Orlando Magic’s 3-point shooting catching up to the modern trends

The Orlando Magic are starting to use the 3-point shot a lot more to attack and spark their offense. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic are starting to use the 3-point shot a lot more to attack and spark their offense. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports /

It was always somewhat ironic the Orlando Magic were one of the great trendsetters of the 3-point revolution when they made the NBA Finals in 2009. They were one of the first teams to win with the 3-pointer as a major part of their strategy.

Since Dwight Howard and his defense-sucking presence left Orlando, the Magic became one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league. It was not that they did not take 3-pointers.

It was simply they could not make them or make the quality looks the 2009 team and the analytics revolution that followed with Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors or Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets ushered in its wake to build upon it.

Further, the Magic continued to draft players who seemingly could not shoot — Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton were all noted non-shooters when they entered the league. As the league put a premium on shooting, the Magic did not.

Predictably, the team’s offense has floundered for much of the last decade.

The only breath the Magic got was when Nikola Vucevic added a 3-point shot and became one of the best shooting big men in the league. That was at least a little bit of progression offensively.

Orlando is still looking for shooters and this year’s draft selecting both Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner marked at least some sign the team was seeking shooting.

The Orlando Magic’s offense is experiencing a promising shift as the team increases its 3-point shooting and gets the quality looks that the best offenses find.

Perhaps the biggest change though came with their coach. Orlando still sought a defensive coach. But Jamahl Mosley has proven already to be implementing a more free-flowing and motion-based offense.

It is still very early in the season, but the Magic are not just taking more threes, seeing one of the biggest increases in the league, but their percentage is up (even after Wednesday’s poor shooting game) and the kind of 3-pointers they are getting are better.

The Magic’s offense is looking a whole lot more modern with not only centers who can hit from deep but also guards like Cole Anthony who can pull up and be a 3-point threat off the dribble — this is one of the few areas Jalen Suggs has shown early offensive promise and success.

The numbers are quite encouraging too, pointing to this shift.

Three-point shooting throughout the league is down early in the season — something Seth Partnow of The Athletic argues is normal for the early season. But Orlando is currently 12th in the league making 35.0-percent of their 3-pointers. The team is taking 39.0 3-pointers per game, the 10th most in the league.

As Jon Schuhmann of NBA.com notes too, the Magic have the largest jump in 3-point rate in the league this year. They went from taking threes on 35.6-percent of their field-goal attempts to 45.8-percent. Orlando is fourth in the league in this metric.

Orlando is taking a lot more 3-pointers and leaning on the shot a whole lot more.

In previous iterations of this team, that might be a problem because they were not making them. And, indeed, the team has had a lot of poor 3-point shooting games already this season that have led to some poor outcomes.

Teams even in this age still live and die by the 3-pointers. Orlando is not any different.

But the Magic are making 3-pointers far more often than before. And that is a credit to the team’s execution on offense.

Mosley promised the team would “play with the pass” and that has proven itself out in the numbers too. Orlando averaged 301 passes per 24 minutes of possession last year according to Schuhmann’s numbers (28th in the league). That has jumped to 325 passes per 24 minutes of possession (15th in the league) this year.

The ball is indeed moving more. And it is clear the Magic have to keep working inside-out.

It has all helped Orlando get better quality 3-pointers too.

According to NBA.com’s tracking data, the Magic lead the league with 186 3-point attempts where the closest defender is six or more feet away. They have made 39.2-percent of these shots, 11th in the league.

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Orlando has also taken 118 3-point attempts with the closest defender 4-6 feet away (they have made only 25.4-percent of these shots).

That means 304 of the team’s 351 3-point attempts (86.7-percent) are considered open by the NBA’s openness metrics. That is not the best measure, but it suggests how effective the Magic have been at getting open shots and taking 3-pointers so far this season. Or perhaps it suggests the Magic have not earned defense’s respect from deep.

In either case, all Orlando has to do is make them. They are getting good looks.

But it is not merely that these are open shots. The Magic are also working for the high-value 3-pointers — corner 3-pointers — in a way they have not for a long time.

The team is currently shooting 26 for 77 (33.8-percent) from the corner this year. The actual shooting percentage can certainly still improve. But the ratio of corner threes is definitely new for this team.

Orlando has taken 21.9-percent of its 3-pointers from the corners. Last year, the Magic took 16.2-percent of their 3-pointers from the corner.

This year’s ratio would be the Magic’s highest from the corners since 2016 (they have not been better than 20.0-percent since 2019). In 2016, the Magic’s volume of threes was fairly low too. It was a very different offense.

These are all welcome changes for the Magic. They have needed some shifts with their 3-point shooting philosophy — not to mention players who could make them. But more importantly, they needed to make them and make the shot a priority as a weapon.

In fact, Orlando has five games already this season making at least 15 3-pointers. The team had only 11 such games last season.

This is a new day indeed for the Magic’s offense.

It is still very early in the season and shooting numbers around the league are all still settling in. Who knows whether these trends will continue or whether the Magic can continue this relatively solid shooting?

Orlando’s offense has other deficiencies — especially with its creation and dribble penetration at the moment — that will limit it. But Orlando is playing better offensively at a time when many teams are struggling for consistency. It provides at least some hope the team has found a clearer offensive identity and a way to execute to get open shots.

It is certainly a long way from the struggles the team faced early in the season. The team is starting to find its groove and its confidence in the way they play.

After years of seeemingly neglecting the 3-point shot both as a drafting strategy and as a tool to ccharge the offense, the Magic seem to have finally found a way to make it a true weapon.

Yes, the team can rely on it too much — they have six games with 40 or more 3-point attempts this year compared to just five all of last year — and that can stall the offense at times. But it is truly becoming a weapon for the team.

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