Orlando Magic need to get into offensive actions earlier

The Orlando Magic have been one of the more turnover-prone teams in the NBA this season. At times, they can look out of sync. While the Magic play at a slower possession count, they need to do better at initiating actions sooner.

The Orlando Magic have had to lean on Paolo Banchero as one of the key playmakers for the team. That has helped him grow, but could be a weakness with how slow the team plays.
The Orlando Magic have had to lean on Paolo Banchero as one of the key playmakers for the team. That has helped him grow, but could be a weakness with how slow the team plays. / David Jensen/GettyImages

The Orlando Magic are on a roll.

They are 12-3 in February and March entering Friday's game against the New York Knicks and have climbed into the race for fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. The team continues to find ways to win and is leaning on Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner to lead them into the postseason.

The Magic not only have two rising stars, but a deep roster and one of the best bench units in the league.

They head into the final 20 games of the season with relative health and outlasted some injury woes in December and January. This depth gives the team multiple ways to score. Cole Anthony, Moe Wagner, Jalen Suggs and Wendell Carter can all get hot on any given night. All are averaging double digits.

Scoring by committee is an asset for this team. But the group needs to continue to improve how they play off of one another.

Orlando is 26th in the NBA in assists per game despite their emphasis on ball movement. That has a lot to do with the slow pace that they play (they are also 26th in pace).

While pace is not necessarily the measure of success, it is easy to see the Magic often play slow and are late initiating their actions.

The Magic often devolve into isolation scoring from Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner to bail them out of possessions which will be more difficult come the playoffs and more organized defensive tactics by opponents.

The lack of assists makes sense for a team that has started a rookie point guard for a majority of the season along with score-first guard Cole Anthony coming off the bench. Markelle Fultz has only been able to play in 26 games so Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner have been tasked with ball handling and creating for others.

They lead the team in touches per game, according to Second Spectrum, in a role that is usually reserved for the team's lead ball-handlers. Both can certainly do so, but the lack of a true point guard is noticeable.

The Magic rely on their defensive efforts to create easy transition offense. The team is fourth in steals per game and is also fourth in points off opponent turnovers. Jalen Suggs, Jonathan Isaac and the NBA's 4th best defense create havoc. That has been keeping Orlando's offense afloat.

In the half-court offense, the team has shown signs during the wins over the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets of lackadaisical offense and no rhythm.

The team does not move without the basketball or set up screening actions until there are 10-12 seconds left in the shot clock. That leaves little room for error as the team has one or two actions to get an open shot.

In those two games, the Magic shot 4 of 14 in the final four seconds of the shot clock, including one for eight in the win over the Wizards. They average 8.8 field goal attempts per game in the last four seconds of the shot clock, the sixth-most in the league. They make 45.5 percent of those shots for the season.

Additionally, the Magic average 10.7 field goal attempts per game with 4-7 seconds left on the shot clock, the the fourth-most in the league with a 51.0 percent effective field goal percentage. In the two games against the Wizards and Hornets, they were 11 for 24 on these shots.

These do not necessarily mean the Magic are getting bad or difficult shots just on the numbers alone. But there is that concern considering how poor the Magic's offense can be overall.

Orlando does fall into the trap of forcing difficult shots, bad passes, and overdribbling into double-teams to get a chance of getting a shot off before the 24 seconds are over. The Magic commit the fourth most turnovers per game, which at their pace speaks volumes about the lack of ball security.

Orlando relies on isolation scoring from Banchero and Wagner and are in the top 15 in using isolation offensive possessions. With the team's slow pace, they rely too much on individual talent to score rather than working as a collective.

Too often the Magic clear out one side of the court towards the end of the clock and hope Banchero or Wagner can get to the rim or create space for a shot.

The Magic, in turn, also commit the second-most turnovers out of isolation because teams have started to double-team Orlando's offensive players. There is not enough time left in the possession to zip the ball around the court to find the open man. This is where turnovers are occurring and it can be remedied.

If the team starts setting screens on and off the ball with more cuts to the basket early, it can open opportunities where the defense has to rotate. More actions can cause more mismatches where the Magic can take advantage.

Shots do not necessarily have to be earlier in the shot clock, but more movement can create open shots. The Magic should be excellent at that too.

They score 1.37 points per possession off cutting plays, according to NBA.com's tracking data. That is fifth in the league. Their 9.3 possessions per game involving cuts is fifth in the league. Figuring out how to create the space for cuts and using cutters is essential to the Magic's offense.

It is just about getting the ball moving.

The Magic are 29th in secondary assists. The top Eastern Conference offensive teams like the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers are elite in distributing the basketball to each other and are both in the top five in secondary assists.

It helps that teams like Boston and Indiana have great shooting teams and are fourth and sixth in three-point percentage. But the Magic have recently restructured their starting unit and that can pay dividends.

Adding Gary Harris and his 38.1 percent three-point shooting on 3.8 attempts is giving much-needed spacing. Suggs, Harris and Carter are collectively averaging 39.9 percent from three. Teams have to guard them on the perimeter and this is clearing room for Paolo and Franz to create.

The added shooting surrounding the two young Magic stars will open up more opportunities for them to score in isolation, but also make easier passes to open shooters.

Teams have no choice but to double-team Banchero when he is in attack mode. The shooting around him will only benefit the team's offensive rating as a whole.

In February, Orlando finished third in three-point percentage in the NBA at 39.5 percent. The team is starting to find their shot on offense and added ball movement will lead to more opportunities for good shots.

Mosley emphasized slowing the game down and ensuring the Magic take efficient shots as the shot clock winds down. Orlando is built to grind out wins by forcing opposing teams to take contested shots without taking too many trips to the free-throw line.

The Magic are preparing for the playoffs and tougher challenges ahead. Orlando needs to play with more urgency and look to create for each other.

A lack of a true point guard in the starting unit forces the team to work to find opportunities on offense collectively. There is something beautiful about a team working in cohesion and making several passes while a defense rotates to an open shot.

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The Magic are still improving and figuring out how to play together, and offensive creativity and early actions will alleviate lulls in Orlando's offense. The team is shooting at the best rate of the season, getting more open shots can improve their offensive efficiency in the final stretch of the year.