The power of the pass unlocks Orlando Magic’s offense

Markelle Fultz helped drive the Orlando Magic into one of their best offensive games of the season. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Markelle Fultz helped drive the Orlando Magic into one of their best offensive games of the season. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

38. Final. 120. 100. 126

The first play of the Orlando Magic’s 126-120 win over the Indiana Pacers foretold what would happen throughout the first quarter and throughout the game as the Magic raced ahead by 17 points and stayed ahead just enough to get the win.

The Magic faced a 2-3 zone defense from the Pacers and got the ball to Wendell Carter at the free-throw line. As any good middle-school basketball player knows, that is the weak spot in the zone defense to collapse it around them.

So the ball went to Wendell Carter and he quickly fed it to Franz Wagner who got the foul and hit a pair of free throws. That was not an assist, but the team clearly knew then that it had something.

And so the race was on throughout the game to pile up the passes.

Want to know why the Magic dropped 46 points in the first quarter, 126 total points and a 131.3 offensive rating (the team’s second-best mark this season)? Look no further than the assists and how the team moved the ball seamlessly and quickly.

The Orlando Magic recorded a season-high in assists as they gutted the Indiana Pacers’ defense with a team effort that fed off their passing.

The Magic tallied a season-high 34 assists on 46 field goals — including 12 on 16 makes in the first quarter. That 73.9-percent assist rate is the most this season (their win over the New Orleans Pelicans is now second). it was a game characterized by the high level of ball movement and how Indiana was unable to catch up.

"“Our identity of just sharing the ball and making the right plays,” Markelle Fultz said after Wednesday’s win. “That’s the way we want to play our offense. Defensively getting into the ball and offensively just moving it as much as we can. Just keep trying to build off that and continuing to use all the pieces that we have.”"

The Magic were forceful offensively throughout the game and did it in the exact way the team wants to play.

Orlando has talked about playing by committee — all five starters scored in double figures — and moving the ball quickly around the perimeter.

It was these kinds of plays that helped Gary Harris drain six 3-pointers in the game. All six of them were assisted as he spotted up in transition or relocated to be present as the defense collapsed on drives.

These open shots — the Magic shot 56.1 percent from the floor and 15 for 28 from beyond the arc (53.6 percent) — were there throughout the game if the Magic could find it.

This is how the Magic want to run their offense. They want it to flow naturally, moving into the paint and kicking back out. There was just not a lot of places Orlando played poorly offensively. The Magic had 27 second-chance points, 56 points in the paint and 11 fast-break points.

"“Coaches said it to us every day by committee,” Harris said after Wednesday’s win. “Any night it could be anybody’s night. Once we get stops defensively and share the ball, we can be a very good team. We just have to stay locked in as a team, get stops and run and that’s when the ball flows.”"

Everyone got their hand in the jar for assists. Markelle Fultz led the way with eight, Franz Wagner added seven and Cole Anthony had five off the bench. Even Wendell Carter, whom Gary Harris joked at the podium was the team’s passing anchor to Carter’s embarrassment, had two assists.

Orlando has not always ranked highly in assists. They are 26th in the league with 22.7 assists per game. And they do not rank much better in the potential assists metric from Second Spectrum. Orlando has become a bit more iso heavy.

But when the ball snaps around as it did Wednesday night, the Magic’s offense can be devastating. With everyone on the team capable of being a playmaker, it shows how potent the team’s offense can be.

It all just flowed naturally whether in the half-court or in transition to find open space and for players to take advantage of it. The Magic found their rhythm early and this is how the game went the whole way through:

Their only flaw might well have been turning it over 17 times for 28 points. Sometimes a product of the team’s overpassing as the Pacers tried a zone defense to throw the Magic off and get them to try risky passes.

So many of those passes worked in the first half, the team just kept trying to go back to that well over and over again. The team was unselfish almost to a fault at times and were constantly looking for open teammates.

The Magic certainly could be better in that instance instead of forcing passes through traffic or across the paint.

Then again, it was also this daring that created brilliant opportunities like this:

Those turnovers created positions that charged up the Pacers’ offense and put the Magic in situations where they got caught fouling. That was about the biggest flaw in the game for Orlando.

Still, Indiana cut what was a 17-point lead in the first quarter down to two, but could not get closer. In several key moments the Magic pushed the lead out thanks to their defense. Especially early in the fourth quarter when Orlando picked up two defensive 24-second shot clock violations and expanded the lead to 15.

As powerful as Orlando’s offense was, it was the defense that really fed the game and got the team moving forward as a team. The Magic were swarming defensively, bothering the Pacers with their length, getting deflections and steals. And that led to transition opportunities — 11 fast-break points — and even more passing as the team showed is unselfishness once they got downhill.

The ball movement, energy and flow all started on defense.

"“That was a goal of ours going into this game to establish an identity on the defensive end early and allow that to fuel our offense,” Wendell Carter said after Wednesday’s win. “We had a little bit of a slippage in the second and third quarters. In the quarters that matter, in my opinion, late in the game, down the stretch, we got the necessary stops, limited them to one shot. At the other end, we made shots when it mattered.”"

It is important to remember this synergy between the offense and defense. The defense charges the offense as much as good offense sets the defense. Orlando made plays on both ends.

That is always where the Magic had to go and end up to secure the win. With the Pacers charging at them and disrupting the Magic’s rhythm by parading to the foul line, the Magic had to trust in each other a bit more. They had to find the right play and the right pass.

Consistently in the fourth quarter, Orlando was able to do it. Whether it was Jalen Suggs throwing a perfect touchdown pass from a side out of bounds to Franz Wagner for a layup to beat the third quarter ubzzer or Markelle Fultz squeezing the ball through traffic to Wendell Carter diving to the rim or Paolo Banchero finding Gary Harris in the opposite corner, this team found each other over and over again.

dark. Next. Jalen Suggs' development has become tricky

That is what it will take to win consistently. That is what the Magic are doing more of. And why they were able to win this game.