Orlando Magic's goal is to play faster, but controlled

The Orlando Magic have found some offensive spark during this eight-game win streak. A big part of that is the team finding its tempo and pace as they play at a faster pace and convert on more points in transition.
Jalen Suggs has helped the Orlando Magic get out in transition more, supercharging their offense and taking advantage of their defense.
Jalen Suggs has helped the Orlando Magic get out in transition more, supercharging their offense and taking advantage of their defense. / Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

It happens so quickly, you barely even recognize that a hole has opened up.

On one hand, the Orlando Magic are a team that looks to control the game's tempo. The more things slow down, the more the team can set its defense and make it hard to score against them. The more it limits whatever miscues the team's offense might have.

Still, in a flash, that whole attitude can change. The Magic can become a team with blinding speed.

Give him a seam or jog back on defense and Jalen Suggs will suddenly be shooting through the lane, getting to the rim before the defense can know what hits it. He especially will look to take the ball off the dribble and push at every opportunity. And if he gets an interception, he is gone for a beeline to the basket.

We may be a long way from the "pace, space and the pass" of the early days of Jamahl Mosley's tenure, but while the team is not a break-neck fast-breaking team, they are looking to use their speed to control the tempo of the game.

That means sometimes Orlando is slowing it down and trying to find a shot in the halfcourt. Other times, that means the team is trying to get down the court as quickly as possible. Most of the time, it still means the team is trying to initiate its offense as quickly as possible and play with speed and force through their actions and cuts.

"We're young. We've got fresh legs and we're able to get out and run," Suggs said after shootaround before the Nov. 29 game against the Washington Wizards. "I think that's a positive for us. We have a lot of great athletes and we play well when we are doing that and finding shots and putting defenses in tough scramble positions. It's hard to guard anybody when you are doing that. It's definitely something we have talked about to get the ball out and run and get the ball out before 21 and it's led to good things so far."

Orlando started the year out as one of the "slower" teams in terms of possessions per 48 minutes in the league. That does not necessarily mean the team was not playing with pace, but the team was stretching possessions.

But the team is speeding up during this homestand, although those numbers do not necessarily correlate to the team's success. The Magic's success is more about control than about speed and pace.

The Magic currently rank 11th in the league at 100.6 possessions per 48 minutes. The team is 21st in the league with 12.8 fast-break points per game.

Orlando has also taken the ninth-most field goal attempts "late" in the shot clock (4-7 seconds remaining) with 12.6 per game. The team has taken the seventh-fewest field goal attempts "early" in the shot clock (15-18 seconds remaining) at 11.9 per game.

That does not suggest the Magic play slow in the way coaches often describe pace. But it does suggest the team is a bit more deliberate and not playing at a breakneck speed. This is not a team that necessarily tries to get up and down and get into track meets.

The team picks its moments.

"I think we want to play fast," Paolo Banchero said after practice Nov. 28. "That's the simple answer. We have the personnel to where we can get up and down off a make or miss. I think that's the goal. I think that's when we are at our best. I think the flip side is to be able to defend teams that play the same way. I think we are very good in the half-court defensively. We can work to be better in transition."

So much of the Magic's struggles in transition is getting sucked into a game where they go up and down the court and get sucked into cross-matches. Orlando wants to play with some poise and composure and control.

Opponents score 14.3 fastbreak points per game against the Magic, ranking them 15th. It is one of the true weak spots defensively and more a sign of turnovers on offense than any defensive deficiency.

Essentially, Orlando's battle for pace has been more about a battle for tempo and control than a means to run. The Magic want to run but be in control. That has been the message for the team.

But with the confidence of this win streak has come the confidence to push the pace a whole lot more.

In the last 10 games, Orlando ranks eighth in the league in pace with 101.4 possessions per 48 minutes. The team ranks 15th in fast-break points with 13.4 per game. That is a big part of why the Orlando Magic's offense has suddenly surged to 117.5 points per 100 possessions.

Despite this seeming increase in pace, the Magic are being more deliberate offensively. During the last 10 games, the team has taken the third-fewest shots "early" (15-18 seconds remaining) in the shot clock at 10.4 attempts per game. However, they are shooting a 61.1 percent effective field goal percentage on these shots.

Orlando is taking the sixth-most shots "late" (4-7 seconds remaining) in the shot clock at 13.0 attempts per game.

It is not that the Magic are being more deliberate or not. They are being more efficient with the quick shots they are taking.

Back in early November, all of these markers were a struggle. When we last examined the team's pace on Nov. 9, the Magic were 21st in pace at 99.8 possessions per 48 minutes and 26th in fast-break points at 11.3 per game.

The team scored 1.03 points per possession in transition on 20.1 transition possessions per game. That included a 13.5 percent turnover rate in transition.

Now though, the Magic are at 1.09 points per possession on 18.1 possessions per game. The team's turnover rate has dropped to 12.2 percent. That is progress but does not paint the clearest picture of this team's relationship with pace.

Orlando is still seeking its right tempo. Undoubtedly, the Magic's pace has increased dramatically because they have played some faster-paced teams -- particularly this week with the Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards.

While it is easy to point to the offense as controlling the tempo, the Magic will tell you it starts with their defense controlling the tempo and creating these opportunities to run.

"I think for us it's more about: Are we getting the stops we need to get out and run," Mosley said after practice Nov. 28. "We need to make sure we run make or miss but doing it with a brain. You are running but you're not just running to play helter-skelter basketball. You are trying to run and get a pace that's a problem for the defense to flatten them out and share the ball the right way."

That might be the best way to describe what the Magic are going for with their pace. It is not about running for the sake of running. It is about using the defense to push the pace more but to be smart when they do run.

Orlando is always working against its youth and the mistakes that still come from a team that is overeager. At all times, then, Orlando wants to be in control.

The Magic can benefit from getting out on the break more. Orlando has scored 12 or more fast-break points 10 times this year and the team is 9-1 in those games. The team certainly benefits from getting out in transition more.

All things are about balance and control though. That much is clear. The Magic are starting to find that balance more as their offense has taken the leap this past week. They are getting out in transition more.

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But they know success comes from composure and control. And that might be the bigger thing to focus on when it comes to the Magic. Not whether they get up and down in transition, but whether they are the ones controlling the tempo and pace.