Orlando Magic’s offense still comes down to pace

The Orlando Magic are still struggling to score and a lot of that still has to do with the pace of their play. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic are still struggling to score and a lot of that still has to do with the pace of their play. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic knew their offense would be a struggle after trading away their three best scorers in Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon. They knew that a lot of things would have to reset and change for the team to succeed.

With a lot of young players, there would be a lot of growing pains in the process too.

A lot has not changed. The team is still running many of the same plays, although focusing on other aspects of those plays with Nikola Vucevic no longer the team’s anchor. Many of the team’s philosophies also remain as the team tries to learn on the fly.

Whether the team will be able to dig itself out of any ruts or holes will be different without those players, but one path to success.

It has been a while since the team talked about playing with more pace. But it is still something coach Steve Clifford wants to see from his team. It might well be the biggest key to the team’s potential success.

"“The pace part is what we worked on today,” Clifford said after practice Monday. “If you watch us, when the ball is moving like any team and the ball is moving quicker and we are setting screens and there are quicker rolls, that’s when we are scoring. When the ball sticks or we don’t have guys creating action or putting pressure on the defense, I know it sounds simple or we have spacing issues we don’t score as well.”"

The game can be fairly simple that way. But there is no denying just how much more effective the Magic can be when the team moves the ball quickly and zips through their offense as opposed to isolation plays or other moments when the ball tends to stop.

The Orlando Magic’s offense continues to struggle. One way to get it out of the hole is to put the focus back on the team’s pace and ability to execute precisely.

The Magic’s offense has not been effective at any point in the season, but especially since the trade deadline.

For the entire year, Orlando is 28th in the league scoring 105.3 points per 100 possessions. Since the trade deadline, the team is 29th in the league scoring 104.7 points per 100 possessions. Orlando traded its three best scorers and predictably are worse on the offensive end.

The Magic are last in the league with a 48.0-percent effective field goal percentage and last in the league with a 51.9-percent true shooting percentage. The Magic just are not capable of scoring consistently or effectively.

They are essentially last in every major offensive or shooting category. It is going to take a lot to get the Magic’s offense right. A lot more than the team has shown so far.

Finding pace

The place you would think to start is on the margins with fast-break points and second-chance points.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Indeed, the Orlando Magic are doing better in these areas since the deadline — going from 9.8 fast-break points and 13.0 second-chance points per game for the season to 10.3 fast-break points and 14.0 second-chance points per game — but those are not necessarily enough to correlate with winning.

Steve Clifford said in the college game those kinds of scores certainly help teams win. But in the NBA, it is more about ruthless efficiency — the ability to move the ball to get to the open man for a three or into the paint or get to the foul line — that matters. Here the Magic have shown some signs of success, but still largely struggle.

"“I’m not as concerned with fast-break points,” Clifford said after practice Monday. “How quickly you get into offense and how much pressure you put on the defense with every pass is the whole key to the NBA. Especially with a team like ours right now where we don’t have a lot of breakdown guys. How quickly we move the defense and how quickly the ball moves from side to side is critical.”"

Remember pace in this sense is not about the number of raw possessions per 48 minutes a team has — that is down from 98.8 for the season to 98.2 since the deadline. This is more about how quickly the ball moves and much intensity and speed the team executes its offense.

It is hard to measure just what this kind of pace is. No one number really captures it.

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The Magic are averaging 266.2 passes per game since the trade deadline according to data from Second Spectrum (271.8 passes per game for the season) and 42.2 potential assists per game (45.1 per game for the season). This certainly suggests the team is less active moving the ball. But this does not quite get the whole story.

Orlando averages 45.9 drives per game and 23.3 points per game off drives according to Second Spectrum data ( up from 40.7 drives per game and 23.0 points per game on drives for the season). This suggests the team has had more success working off the dribble.

And the team averages 22.7 paint touches per game and 18.8 points per game off paint touches since the trade deadline (20.4 per game and 15.6 points per game off paint touches for the season). This is something the coaching staff tracks. Although they likely track it differently than Second Spectrum — much the same way they track deflections differently.

There are good signs the Magic can play better offensively. These numbers would seemingly point in a positive direction. While Orlando is still a poor 3-point shooting team, the team is struggling even more now to get open 3-pointers.

For the season, the Magic average 27.4 3-point attempts where the closest defender is four or more feet away, making 35.7-percent of those shots. Since the trade deadline, the team is averaging 24.4 3-point attempts where the closest defender is four or more feet away, making just 32.5-percent of those shots.

You know it when you see it

None of these capture the team’s need to play with better pace quite like film can. With pace, you know it when you see it.

This opening play from Sunday’s game is a great example of the kind of pace the team wants to play with.

The play is already initiated with seven seconds in the shot clock and there is constant movement with the ball. Dwayne Bacon gets the dribble handoff and feeds it to Chuma Okeke who quickly reverses it to Cole Anthony.

The team is already working on some action underneath as this happens. Wendell Carter likely started as a pick-and-roll option with Dwayne Bacon but then uses a screen from Gary Harris to establish deep post position. As the ball swings to Anthony, Carter is already in position to receive the pass and the ball zips quickly to him.

If that option was not there, Harris has already begun the next action, going from cross screener in the paint to a pin down back to the top of the key.

The point here is the defense is in constant motion and has a lot of things it needs to track. The ball does not stop to give the defense a chance to reset.

This is pace as coaches define it.

Again, this is a play with multiple actions. R.J. Hampton moves on a curl into the lane and drags two defenders with him. He is able to sling it over his head to Mohamed Bamba for the open three. It all happens quickly so the defense cannot react, or if they do, it is too late and leaves open something else the Orlando Magic can exploit.

With young players, it can be difficult to get the team to execute at this high of a level. And this might be as big of an impediment to the team’s offense as anything. Without a true go-to scorer too, the magic cannot afford any slip-ups to disrupt the rhythm of their offense. This can derail their pace too.

Young players cannot get away with the same overdribbling they might have in college. Raw athleticism is not enough to succeed in the NBA. Orlando is still seeing a ton of young player mistakes as they dig themselves out of holes when the offense slows down.

But this basic principle has not changed for the Magic. Orlando still needs speed and pace to move through its offense and execute at a high level. From there, the team still needs precision with its cutting, passing and shooting to score.

Orlando has not changed so much that this principle gets pushed to the wayside. Without those key players from before the deadline, it might be even more important. And a stronger defense certainly would help the Magic get back on the right foot to pick up their pace of play.

Next. Hustle stats reveal path for success. dark

This all goes to the Magic’s need to put together a full 48-minute effort. Something they have done rarely since the deadline and especially recently. But that is what it will take for te Magic to continue to be competitive and steal some wins to finish the season.