Orlando Magic can get open threes, it's about making them

The Orlando Magic are on a hot streak right now. While the injuries have pushed them to shoot far more threes, the quality of their shots has not changed much. It was always about making them.
Caleb Houstan has emerged as one of the Orlando Magic's best shooters as the team starts hitting shots more frequently.
Caleb Houstan has emerged as one of the Orlando Magic's best shooters as the team starts hitting shots more frequently. / Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone knows the Orlando Magic's biggest problem.

It has popped up in several games this year where the team simply cannot hit an outside shot. It was evident from the first few games of the year when it felt like every defender had at least one foot in the paint as they tried to choke off the Magic and any chance they had to get to the floor.

There are plenty of Magic groups that are so tired of talking about shooting that the "s-word" is banned in conversations.

Nobody is surprised the Magic are not a great shooting team. That was a clear weakness for the team even entering the season. Orlando was more focused on building a foundation and base. What the team was hoping to see was this kind of defense.

Undoubtedly though, shooting is holding this team back. And there have been plenty of times where shooting has drained the energy the defense has had. Everything the Magic do moving forward has to have this shooting need in mind.

Until then, Orlando has to do all it can with the group it has. It has to trust that its process to get shots and get open shots and then ultimately make them.

The Orlando Magic are shooting 35.1 percent from three good for 26th in percentage. The team is 27th in attempts per game at 31.1 per game.

Those numbers were boosted a ton by the Orlando Magic's 42 for 80 showing (52.5 percent) in the last two games against the Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets. That included hitting a franchise-record 25 3-point makes against the Kings in the double-overtime defeat on the road.

They followed that up by hitting 17 of 41 3-pointers against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. The team is on a hot streak from deep.

Before those two games, the Magic were 29th in 3-point field goal percentage (33.4 percent) and 29th in attempts at 30.2 per game. Orlando at least understood it was not a 3-point shooting team and sought other ways to attack.

Still, the message from the team has always been to keep shooting and shooting with confidence. Even if the Magic's offense is not generating a ton of 3-pointers. No one would largely complain about the team's looks.

The Magic have taken 1,118 3-pointers. According to data from NBA.com, 385 of those attempts came with the closest defender 4-6 feet away and 649 of them came with the closest defender six or more feet away.

That means that 92.5 percent of their 3-point attempts are "open" or "wide open" as the NBA defines it. The Magic are getting quality looks.

The problem remains they are not hitting these shots. The Magic are 32.5 percent when the closest defender is 4-6 feet away and 38.1 percent when the closest defender is six or more feet away. Overall the Magic shoot 36.0 percent on these open shots.

The team just needs to make shots. That is the case when you look at some of their worst shooting performances this season.

In the Magic's 2-for-23 shooting performance in the loss at the Cleveland Cavaliers, they made only 2 of 19 3-point shots when the closest defender was four or more feet away. In their 7-for-33 shooting performance against the New York Knicks on Dec. 29, they made 7 of 31 shots with the closest defender at least four feet away.

In their 8-for-33 showing against the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 21, the team made 7 of 30 shots with the closest defender four or more feet away. Against the Miami Heat the night before, the team made 9 of 30 3-point attempts with the closest defender four or more feet away. They were 9 for 36 overall.

The Magic are still being quite selective with their 3-point attempts. They are not generating a ton of 3-point looks and there is still an outsized focus on the paint, but the team is taking the relatively good looks they do get.

They just have to make them. And that has been the continued message for this team.

"Like what we say all the time to this group, whether you make it or miss it you have to shoot the ball the same way," coach Jamahl Mosley said before Sunday's game. "I think these guys are really understanding that, knowing when they get it, we want them to shoot the basketball and to have confidence in each other and confidence in themselves."

Orlando had to change some of its game with all the absences. The team's attempts shot up and they made 42 of 80 3-pointers. In those 80 attempts, they made 14 of 28 attempts with the closest defender 4-6 feet away and 22 of 39 attempts when the closest defender is six or more feet away.

Sunday night, the Magic made 16 of 36 3-pointers where the closest defender was four or more feet away. They were 12 for 22 when the opponent was six or more feet away.

The Magic were taking more threes but most of those attempts remain at least open shots by definition. And it is more than what other teams typically do.

They are not likely to keep up that kind of volume and it is not likely sustainable that the Magic can succeed scoring as few points in the paint as they scored in those two games. But it was a positive sign to see the magic make shots and still get a pretty healthy diet of quality threes.

Shooting covers up for a lot of mistakes. And with an injury-depleted team, the Magic needed that cover to survive.

The question then is whether this shooting will continue. Can the Magic bring home this suddenly surging shooting? They certainly hope so.

Teams are certainly happy to leave Magic shooters open. Their scout is that the team will not hit open shots. And the Magic, until recently, did not shoot at the volume to make teams pay.

But Orlando has shown improvement from deep. The team's 3-point luck is turning.

Somehow, the Magic now have three players shooting better than 40 percent from three, led by Caleb Houstan after his 7-for-14 showing Sunday against the Hawks.

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The Magic's 3-point problem was not necessarily about their shot selection. It is simply about making them. They just hope the tide has turned and things are finally starting to turn their way.