Orlando Magic’s Blue and Silver Linings: 3 key takeaways from the 2021 season

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Gary Harris, Orlando Magic, Domantas Sabonis, Indiana pacers
The Indiana Pacers’ tough defense and depth spelled trouble for Gary Harris and the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Climbing from the bottom

Moving on to the weaknesses, we see the Orlando Magic need across-the-board improvements.

It is no surprise that a team with 21 wins would be at or around the bottom of the league in most statistical categories, yet looking at the number . . . yikes.

The Magic finished the season bottom 10 in most statistical categories — including advanced statistics. Overall, the Magic’s -9.4 net rating was 29th in the NBA this season — a ghastly mark with even the most optimistic of outlooks.

The offense in particular was pretty, well, offensive.

It is no secret offense was a tremendous issue for the Magic this season. The loss of Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier compounded the offensive woes and there was rarely any cohesion on the offensive side of the ball.

After the trade deadline, an already struggling offense tanked, finishing 29th at 103.3 points per 100 possessions. Only the blatantly tanking Oklahoma City Thunder finished with a worse mark.

This discrepancy is highlighted by the confounding assist percentages. The Magic finished the 2021 season ranked 28th in total assists per game at a paltry 21.8. After the trade deadline, that dropped to 20.6 per game.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The offense indeed got worse. That will happen when a team misses shots — which the Magic did a lot.

According to data from Second Spectrum, the Magic averaged 43.7 potential assists per game (22nd in the league). That suggests a level of ball movement better than their offensive output. But after the trade deadline, that number dropped to 40.2 per game, the worst mark in the league.

What is truly confusing about these low assist numbers is that the Magic had one of the lowest turnover percentages in the league at 11.4-percent. This is always a staple of Clifford’s offenses.

The Magic were efficient at not turning the ball over but were simultaneously unwilling to pass — a troublesome formula in today’s hyper-efficient and egalitarian NBA.

Now, a lack of passing may not be a death knell for a team if this lack of passing is paired with efficient shooting. Teams like the James Harden and Chris Paul-led Houston Rockets were able to parlay a heliocentric offense into a highly effective offensive system due to the historic 3-point shooting.

The Magic are trending into historic shooting, just not in a good way.

For the season, the Magic ranked dead last in shooting at a boggling 42.9-percent. Combine this poor shooting percentage with a top-ten mark in shot attempts per game — a product of both the team’s low turnovers and its inability to get to the foul line — and it becomes clear what the offensive issues stem from.

The Magic were not an isolation offense — according to NBA.com’s tracking data, the Magic ran isolations just 4.1-percent of possessions, the lowest mark in the league. They were just unable to get good shots and missed a lot of open shots in the process — the Magic shot just 39.4-percent for the season on shots where the closest defender was six or more feet away (fourth-worst in the league) and 41.3-percent with the closest defender 4-6 feet away (second-worst in the league).

Orlando could certainly get more of these kinds of shots. But, at the end of the day, they need to make them. And the ball needs to move inside out especially to create these opportunities — the Magic averaged only 20.1 of those all-important paint touches according to data from Second Spectrum, still in the bottom-10 in the league which hurts a poor shooting team like the Magic more than others.

For a young team like the Magic, it is imperative for not only team success but also player development that passing and intelligent offense should be emphasized to accentuate the strengths of each player and to simplify the roles of the off-ball guards and forwards.