Photo by Fernando Medina
Fast break points.
Any team in the NBA, during games, would like to score in transition as many times as possible. But not all teams in the league are created equal, and some of them are better at scoring on fast breaks than others. And it can’t be underestimated the power of capitalizing on transition opportunities.
For example, there are many reasons that the San Antonio Spurs are 37-7 and have the best record in the NBA, but one of them is their improved ability to score on a fast break. In 2009, the Spurs scored 12.7 fast break points per game. In 2010? That number has skyrocketed to 17.3 fast break points per game. It is worth noting that San Antonio has increased their pace from last season to this season, which means they have more chances to score due to a higher amount of possessions, but it’s still a noteworthy jump.
The Orlando Magic, on the other hand, are at the other end of the spectrum.
The Magic have never really pushed the pace since head coach Stan Van Gundy has been roaming the sidelines, usually ranking in the lower half of the category year after year. As a result, fast break points weren’t going to be high for Orlando but they were competent at executing in transition. However, before the blockbuster trades, the Magic were less than competent on fast breaks. In fact, Orlando was dreadful — ranking last in the league with 7.6 fast break points per game.
To put that number in perspective, the next worst team — the Milwaukee Bucks — averaged 9.9 fast break points per game. What makes it worse is that the Bucks play at one of the slowest tempos in the NBA, ranking 25th in pace. Slower than the Magic, yet they were able to muster more fast break opportunities. Thus, it’s no surprise that general manager Otis Smith acquired Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, and Hedo Turkoglu to breathe life into Orlando’s offense, particularly in transition.
Now, the Magic are averaging 10.1 fast break points per game.
Granted, that places Orlando 29th out of 30 teams in the league but it’s something.
So typically, what does a fast break for the Magic look like?
Usually, it’s a race to the three-point line.
It’s no secret that Orlando leads the NBA in three-point field goals made and attempted. Hence it should come as no surprise that the Magic will take threes at any time, more so in transition because those are the best chances for three-point shooters like J.J. Redick, Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, Richardson, and Ryan Anderson to get clean looks. For the Magic, that’s five players that shoot at or better than 40 percent from beyond the arc. If it ever seems like Orlando goes on one of those scoring sprees that feels like an avalanche just struck, that’s why.
This is a typical fast break opportunity for Orlando. Whoever has the basketball in his hands, whether it’s Nelson, Turkoglu, or Arenas, is flanked by shooters on each side of him. Because Dwight Howard is one of the premiere athletes in the NBA, he’ll usually be in on the action too — running down the middle of the court like any fundamentally sound center would do.
On this possession, the Magic have a 4-on-2 advantage and Nelson is able to find Richardson lining up for a three-pointer on the wing along the right side of the court. These are the type of threes that, if they accumulate for Orlando during games, are backbreakers for opponents.
In some ways, they’re more demoralizing than dunks because of the build-up leading to the shot, plus the point value.
Here’s another 4-on-2 advantage for Orlando.
Redick mans the fast break on this opportunity and once again, notice the shooters that flank him. Richardson sets up in the right corner, while Arenas settles in on the left wing. Even though Richardson misses the three-pointer and Anderson tips in the miss, this is the type of fast break basketball the Magic like to execute. It helps when the players are eager to get out and run.
It’s poetry in motion on this transition opportunity. Turkoglu retrieves the rebound and zips the ball up the court to Nelson. From there, Turkoglu plants himself at the three-point line while Redick heads to the corner. After a second or two, Nelson notices Redick and passes the basketball to him. Redick does the rest.