Orlando Magic trusting more offense to the players, still catching up

Cole Anthony and the Orlando Magic are still establishing their new offense which will give the players a lot more control. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Anthony and the Orlando Magic are still establishing their new offense which will give the players a lot more control. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports /

Orlando Magic coach Jamahl Mosley has made it pretty clear the focus for the early days of his team has been on defense. His background is there and his roster is built for that.

More than anything, the Magic are implementing a new style of defense that requires a different mindset on that end than what the team was before. It is about a whole lot more ball pressure at several spots. And the team has been more willing to switch and trap than under the more conservative schemes Steve Clifford ran.

Time though is a valuable thing. And time spent one place means less time spent elsewhere. As is somewhat the custom, coaches put a lot of time into establishing and growing defensive principles. The offense can be left to rhythm and flow and less about structure and sets.

The offense has lagged well behind the defense — beyond the numbers, the simple execution of it has been vastly different even as the preseason progresses.

The Magic’s offense is very different. But one thing has not really changed — it is still struggling.

The Orlando Magic’s offense has been slow to get going in the preseason although there are hints of the style the team will eventually get to and the trust they are putting in the players to run it.

That is somewhat expected considering the team’s dearth of offensive talent at the moment. But there have been some pretty poor moments and frustrating stagnation through the preseason. There is obviously still a lot to grasp and to understand offensively.

The hope has to be that the rest of the preseason is spent continuing to learn the reads and looks Mosley wants the team to execute and getting on the same page there.

That seems to be especially important considering Mosley appears to want his point guards and ball handlers leading the way rather than him keeping a tight control on the offense.

Unlike the more structured approach of other coaches, the Magic seem to be willing to allow their guards some freedom to make plays.

The results have not turned out yet, although there are plenty of signs of positive progress.

Preseason struggles

With the heavy caveat that it is three games — and three preseason games at that — the Orlando Magic are currently sitting at 25th in the league in offensive rating, scoring 96.3 points per 100 possessions. Their defense at 102.7 points per 100 possessions would be solid for the regular season but ranks 14th in the league.

Defense is king during the preseason. And every preseason stat should be taken with several grains of salt. For instance, notable teams rank with worse offenses at the moment in the preseason including the Atlanta Hawks and Portland Trail Blazers.

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Those teams surely will not be bottom-five offenses in the league this season. But they also have a lot more history to build on and reputations to tell the world they will be all right.

The Magic do not have that reputation at all. Orlando has not had an offense in the top half of the league since Dwight Howard’s final season in 2012. The Magic have not even been outside the top-10 in the league since then.

Mosley has revealed little about how he wants his team to play — his offseason line of playing with space, pace and the pass are the only clues to an overarching offensive philosophy.

He has pitched a team that moves the ball and gets up the floor quickly — referring at one point to 21-offense signaling his desire to get into their offensive sets within a few seconds after the shot clock resets. So far, it is hard to say what the results of that is or exactly what it means.

The offense is still coming together.

"“I think that’s going to be an ongoing process,” Mosley said after practice Tuesday. “I think what we’re trying to get these guys to understand is the ability to grasp the simple. Whether it is the reads or the decision-making these guys have to make. It can be out of plays. But more so it will be out of decisions when the action happens. . . . Those are the biggest things for me rather than jumping up and calling a play every time.”"

Developing the offense

Jamahl Mosley has spent a lot of his time as a development coach. With such a young team and especially young point guards, it makes sense Mosley is tearing things down to the studs and trying to get players to master the basic reads of basic plays.

That would mean guards understanding what happens next if they hit the roll man or whip it to the corner or go into the lane. Or for rollers to understand when to roll or pop or what to do to cycle into the next action in a play.

Running extremely basic stuff undoubtedly means it will become easier to stop, especially in the half-court where the Orlando Magic have struggled a ton early on this preseason. But that learning is still necessary.

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It is all done to get players in the right actions and the right mindset and then just allow them to play.

"“I think I have a pretty good feel,” Cole Anthony said after practice Tuesday. “Right now, we don’t have too many plays drawn up. We just want to use these plays to spark ball movement and just play out of that. We don’t want to run too many plays. You don’t want to call a play every single time.”"

There are certainly signs it can work.

The Magic have long been one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league — again virtually since Howard left in 2012. But the preseason has brought some decent returns.

Orlando is still shooting about the same number of 3-point attempts (34.3 attempts per game is 20th in the preseason — the preseason is also king to wilds amount of 3-point attempts) as last year. But the team’s percentage is way up — 38.8-percent is fifth in the preseason.

It is fair to expect the Magic’s attempts to dip once the season begins. But if that percentage stays the same, then they might have a clearer offensive identity provided they can continue executing on that end to create quality looks.

Most of Orlando’s best offensive moments this preseason have come when the team is able to spread the floor a bit and fire away from deep. Think the third quarter of the loss to the Boston Celtics — when the team shot 17 of 42 from deep for the game — or the fourth-quarter comeback against the San Antonio Spurs.

If anything, the team’s biggest struggles have come when the 3-pointers just will not fall. That will be something the team will have to correct and work on as they try to create space, get into the paint and kick out.

Teams will certainly be content for the moment to let the Magic fire away from deep with their reputation as poor shooters.

Plenty to work on

There is still a lot to fine-tune and tighten offensively. A disorganized offense can still lead to problems. And that can also put the defense in a bind and lead to the defensive unite struggling. Both sides are always tied together a whole lot more than people let on.

Jamahl Mosley said after the team’s shootaround Wednesday that veteran know-how from players like Terrence Ross is crucial to helping players with those reads.

There may be a whole lot more for the Orlando Magic to add offensively in the week between the end of the preseason and the start of the regular season. There is a lot of work to do to get this group consistent — and undoubtedly finalizing a playing rotation will help with this.

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But what is clear is the Magic are going to offer their players a little bit more freedom and the chance to play within an offensive structure. What is yet to be determined is whether that trust will be rewarded in the long run.