Orlando Magic have to get back to the paint to build on 3-point gains

The Orlando Magic are not a 3-point shooting team. Their focus is more on attacking the paint and putting pressure on the rim. Since the All-Star Break, that has been lagging even as the team is surging from three. To prepare for the Playoffs, they have to get to the paint again.

The Orlando Magic are trying to find their offensive rhythm again. It starts with one area they are surprisingly lagging. They have to get to the paint.
The Orlando Magic are trying to find their offensive rhythm again. It starts with one area they are surprisingly lagging. They have to get to the paint. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

The final offensive possession for the Orlando Magic in Monday's game was very close to what the Magic want from their offense -- minus the result.

Orlando worked to get Franz Wagner on a favorable switch with Deandre Ayton so he could attack the basket. They cleared out his side, dropping Wendell Carter to the dunker spot to give him space to get to the paint.

The defense did exactly what the Magic wanted them to do. Wagner got into the middle of the paint and collapsed three defenders around him. That is when the Magic sprung their trap.

Gary Harris pinched in and screened Dalano Banton, acting as a sort of hammer screen to get Paolo Banchero an open 3-pointer to ice the game and make it a four-point Magic lead.

Scoot Henderson was very late, but Jalen Suggs remained an option too. You could argue whether Banchero should have taken that three or if he should have been the one screening for Harris or if Suggs should have been the one setting up in the corner. But you cannot argue with the execution of that play.

Nor should anyone argue that this is exactly the kind of play that defines the Magic's offensive philosophy. The kind of play that every offense is trying to create.

Basketball, for all its complexities and Xs and Os to try to generate the best shots and advantageous matchups, is still about one thing: Getting the ball in the basket. It is still easiest to do that as close to the basket as possible.

If teams cannot get to the basket, the idea is to collapse the defense and kick out to the 3-point line where there will be an open shooter. This is the ideal of basketball. This was a well-executed play where the Magic put pressure on the rim and found an open shooter.

Even for the Magic, this is exactly what they want to do.

"We want to apply pressure on the rim and get to the paint and cause the low man to shift in and create scramble situations," Jalen Suggs said after shootaround Wednesday. "But we all have to trust and believe in our jumpers. If you create a problem enough to where you get a kick out for a good look, you have to shoot it and shoot it with confidence. Nothing too deep. Get in the paint, cause problems. If you finish, great. If you kick out and get a better look. Great."

For the Magic all year that has been the sticking point. They have not been able to trust their shooting. They had to attack the paint and put pressure on the rim because finding shots and hitting shots consistently was such an issue.

It was clearly an issue during this recent losing stretch with the three open 3-pointers the Orlando Magic missed with a chance to beat the Sacramento Kings and the play above from Monday's win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Orlando still ranks 22nd in the league with 35.5 percent shooting from three and the team is not reliant on 3-pointers, ranking 28th in attempts at 31.3 per game.

The Magic have had to make up for their poor 3-point shooting by putting pressure on the paint and the rim and getting to the foul line, where they lead the league in free throw rate, even after the downturn in fouls following the All-Star Break.

The Magic rank ninth in the league with 51.7 points in the paint per game. They rank second in the league with 29.3 field goal attempts per game in the restricted area (shooting 67.3 percent on those shots). They are ninth in the league with 22.8 paint touches per game, according to data from Second Spectrum.

Orlando wants to get shots at the rim and collapse teams in the paint. That is their super power. And that is what teams try to prevent.

"It opens everything else for us. That's our superpower," Suggs said after shootaround Wednesday. "Between Franz [Wagner], P [Paolo Banchero], Dell [Wendell Carter], JI [Jonathan Isaac], Moritz [Wagner], everyone is great down there at the rim and it opens up 3-pointers and makes the defense collapse and gets them in scramble situations. I think it's very important to finish well. Make that a priority and let the game come to us from that."

That was one of the things that felt off about the Magic's win over the Blazers. Portland won the paint 48-44. That is a sign of Orlando's strong paint defense -- eighth in the league giving up 47.7 per game. But it is also a sign of the Magic facing a frustrating flip.

Orlando has failed to hit its season average in points in the paint in each of the last four games. They have hit 50 points in the paint just once in the last four games. This was coming off four straight games scoring more than 55 points in the paint, including 62 against the Pelicans. The Magic are 26-6 when they score 55 or more points in the paint.

That is a big factor for their wins. Where 3-point shooting and 3-point attempts often has the opposite effect.

But there is a flip in the trend. The Magic are scoring fewer points in the paint now -- just 49.6 points in the paint per game since the All-Star Break -- but they are hitting more threes.

Orlando is making 37.2 percent of its threes since the All-Star Break, the 10th-best percentage in the league. The team has not changed its shot profile either, still taking 31.5 attempts per game (the second-fewest in the league since the break).

That was lacking in the win over the Portland Trail Blazers at 11 for 32 from three and was certainly a drain in losses to the Golden State Warriors and LA Clippers. But 3-point shooting is not as much of a concern every night.

The goal is still to get into the paint. But the Magic have a lot of confidence in their shooting now.

"I think it's important, but once you get to the paint and everyone is in there it makes sense to spray it out," Franz Wagner said after shootaround Wednesday. "Stats like that I don't think always correlate or are hard to answer. But it definitely makes sense."

Wagner is probably the only one of those players who has not seen a big spike in his shooting after the All-Star Break. But his ability to attack downhill continues to be a boost for the team. It is exactly for what he did at the end of the game Monday.

The shooting has likely been part of the lifeline for the team as it scores fewer points in the paint. Coach Jamahl Mosley through all the shooting struggles has always encouraged his players to shoot confidently. When they get open threes they need to hit them. And they are making them now.

Most importantly, the Magic are still finding a way to win.

They are 14-6 since the All-Star Break with a 105.8 defensive rating. Their defense is still the biggest factor in their wins. But despite the stronger shooting, the Magic's offense still only averages 112.8 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star Break.

Orlando saw cracks in this during the losing streak and much of the last five games. Their shooting is not something they can rely on consistently. They are what the numbers say they are.

That is why getting to the paint and getting paint touches is so important. The 3-point gains are important for the Playoffs -- teams will play the Magic as if they cannot shoot in the Playoffs -- but everything for this team sprouts from the paint.

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If Orlando wants to cement the gains the team appears to be making from three, it starts with getting downhill to the basket and to the rim more. That is the part that has been lacking during this stretch.