Orlando Magic’s offense needs to find diversity in its approach

Franz Wagner has proven himself to be a skilled attacker for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Franz Wagner has proven himself to be a skilled attacker for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The best moments for the Orlando Magic in Friday’s 119-100 loss to the Washington Wizards came when the team was free in playing in space. It came when the team used its defense to feed its offense.

Considering how undermanned the Magic were with just eight available players and the imbalance that came with the team’s suspensions — one point guard and one center were available for the game — this was something the team needed to do. They needed to win the game on the margins by finding points where no one else could.

Markelle Fultz got that memo. He was constantly hunting deflections and steals as Kristaps Porzingis grabbed rebounds, stealing two baskets off backcourt steals.

But the team’s most success — 16-0 run that spanned the end of the first and beginning of the second — came because the team was harassing defensively and getting out in transition or catching the Wizards before they could get their defense set.

The ball moved the way the team has always wanted it to move and the Magic got easy shots.

Things dried up pretty quickly and frustration set in once again. Orlando was not able to repeat that success. And the Magic struggled whenever the Wizards’ starters were in.

The Orlando Magic struggled again offensively as their drive game failed them and left them with little ways to attack in recent losses.

Orlando held the boat steady to stay down by nine at the half. But the third quarter featured a one-dimensional offense that struggled to get itself going. It was the same kind of one-dimensional offense that still shows promise and mastery in one area, but not the ability to use that to carry them through.

This gets to the heart of the Magic’s offensive problems and issues. The team is seeking some offensive diversity.

Orlando has made it an emphasis to drive and get to the basket. But when that is locked off or when that is the only option the Magic have available to them, it is easy to see how the offense sputters.

Everything for the Magic can often get reduced down to the team’s needs to make shots. But as they let their young players learn how to run the offense and adjust to the different defenses they see in front of them, they have to learn how to diversify their offense.

Orlando right now is a one-trick pony. If the team is not able to generate offense off their paint presence or ability to get to the foul line, they struggle to score consistently. And so the team’s next trick is to diversify its offense.

Some of that will come with players returning to health. Markelle Fultz’s return helped give the Magic another attacker (and a surprisingly willing shooter). Wendell Carter’s return will help with screening and freeing players up to add cutting to the game. Better defense will help spring the team’s fast break opportunities.

For now, the Magic have to find a way to do this with the group they have. Everything still starts with what the team is good at. But that is clearly not enough.

Surprisingly, the Magic had some favorable stats in Friday’s loss to the Wizards. The same kind of favorable stats the Orlando Magic had in Wednesday’s loss to the Detroit Pistons.

Orlando outscored Washington 62-46 in the paint. That is typically a sign the team will win. The 62 points represented the second-most points in the paint the Magic have scored in a game this season (only eclipsed by the 78 points in the paint scored in the overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings).

The Magic though are just 8-9 in games where they score 50 or more points in the paint. As much as the Magic want to be a paint-pressure team and to get themselves going toward the basket, the Magic can be a bit one-dimensional offensively.

Overall, the Magic are just 17th in the league in points in the paint, averaging 48.6 points per game. During the team’s winning run over the last 13 games, the team is 20th with 48.0 points in the paint per game.

There are still areas where the Magic could improve as a paint-finishing team.

It stood out Wednesday because of how many shots the Magic missed in the paint, going just 31 for 61 inside the paint. Orlando is shooting 57.6 percent in the paint overall according to stats from NBA.com. They average 42.1 field goal attempts per game in the paint — 49.5 percent of the Magic’s total field goal attempts come in the paint.

This is an area where the Magic could become a bit more efficient. But it is still a vital part of the Magic’s attack.

And this does not even add in the team’s free throw shooting. More than anything else, this is the biggest key to keeping the Magic’s offense afloat. Orlando is still fourth in the league in free throw rate at 29.2 percent (essentially one free throw for every three field goal attempts).

More than anything, this is where the Magic struggled in Friday’s loss.

The Orlando Magic took just 16 free throws against the Washington Wizards, the fewest since taking 19 in the second win over the Boston Celtics and just the sixth time all season taking fewer than 20 in a game (they are 2-4 in those games).

For the Magic it is essential they get in the paint and they get to the foul line. That is the key to their success.

But the team’s success ultimately hinges on whether the team can kick out to 3-point shooters and make shots.

Orlando is shooting 34.2 percent from beyond the arc, 22nd in the league. They make just 10.5 3-pointers per game. The Magic improve to 38.7 percent from three during wins although still with just a small 11.9 makes per game.

The Magic are not relying on 3-point shooting, but it is still a big part of whether they are able to win games or not. And it needs to be something the Magic can lean on.

They certainly cannot shoot 5 for 27 as they did Friday against the Washington Wizards, 5 for 22 as they did Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons and 10 for 28 as they did Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Similarly, the Magic have been a heavy isolation team this year, averaging 7.3 isolation possessions per game at 0.82 points per possession, according to NBA.com’s tracking stats.

The team is just now starting to cut more with Markelle Fultz capable of finding players on the move, but this is another area where the team lacks balance in their attack. Orlando scores 1.44 points per possession off cuts in 6.7 possessions per game. That is the top efficiency in the league.

There are seedlings of how the Magic’s offense can play. That was on full display during the win streak. And that is what Orlando is struggling to get back as they come down off this high.

Some of it is certainly about spacing. More efficient and fitting lineups will help the team take that next step.

The team also needs a balance of the inside and the outside. Right now, the Magic are able to get to the basket seemingly at will. They are scoring plenty in the paint.

Next. 3 goals for the Orlando Magic's 2023. dark

To win though, the Magic will need better efficiency and better balance. They need to find a different way to attack to stay alive.