capable defender, proving that if a player has enough competitiveness, they can still fit into a defensive scheme.

At this point, the Magic should feel they have a healthy defensive culture with plenty of players who are strong on that end. Orlando should feel that in a normal season next year, the team can rebuild its defensive habits and consistency.

What the team needs to have for a chance to return to the playoff picture are the offensive weapons to keep the pressure on teams throughout the entire game. And, yes, when players go down.

Offense has always been the biggest thing holding the Magic back. That has become so much more apparent this year as the Magic have had to fill in and replace so many players.

Next. Orlando Magic need to build from Lakeland's success. dark

Teams often overcorrect when a team struggles significantly in one area. The Magic have to spend their next transaction periods investing in their offense and trusting the players who remain can show the way defensively.