Orlando Magic quickening their pace, but still seeking balance

Cole Anthony is leading a trio of Orlando Magic players to All-Star Weekend looking to build some respect. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Anthony is leading a trio of Orlando Magic players to All-Star Weekend looking to build some respect. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

Orlando Magic coach Jamahl Mosley promised three things offensively throughout the offseason: The team would play with pace, with space and with the pass.

All three seemed like pretty general terms to describe what the Magic’s offense would eventually try to do. It was not particularly clear what any of this meant. It left Orlando fans trying to figure out what this team would look like in the bigger picture.

Now the team is nearly three-quarters through its season. While there are still plenty of questions about how the team will advance and play beyond this season, some of those philosophies and styles have started to come into focus.

Orlando started with its defense from the beginning. And it has advanced further than its offense. But of late, the Magic have put more emphasis on their offense.

The Orlando Magic have started to develop a distinct offensive style as they have quickened their pace. That has come with a few hiccups to correct.

While the team has spent the whole season shooting more 3-pointers than in previous seasons, it is only recently that the pace part of that philosophy has become a whole lot clearer.

The team has suddenly risen to the top-10 in pace (possessions per 48 minutes) and it does not take long watching the team to see that their pace is way up. Orlando is starting to play faster and with more force.

"“I like the way we are pushing the ball at times with the throw ahead pass allowing our guys to flatten out the defense,” Mosley said after practice Thursday. “And then us getting stops and getting out and running is something we will continue to do.”"

The Magic are currently 10th in the league in pace with 99.4 possessions per 48 minutes. In their last 18 games (since Jalen Suggs returned), the Magic are second in the league in pace with 101.7 possessions per 48 minutes. The Magic have had three games with a pace measured at less than 100 possessions per 48 minutes during that time too.

There is definitely an emphasis of late on increasing the team’s pace and getting the ball out more. That has always seemingly been the direction the team has tried to build itself.

With the team getting some of its defense figured out in January and with the return of Suggs, a more natural player to get the ball out in transition, the team has been pushing the pace more and more.

Orlando has a 102.7 pace with Suggs on the floor this season compared to 99.1 off it. Since returning from his injury, the Magic have a 104.0 pace with Suggs on the floor and 101.4 with him off the floor.

The team’s pace is up everywhere.

And the team is about to get R.J. Hampton back from a sprained knee ligament. He practiced the last two days and was not listed on the Magic’s injury report for Friday’s game (Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac, Moritz Wagner and Bol Bol are listed as OUT).

Hampton is someone who is good at pushing the ball too and playing with speed. The Magic should have a more varied offensive attack because of that.

The team is going to keep trying to push it as much as it can. Orlando has the players to do it.

But pace alone is certainly not going to turn the tide for the Magic even if that is a clear goal for the way the team wants to build its offense and ultimately play the game.

The increased pace is positive but has led to new problems the team is still learning to solve.

"“That’s the one thing that we’ve kind of looked at,” Mosley said after Thursday’s practice. “I’ve looked at some film over the break and understanding the numbers. Just our understanding of when and where. It’s always going to boil down to possession of the basketball. Us cutting down our turnovers so we can actually gauge the pace in which we’re playing versus the live-ball turnovers that lead to the tough fast break.”"

The Magic have not necessarily turned this increased pace directly into points.

The team is averaging only 10.5 fast-break points per game this season (21st in the league). That has risen to 12.7 fast-break points per game since Jan. 14, still just 12th in the league. Orlando is starting to get more offense from the team’s pace.

But the side effect has been turnovers.

The Magic are 25th in the league with a 14.6-percent turnover rate since Jan. 14. That is in line with their season average of 14.7-percent (also 25th in the league overall).

But the team is giving up far more points off turnovers and fast-break points.

Orlando is 28th in the league since Jan. 14 giving up 18.1 points off turnovers per game and 18th in the league giving up 12.7 fast-break points per game. The team is 21st overall this season giving up 16.6 points off turnovers per game and 11th overall in giving up 11.6 fast-break points per game.

While turnovers have been an issue all season, it is clear the kinds of turnovers the Magic are giving up are hurting their defense and leading to greater fast-break opportunities.

As the Magic come out of the All-Star Break, there will certainly be an added emphasis on trying to protect the ball and prevent turnovers as they look to increase their pace.

"“We’ve got to do a better job holding onto the ball,” Cole Anthony said after practice Thursday. “We want to play fast. It’s harder to play in a half-court game, especially for a young team like us. I think we definitely want to continue to run. We just have to be smart. We’ve had a bunch of bonehead turnovers. When one person turns it over, it’s a snowball effect where someone else will turn it over. We have to do a better job staying composed and valuing possessions.”"

Anthony cited losses to the Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers where turnovers allowed the team to fall behind by massive amounts.

In the 25-point loss to the Suns on Feb. 12, the Magic had 15 turnovers that led to 23 points. In the 20-point loss to the Grizzlies on Feb. 5, the Grizzlies turned nine turnovers into 13 points (but several of them came as the Grizzlies expanded the lead to 30-plus points). And in the 11-point loss to the Lakers on Jan. 21, the Magic had 18 turnovers for 25 points including four for six points during a 17-0 run in the third quarter that flipped the game.

They can be small effects or a few key turnovers, but it is easy to see in looking back at several moments how the Magic’s inability to protect the ball can hurt.

There is still the issue too that Orlando’s offense has struggled to get off the ground.

The Magic are still posting a 103.8 offensive rating for the season (28th in the league) and 106.4 offensive rating since Suggs’ return (still 28th in the league).

Orlando’s defense has gone through some wild swings too. The team figured some things out in January. But in the nine games in February, the Magic are giving up 117.0 points per 100 possessions.

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The team has struggled to get settled and it is clear the team needs to find some balance and poise to make good on the pace gains the team is point toward.

Anthony said that will come as the team learns to slow the game down in their heads. The team has to realize that it does not have to make a “home-run play” every time. It is just about making simple plays over and over again that will build the outcomes the team wants.

Anthony has struggled some with the team’s pace himself. He may prefer to play at a slower tempo. But he said he is feeling healthy after dealing with an ankle injury and that may help him quicken up his pace and his attack too.

Orlando is still feeling optimistic about what the team is building.

"“This team, I think we’re going to be good,” Anthony said after Thursday’s practice. “The pace has been up. I think we have a chance to be pretty. I think we have a chance to use these last 22 games to prepare for the next season.”"

Orlando is hopeful that the home-heavy schedule to end the season will also lead to better outcomes. Mosley said it can help the team establish routines and discover their rhythm. That certainly helped Orlando during that late January homestand when it seemed the team turned a defensive corner.

Now it just has to find that balance with its pace.  But the team is starting to find something it wants to be known for.

Next. Orlando Magic need to finish their season strong. dark

Like everything else, the team has to put all those pieces together.