Orlando Magic use cutting to erase 3-point deficit

The Orlando Magic use a lot of tools to try to make up for their lack of 3-point shooting and spacing, cutting is one of the big tools in the Magic's arsenal.
Franz Wagner has gotten a steady shot diet off cuts as the Orlando Magic try to figure out how to build an offense without the benefit of shooting.
Franz Wagner has gotten a steady shot diet off cuts as the Orlando Magic try to figure out how to build an offense without the benefit of shooting. / Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Every Orlando Magic game it seems is a giant math problem.

If Orlando is going to make fewer than 10 3-pointers and the opponent is going to hit 15, how does the team make up those 15 points the team is not scoring?

The basic part of that formula is to win the free throw line. The Magic are second in the league in free throw rate and average 26.9 free throw attempts per game. That is the biggest area where Orlando makes up ground. If the team defends well, it is not fouling and thus can run up the score on chances at the foul line.

It is the same with getting extra possessions off offensive rebounds, where the team is 11th in offensive rebounds per game but fourth in second-chance points per game with 16.3 per game. That goes the same for trying to attack the paint. The Magic are always trying to live and score in the paint.

It is a constant uphill battle though.

Orlando is now 21st in the league again in offensive rating. The team's shooting problems only seem to be getting worse too as the Orlando Magic are the second-worst 3-point shooting team in the league (largely thanks to a big showing in Tuesday's loss to the Golden State Warriors). At least they have the good sense to take the fewest threes in the league.

Teams though know this. Orlando constantly sees loaded paints and constantly has to try to create space for itself. And the team has a secret weapon to do this: The Magic are one of the best teams in the league at cutting to the basket.

Entering Tuesday's game against the Golden State Warriors, the Orlando Magic are second in the league with 14.2 points per game off cuts (a hair behind the Cleveland Cavaliers who also round up to 14.2 points per game).

Orlando scores 1.39 points per possession off plays where they cut, according to data from Synergy. The Magic run plays with cuts on 9.1 percent of their possessions, second only to the Warriors this season (an offense known for its constant motion).

The team will still turn the ball over off of these plays -- a little more than six percent of the time. But this is a critical way for the Magic to score points. This is how they manipulate space without 3-point shooting.

They have to move and find ways to cut into space. Defenses are congesting the paint, but they can still find ways to create off cuts.

This need to move and cut is also seen in the team's overall cutting and movement numbers. Orlando is traveling the seventh-most distance in miles per game at 18.58 miles per game. On offense, they travel the eighth most at 10.16 miles per game.

The Magic do plenty of movement on defense too. But Orlando runs into problems when the team's offense gets too stagnant. Cutting is essential to creating space.

Take a look at this pass from Paolo Banchero for instance:

Here Banchero runs a pick and roll that the Philadelphia 76ers handle well. But watch how the three key players here never lose sight of Banchero. He is probing and waiting for the defense to put that extra attention on him.

De'Anthony Melton is watching Paolo Banchero a bit too much and that creates the cutting lane for Jalen Suggs along the baseline for the easy basket.

This is a basic thing that Orlando tries to do.

If Banchero or Wagner cannot get a clear path to the rim, the team wants them to probe and occupy defensive attention. Because the paint is so congested, Banchero especially has to use his driving gravity to try to pull defenders away and create these lanes.

From there the Magic can use his improved passing acumen to trust him to make the pass to that open space or kick to a shooter if the defense adjusts to cover the cut too late.

Banchero is still learning and improving at this. He has gotten better at manipulating defenses with probing dribbles and more efficient moves to see where the help defense is coming from and thus where the open space might be.

Orlando has had to learn very quickly how to manipulate and use space on the interior because the team's shooters are not scaring anyone from beyond the arc.

There has been mixed results. The team still turns the ball over a lot in the process. But this is the Magic's path to victory. They need players right now who are willing to move and work off the ball to flash into this open space that their drives can create.

Entering Tuesday's game, Moe Wagner leads the Magic with 3.5 points per game off cuts as he does a very good job flashing into the lane and becoming available around the basket when defenders step up to stop drives. That marks 11th in the league.

Franz Wagner is especially good among the Magic's wings at cutting, averaging 1.44 points per game off cuts. Anthony Black and Jalen Suggs each average 1.40 points per game off cuts.

This is about as simple as a cut as you can have. Paolo Banchero drives toward the basket and occupies enough of Kyle Kuzma's attention for Franz Wagner to sneak behind him and get the layup before he is aware of what is going on.

When the Magic talk about basketball IQ, this is one of the things they refer to. It is the understanding of what the defense is doing and where its focus is and then understanding how to cut into that open space when it is given.

This is the kind of thing the Magic have to do. They have to use the attention their drives create and the unusual ways a lot of teams defend them with the emphasis on the paint to create space for these kinds of actions.

This is another great example of how the Magic can create space for cutting even with their struggles to shoot from beyond the arc.

This play starts with Gary Harris driving into the lane. But he dishes out to Banchero after his drive is cut off.

He keeps moving through though and takes Tyrese Haliburton with him. As Paolo Banchero attacks, the paint is open and unbalanced. Wendell Carter takes two defenders with him and that gives Anthony Black a free run at the basket.

It is clear how quick movement and immediate attacks can create space and lanes. The Magic have to create some confusion and indecision somehow, even if it comes in tight corners.

Looking at those numbers too, it should be clear that cuts happen on a fairly low number of possessions in the course of the game. This is an important weapon to create and use the space the Magic can create, but it is not everything for this team.

Next. Paolo Franz Help 01.03.24. Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner need help to lift Magic. dark

The Magic still desperately need shooting -- that will only increase the ability for the team to cut and move into space. But it should be clear this is an important element of the Magic's game. They have to cut and move to find success. That is one of the ways they build their offense and one of the ways they make up for their shortcomings.