Orlando Magic gain offensive identity as rim pressure team

Paolo Banchero has helped begin to redefine the Orlando Magic's offensive identity. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Paolo Banchero has helped begin to redefine the Orlando Magic's offensive identity. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

Zach Lowe of ESPN.com has had a running joke about the Orlando Magic. There is a streak he is watching carefully.

The Magic have not been outside the bottom 10 in the league in offensive rating in the last decade ever since Dwight Howard was on the team. It is tough to say what Orlando’s offense was trying to do or whether it could find anything consistent that it was good at.

Even when the team finished 42-40 in 2019 and made that triumphant return to the playoffs, the Magic finished 22nd in the league in offensive rating. That team was built on its defense that year and the team has tried to focus throughout the last decade on building a strong defense. It was hard to say the team had any set offensive identity — other than Nikola Vucevic’s pick and pops and Terrence Ross scorching the fourth quarter.

Defense has been the focus of Jeff Weltman’s teams — just look at his draft picks in Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba and Jalen Suggs along with his hire of coach Jamahl Mosley. There is a ton of defensive talent on the team right now.

Still, the team has been slow to develop a defensive identity — ranking 25th in the early season.

Instead, the Magic have found a clear focus offensively. Perhaps the clearest focus the team has had on that end since they established their pick-and-roll, 3-point-shooting, spread offense under Stan Van Gundy.

The Orlando Magic are built to defend. But it has been their offense that has established a clear identity as the team grows early this season.

Surprisingly, this Magic team is all about rim and paint pressure. That has proven to be a repeatable style for this team that has created some offensive push and success. At the very least, this looks like an identity that the team can ride.

For the first time in a long time, the Magic seem like they have a distinctive style and something they are trying to focus on and pursue when they are on the attack.

Identity can be a fudgy thing, of course. Orlando currently ranks 19th in the league in offensive rating with 110.3 points per 100 possessions. So let’s not pop champagne about the Magic’s offense.

But this pressure on the paint and the rim has been a key characteristic.

Indeed, “rim pressure” has been one of the key tenets for the team throughout the early part of training camp. Coach Jamahl Mosley has put an emphasis in his discussions about the offense on not only making the right reads through their actions but on getting downhill into the paint to kick out for three.

They are up across the board on indicators of this desire to get into the paint.

The Magic average 52.7 points in the paint per game this season, seventh in the league and up from 45.4 points in the paint last year (22nd in the league). This is quite a sizable jump for a team that has often struggled offensively.

The Magic are taking 30.5 field goal attempts per game within five feet of the basket at 60.9-percent shooting this year. That is 14th in field goal attempts within five feet this season, up from 14th last year at 28.9 field goal attempts per game at 60.9-percent.

Further according to NBA.com’s tracking stats, Orlando is 12th in the league at 47.9 drives per game, scoring 30.5 points per game with 3.4 assists per game off drives. Last year, the team was at 46.9 drives per game which was the 11th most in the league. The Magic scored 25.5 points per game and 4.0 assists per game off drives.

And this is without Markelle Fultz who averaged 10.5 drives per game last year at 5.2 points and 1.2 assists per game (or Cole Anthony and his 11.3 drives per game last year).

There are still some areas to improve as far as the Magic getting in the paint — the team is averaging just 20.7 paint touches per game according to Second Spectrum, 23rd in the league, but still up from 18.6 last year.

This is going to be a constant struggle for the team. Everything for the Magic’s offense is predicated on getting pressure in the paint.

When the team gets stuck offensively, it is a safe bet that a big reason is the team hanging too much on the perimeter.

The Magic’s outside shooting too has been a struggle. Orlando lacks shooting as everyone knows (27th in 3-point field goal percentage at 32.4 percent so far this season).

But the team’s ability to get to the paint, and then by extension the foul line, is giving the offense some life and a chance to stay in games (provided the defense does not give up too many 3-pointers on the other end). That is another area where the team has taken a major jump too.

In addition to the team consistently being one of the worst offensive teams in the league the last decade, they have also consistently been one of the worst teams at getting to the foul line, consistently ranking in the bottom five in free throw rate throughout the last decade with very little deviation.

This year’s team though is getting to the line a ton.

Orlando is third in the league in free throw rate at 31.1-percent (essentially Orlando is taking almost one free throw for every three field goal attempt). As a point of comparison, the Magic were at 28th in the league at 22.3 percent (essentially one free throw for a little less than five field goal attempts).

It is easy to see just on this increase alone how the Magic are scoring more points. Orlando is making 78.6 percent on 26.4 free throw attempts per game. Those are 20.7 points per game at the foul line, which is 5.2 more per game than they got last year. Jumping up five raw points per game is a jump from 29th in the league at 104.2 points per game last year to 20th in the league at 109.4.

Obviously, it is not enough to jump the Magic up to the elite level of offense. But Orlando getting to the foul line more has had a major effect and is an extension of this growing offensive identity.

A big reason for this jump? Paolo Banchero is a big one. He is averaging 8.3 free throw attempts per game. No rookie has averaged that many free throw attempts since Blake Griffin in 2011.

The Banchero bump is a very real thing for this team. He has been the driver for this team’s increase in getting to the line. Very few players put pressure on the paint and rim like him.

But it is not just him. Wendell Carter’s free throw attempts per game are up from 3.3 per game to 4.6 per game. Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs are consistently shooting a little less than 4.0 free throws per game.

There is still work to do.

Orlando is clearly finding its offensive identity by increasing its attacks on the paint and around the basket. That is the first layer of their offense. They are finding lots of success doing that.

The next step is kicking out to the 3-point line and passing out of those drives to get the defense moving and setting up other shots. This young team is still learning how to avoid driving too deep into the paint and passing at the right moment on time and on target (a favorite phrase of coaches).

The Magic’s offense still needs a lot of work. But there is a clear identity forming. Orlando wants to put pressure on the paint and on the rim with their size. And that is already proving to bend defenses.

Next. Jonathan Isaac a bonus for the Orlando Magic. dark

It is giving the Magic a clear offensive purpose and identity to start with.