Orlando Magic’s pace is up, their fast breaks are not

The Orlando Magic are working to increase their pace and tempo. Their possession numbers are up but pace is still something they are working on. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic are working to increase their pace and tempo. Their possession numbers are up but pace is still something they are working on. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic’s youth brought a lot of promise for the team that they would play differently.

Gone was the control and deliberate pace coach Steve Clifford wanted his team to play at. The conservative playcalling and philosophy helped the team establish themselves and served their more veteran squad. But they needed to play at a slower pace and pick their moments to get out in transition.

There were calls to increase the team’s pace. But those opportunities seemed to come few and far between.

Jamahl Mosley’s arrival in Orlando also brought promises to increase the team’s pace. It was part of the team’s organizing principles that Mosley was preaching throughout the offseason and training camp.

The Orlando Magic want to play at a quicker and faster pace. The numbers suggest the team is getting more possessions but the right pace is still elusive.

The presence of a young team also seemed to promise the team would look to get out and run.

With Mosley implementing a more aggressive defensive mentality, there were hopes the team could get stops, create turnovers and push in transition to make up for any losses from the team’s half-court offense.

That still has not quite happened.

"“Sometimes we’re going fast when we don’t need to and sometimes we’re slowing the pace when we don’t need to,” Wendell Carter said after Friday’s shootaround. “We just have to find that groove as a team. Another thing we were talking about today is we have to do a better job finishing around the rim. Once we get those transition opportunities, we have to learn to finish. Those are two things we have to get better at is being more collective and more together when it comes to running or not running and then finishing once we get to those areas, we’ll become a better pace and transition team.”"

After a slow start to the season in terms of possessions per 48 minutes, the Magic’s pace is significantly up and the team has climbed into the middle of the pack in terms of the number of possessions per 48 minutes.

Orlando now sits 15th in pace at 98.9 possessions per 48 minutes. In the team’s last seven games, the Magic are seventh in the league in pace at 99.7 possessions per 48 minutes.

That seems to be encouraging for the team, meaning they are getting up and down the floor more and working through their sets quicker.

But, to show the paradox of this measure of pace, Mosley said he liked his team’s pace in their last game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. That was a game where the team played at a pace of 97 possessions below the team’s current average.

Pace is not about the number of possessions, it is about the intensity in which the team plays and the way they control the flow of the game to work and get good shots.

Pace as coaches refer to it usually means the intensity and speed that the team runs into its sets. It is more a philosophy of intensity and intention than anything.

Mosley has often talked about running a “21 offense,” where the team gets over half-court by 21 seconds left in the shot clock. There is no good statistical measure for that.

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This has been a bit of a change for the team and something Cole Anthony said he sometimes struggles with. There is definitely a focus to get into their offense much quicker.

And right now, the team has struggled to maintain a good tempo with Anthony out with an injury and really only rookie Jalen Suggs able to man the point as his natural position (R.J. Hampton and Franz Wagner have also filled in as ball handlers offensively).

"“Our ability to get the ball over half court by 21, we’ve done a bit of a better job with that,” Mosley said after the team’s shootaround Friday. “Now we just have to start initiating our actions and playing with a faster pace with our cuts and having an exact plan of when we’re going in and understanding what we’re doing.”"

The other part of this equation is turning that pace into easy baskets.

A lot of young teams are usually associated with a desire to get in transition and push the pace through fast-break points. This too hs not exactly been delivered with this young group.

According to NBA.com’s tracking data, Orlando is averaging 1.03 points per possession on transition opportunities (27th in the league in efficiency). The Magic score only 9.8 fast-break points per game (26th in the league).

It is not for lack of trying either.

Orlando is in the middle of the pack with 16.9 transition possessions per game (15.2-percent of all possessions for the team). They score on just 46.3-percent of their transition opportunities (27th in the league).

The team could certainly use more and better opportunities to get out on the break. Especially considering how much the Magic’s offense struggles, finding easy baskets before the defense gets set seems like a necessity for the team.

This has been a part of the team’s problem offensively, missing those opportunities. Just as this is a sign of the team’s defensive inconsistencies too. To get transition opportunities means getting stops first.

"“We have to be able to get stops to get out and run,” Mosley said after Friday’s shootaround. “Then when we do get the stops and we get out and run, we have to make sure that we are taking care of the basketball. It goes to the fundamentals of our lane running, getting guys to fill the corners, getting someone to have a presence on the rim, but being able to make the early easy pass, the simple play.”"

To their point then, the Magic had a strong game in transition in the loss to the Cavaliers on Saturday. Orlando scored 15 fast-break points on 6-for-8 shooting, also turning 13 turnovers into 18 points.

The Magic still struggled to make shots in the half-court and their defense collapsed in the first and fourth quarters. This is part of the little victories the Magic are hoping to build up toward a full game soon.

That game was played at a slower pace which is why the team’s pace-neutral defensive numbers look worse despite giving up just 105 points. Orlando lost contact with Cleveland late in the second and could not reel the deficit back in.

Even now a quarter of the way through the season, the Magic are still getting the finer points of their offense and defense down. Consistency has been the most elusive thing for this young group. And that is seen in the way the team struggles to control its pace or get out in transition consistently.

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This will be something the team will be continuing to figure out. And something Orlando will remain focused on.