2023 Orlando Magic Season Review What Went Right: Free throws unlock (some) offense

Franz Wagner and the Orlando Magic made their living at the foul line this year as a sign of some offensive life. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Franz Wagner and the Orlando Magic made their living at the foul line this year as a sign of some offensive life. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic are not a good offensive team. Or at least not an efficient one yet.

They finished the season once again ranked in the bottom 10 in the league in offensive rating at 111.3 points per 100 possessions (26th in the league). This despite some historic offensive performances — including scoring 50 points in a quarter and the ever-increasing 3-pointers that teams around the league are taking.

Do not take this poor ranking as a sign the Magic’s offense has not improved. This was a better offensive season for Orlando even if there is still plenty of room to grow.

A lot of the Magic’s ability to take a step forward and step up into the playoffs will depend on improvement on both sides of the floor. At some point, the Magic will have to be able to score more.

And certainly getting more reliable depth, a full season with Markelle Fultz and a more evolved version of Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero is going to improve the offense. The Magic, as they were with much of what they were doing this past season, were merely layering the seeds for what they want to become.

To that effect then, the Magic have one thing offensively that stood out that will be a boost to this team. And something Orlando will need to continue to cultivate.

The Orlando Magic’s offense still has a lot of room to grow and improve. The one area where they took a step forward was with their free throw shooting. That was an area where the Magic finally stood out.

For the first time in a decade, the Magic can point to free-throw shooting as a positive indicator of their offensive future. And as the rest of their team and offensive strategy develops, free throw shooting might well be something that kicks their team into overdrive.

For the season, Orlando made 78.5 percent of its free throws, 16th in the league. So there is room for improvement to make even more free throws. But that does not quite describe how critical free throw shooting was to their offense.

With the team struggling to make and take 3-pointers (perhaps the biggest element holding the Magic’s offense back is their low volume of 3-point shooting, but it certainly fits their personnel for now), getting to the foul line was essential for the team to have any success.

Getting to the foul line was the team’s bread and butter all year.

Orlando finished with 25.0 free throw attempts per game, eighth in the league. The team finished fifth in the league with a 29.0 percent free throw rate — essentially three free throws for every 10 field goal attempts. The Magic have not finished outside the bottom 10 in free throw rate since Dwight Howard left.

That gives a clue as to why the Magic’s free-throw attempts jumped up so much. One dominant free-throw shooter goes a long way to increasing a team’s attempts.

A lot of this transformation at getting to the line was because Paolo Banchero was such an immediately dominant free-throw shooter.

Banchero got to the line for 7.4 attempts per game, 12th in the entire league. No rookie has shot more than 7.0 free throw attempts per game since Zion Williamson (7.4 in 2020), Joel Embiid (7.9 in 2017) and Blake Griffin (8.5 in 2011). A rookie had not done it before Blake Griffin since Allen Iverson in 1997 (7.2 per game).

This is all to say, getting to the foul line was a thing Banchero did that continues to point toward his future stardom. It was a historical thing he did as a rookie when rookies supposedly do not get the benefit of the whistle. And Banchero said this is an area where he hopes to continue improving and learning tricks of the trade.

But Banchero was not the only one getting to the line with more consistency. It became an overall offensive strategy to try to force action in the paint and put defenses in compromising positions off drives.

Franz Wagner averaged 4.0 free throw attempts per game after averaging only 2.8 per game in his rookie year. Wendell Carter averaged 3.4 attempts per game after averaging only 3.3 last year. Moe Wagner also eclipsed two free throw attempts per game at 3.2 per game.

That put four players with more than 2.0 free throw attempts per game this year after having three last year. Orlando had six players shoot more than 2.0 free throw attempts per game last year and seven this year.

There is obviously still room for improvement. Wagner showed an improvement in getting to the foul line, but he is so good at avoiding contact sometimes that he leaves scoring opportunities on the floor.

The reality is this team is still young and learning how to get to the foul line. That is what makes what Banchero did so impressive. There is still room for growth.

The reality too is that free throw shooting became essential to the Magic’s attack. They struggled to keep up with their three-point shooting at times and so free throws became essential for the team to keep pace and make up ground.

It was the one area offensively Orlando consistently had an advantage on over its opponents. The Magic needed an offensive edge and this was it.

Whether this will continue is a mystery. Orlando certainly will spend its offseason looking to add more shooting and that will change the spacing and the way the team is able to attack. But free throw shooting will need to remain a big part of the team’s offensive diet.

Next. What Went Right: Markelle Fultz had his best year. dark

That was the foundation the team laid offensively this year. It may not be a whole lot quite yet. But as this team improves, free throw shooting will be a bedrock for this team.

It is at least something the team can continue to grow and develop offensively.