Orlando Magic Playbook: Why the Orlando Magic give up so many 3-pointers

The Orlando Magic's poor 3-point shooting defense has cost them games throughout the season. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic's poor 3-point shooting defense has cost them games throughout the season. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports /

On one hand, the Orlando Magic’s disappointing loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday was a product of bad luck.

All the Magic could do was tip their cap to the Spurs for hitting a bunch of 3-pointers — both open and contested. Some nights in the NBA, the other team gets hot and it does not matter what the stats say. Every NBA team is capable of one good night as much as the next.

Every team has their games where 3-point luck goes in their favor and goes against them. You can flush those games and move on.

On the other hand, it was also clear that something more was at work. The Magic were, at least by Paolo Banchero’s own admission, a step slow getting back out to the 3-point line. The Spurs hit a host of open 3-pointers and watching the game, it was clear the Magic were not as dialed in at any level of the defense.

For a team that is trying to make up ground in the postseason, losing to the 18-win Spurs at this stage of the season can be classified as a disaster. And the stats back that up with the Spurs hitting a franchise-record 22 3-pointers.

The Orlando Magic’s poor defense in Tuesday’s loss only highlights a consistent problem for this young Magic team. Their 3-point defense gives up too many attempts. Some of this is by design.

NBA.com’s tracking stats had the Spurs making 12 of 18 3-pointers when the closest defender was six or more feet away and 9 of 19 3-pointers with the closest defender 4-6 feet away.

The Spurs went 22 of 41 overall, meaning only one make out of four attempts had a defender within four feet.

That is just bad defense.

But this is also what the Magic expose themselves to consistently with their biggest concerning defensive trend. The Magic are a team that gives up a lot of 3-pointers.

Orlando is 28th in the league giving up 37.1 3-point attempts per game (the team has been 29th for most of the season). It has been a fairly consistent problem for a team that is so challenged itself offensively that they give up a ton of threes.

The Magic’s 3-point defense is not overall terrible — opponents shoot 35.3 percent against them, which is 10th in the league. But because Orlando gives up volume (and does not take a ton of threes themselves), the team ranks 27th in the league giving up 13.1 3-pointers per game.

Essentially, Orlando opens itself up to hot shooting nights that become overwhelmingly devastating because they give up so many attempts. Even a poor shooting percentage could still see teams outpacing the Magic from beyond the arc.

This is partly by design.

With the way modern offenses work, defenses essentially make gambles on what they are willing to give up to get by. Some teams focus on switching everything to eliminate ball movement and force isolations, even if that creates mismatches. Some teams focus on walling off the paint and making teams make difficult passes out of the paint. Some teams try to isolate players in the corners and use zone principles to overload one side of the floor.

Defenses are still catching up to this offensive revolution and the Magic have done a bit of everything. They have spent a good chunk of the year focusing on locking down the paint and even overhelping in the paint with their weakside defender. This has had mixed results but has been trending in the right direction with the team ranking ninth in the league with 48.3 points allowed in the paint per game.

The Magic’s defense has generally been good. They rank 20th in defensive rating at 114.3 points allowed per 100 possessions for the season and 12th in the league since Dec. 7 at 113.8 points allowed per 100 possessions.

The 3-point shooting is clearly the biggest area of leakage beyond just youthful inconsistency. So why are the Magic giving up so many threes?

A lot of it is this emphasis on the paint and using some exaggerated low-man help as a backstop.

With Zach Collins and a lot of smaller lineups, the Spurs were able to play 5-out, which makes the Magic’s help responsibilities much more difficult.

In this pick-and-roll, Markelle Fultz does a decent job staying with his man to force a tough contest at the rim. The Magic like to have a lot of bodies in the paint to deter drives and force tough passes.

Jalen Suggs is in the corner guarding Doug McDermott. It would usually be his responsibility as the low man on the weak side to cover the paint. Instead, it is Paolo Banchero who commits fully to stopping the drive. That leaves an easier pass to the perimeter where Cole Anthony does a good job closing out, but it leaves an easier reversal that sets up this three from Julian Champagnie. Banchero recognizes his new help responsibility too late in giving up this open three.

This is what a lot of offenses try to do. They want teams in scramble mode where they can pass their way to a broken rotation or recovery. What the Magic’s defense bets on is that they can commit to stopping the paint and then use their length to force an imprecise pass to the perimeter that will allow them to recover.

If they fail that, Orlando then relies on communication to make sure their players are spraying back out to shooters and then again using their length to chase players off the 3-point line or disrupt them enough for others to recover.

This was the biggest area the Magic struggled Tuesday night:

This play is a classic example of how the Magic want to crowd the paint.

Devin Vassell and Zach Collins run a high pick and roll with Jeremy Sochan also acting as a screener and roller. The Magic have done a good job walling off the paint with Banchero in a good help position to protect the rim if Vassell is able to get by. Wendell Carter ends up sticking to Zach Collins in case he pops out and Franz Wagner ends up being the roll man in the pick-and-roll defense. He does a good job cutting off the penetration.

Banchero’s responsibility here then is to tag the roller and he does that by being present by Sochan. But that means he has left his man, Keita Bates-Diop, open in the corner.

Because Wagner is unable to stop the penetration fully, Vassell is able to create a passing angle to make the skip to the corner. This is where Banchero’s defensive technique and awareness needs to improve. He does well to make the pass to Sochan unviable. But as the pass is going to the corner, he turns too slowly instead of reacting quickly.

This was a problem throughout Tuesday’s game. Banchero was just constantly slow to recognize his next help responsibility in scramble plays. This has been an area he has needed to improve throughout the season. But really this is only something he can get better at by experiencing and seeing these situations — he was not the only one to struggle with this kind of awareness Tuesday night.

But you can see how this emphasis on stopping the paint and the commitment to overhelping and showing bodies to deter drives can lead to open three-point opportunities and the need to start scrambling. It takes some precise focus and understanding to make this rotation and be effective in this style of defense.

A lot of the Magic’s 3-pointers come from this kind of overcommitment to the paint. The Magic give up 9.8 3-point attempts per game and 40.3 percent shooting from the corners. Those numbers are not good for that highly sought and valuable 3-point shot.

This is a cascading problem. It starts with the Magic being more effective at the point of attack and stopping downhill drives. If the team can slow down drives, then it becomes easier to make these kinds of rotations.

In Saturday’s game against the Miami Heat (another team like the San Antonio Spurs that struggles to make threes), the Orlando Magic were much more effective at this. The Heat made just 11 of 37 3-pointers in the Magic win.

In this clip, Wendell Carter does a good job being a presence that Gabe Vincent has to worry about. He is not someone who is going to try to finish over the top of a defender like Carter. Wagner starts as the low man in the charge circle. But as Gabe Vincent drives deeper and Wendell Carter cuts off the drive, Franz Wagner starts to creep back to the corner and Jimmy Butler but stays in position to help if Carter loses his man.

Vincent though gets a clear pass to Butler in the corner. Wagner recognizes it quickly and then uses his length to get a good contest on Butler in the corner. Butler misses the three. And Butler has no other option but either reset the offense or take the three. This is a successful defensive rotation.

And since we have singled Banchero out some in this post, here is a good clip of Banchero being in help and then recovering to contest a three.

So much of this is about pure effort and determination. It is about recognizing the next step as it is happening and making a play. Watching through all the threes from the last two games and the difference between the shots the Magic’s opponents miss and make is often a defender scrambling to the right spot, fighting over a screen or just being a presence in the shooter’s sightline. It does not take much to make a good contest, just communication and help.

A lot of players have shown themselves capable of this like Cole Anthony on this blocked three when he trails his recovery responsibility in Gabe Vincent:

The Magic have made paint defense their strategy. They have made contesting these three-pointers their bet for their defense for the season. All of our playbook posts this year have focused on this. It is a repeated emphasis.

That does not really help with reducing the amount they give up. And giving up threes in transition and momentary lapses also open them up to giving up more 3-pointers.

It is about that attention to detail and consistency the Magic have been after. And getting this right is going to help the team reduce 3-point attempts and improve their 3-point defense.

Some tweaks to their help rules and improving their defense on the perimeter — or even knowing when and how to mix up different defensive schemes more — will help too. The Magic made their focus this year on stopping the paint, but that focus could change depending on personnel and how the team wants its defense to evolve.

Orlando seems to have established just a baseline of what the team wants to do this year. And there are still details the team needs to fill out around it.

The 3-point defense is part of that. And for the Magic to improve, it is simply going to take more precision and effort and second efforts. That is ultimately what defense comes down to in these scramble situations. And that was a big thing that was off Tuesday night.

Next. Pursuit of postseason is Orlando Magic's best path. dark

For now, this defense is going to give up 3-point opportunities. It is up to the Magic to try to reduce and contest those more with better precision defensively.