Orlando Magic are bringing back 'Bully Ball' . . . and it's working

The Orlando Magic are not falling in line with the rest of the NBA. They do not take threes. They do not have an other-worldly defensive stopper. Instead, they have brought back "Bully Ball." And it is paying off.
Jalen Suggs (left) and Paolo Ranchero (right) celebrate against the Toronto Raptors
Jalen Suggs (left) and Paolo Ranchero (right) celebrate against the Toronto Raptors / Rich Storry/GettyImages

You have heard the phrase: "Live by the three, die by the three."

Say thanks to Stephen Curry or whoever else you want, but it is much bigger than just him. It is a trend that has turned into the normal in the NBA.

Three-point attempts have nearly doubled in comparison to 10 years ago. The 34.7 attempts per game so far in 2023 is only second to the 2022 season (35.2) all-time.

The relentless approach to let it fly has resulted in a team scoring boom we have not seen since the rim-running days of the 1980s. For context, the Indiana Pacers are averaging the fifth-most three-pointers per game this season. It has resulted in 127.5 points per game (!) so far this season.

Yes, it has only been 20 or so games. But regardless, that is an other-wordly scoring clip.

The Orlando Magic have not subscribed to that approach. The Magic take the fewest threes in the league and know they will struggle from deep. That would seemingly set the Magic up for failure in this run-and-gun NBA. It would seemingly leave the offense behind.

But here is the thing: The Magic are not subscribing to this approach...and it is still working.

They are proving a different approach can work and that offenses in the NBA are not so cookie cutter. The idea that the long ball is not the only way to win games is proving correct.

The Magic rank dead last in three-point attempts per game at 29.5 per game. Orlando is also 25th in the league at 34.6 percent shooting. So passing on threes might be the right idea.

They have instead replaced their offense with "bully ball" and a focus on attacking the paint.

They box out, dominate the glass and attack the basket. They are the number one team in attempts inside three feet and nearly half of their points have come in the paint (the highest clip in the NBA).

The Magic are third in the league in points in the paint at 56.6 points per game and lead the league in free throw rate at 32.2 percent (nearly one free throw attempt for every three field goal attempts). Orlando averages 51.6 drives per game, according to data from Second Spectrum, eighth-most in the league.

That just hints at how Orlando tries to pressure defenses and get to the rim. It hints at the physicality the Magic try to bring, let alone on defense.

Video proves this too:

This play perfectly describes Orlando's approach. The handoff from Paolo Banchero to would have led to two scenarios for most teams:

1. A pass from Ingles to Banchero in the corner for an open three

2. A drive by Banchero into the double team and a kick out to Ingles (a 40% three-point shooter so far this season) for an open three

The result for the Magic? Neither.

Banchero bulldozes his way through the double for a double-clutch and-one bucket. There is no need for putting up an open three. It is not the team's M.O. This team wants to attack the basket and get to the line.

Banchero is a perfect example of this. He entered the league and immediately became a foul drawing machine, averaging 7.4 free throw attempts per game. He is down to 6.4 attempts per game this year, partly because he has improved to a 40.6-percent 3-point shooter.

But that has not stopped Banchero from still burrowing his head and getting into the paint. He leads the team with 13.2 drives per game this year (up from 10.0 per game last year). He averages 7.5 points per game off those drives and gets fouled on 13.0 percent of those drives. With better free throw shooting, banchero is sure to increase his scoring average.

Orlando, despite all of its perceived offensive problems, is 16th in the league in offensive rating at 113.9 points per 100 possessions. Considering the Magic have not been outside the bottom 10 in offensive rating since Dwight Howard was on the team in 2012, that is quite a leap for this team.

These stats highlight how the Magic's star player exemplifies the team's aggressive offensive approach.

The offensive success is there but the other end of the floor has been just as brash.

Orlando uses a team-first approach headed up not by one defensive force but by interchangeable lineups of long-winged defenders fearlessly attacking passing lanes.

Orlando is a turnover machine, ranking second in the league in opponent turnover percentage and top five in both defensive rebounds per game and opponent field goal percentage at the rim. They play every game defensively like it is Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

That mentality starts with Jalen Suggs. The third-year guard has thrived as a full-time starter so far this season. He plays with force on both ends of the floor and is a pest on the defensive end.

A size difference does not matter here. Jalen Suggs fights off two big screens from Daniel Gafford then shuts down the drive and the shot from Kyle Kuzma.

Doing it all late in the shot clock in the fourth quarter of a tight game.

Those are the types of plays this team makes, headlined by Suggs. There is a ferocity and hustle this team has on a night-to-night basis and it has paid dividends so far this year. The team ranks top 10 in deflections per game and top five in both charges drawn and box outs per game.

The indivdual stats are not jumping off the page apart from Suggs ranked second in steals this season, but the defensive impact as a team level is far beyond that.

The team is second in the league in defensive rating. And that might say it all (even though the team is 17th in opponent field goal percentage and 25th in opponent free throw attempts per game).

This is a young team (the fifth-youngest in the NBA). They cannot lean on championship experience or past playoff series. They do not have any of that?

So what do you do?

Next. 3 expendable players 12.10.23. 3 expendable Magic players, 3 they can't afford to lose. dark

They hustle. They probe. They play bully ball. And it is working.