Previewing the Orlando Magic's first round series with Synergy | Magic Basketball



Apr 14

Previewing the Orlando Magic’s first round series with Synergy

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks will square off in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. On Monday, I discussed Pythagorean wins and win profiles. Today, we will look at specific tendencies the teams utilize.

Ranked by points per possession

Orlando’s offense and Atlanta’s defense are evenly matched. The Magic have the 11th best offense in the NBA, and the Hawks have the 13th best defense in the NBA.

Orlando is the best team in the league in scoring with their roll man off the pick-and-roll, and Dwight Howard deserves much of the credit. Orlando’s first play in their recent contest in Charlotte is the epitome of their prowess in this area. Dwight set a screen on the man who was guarding Jameer Nelson, and then he slammed home Nelson’s lob pass to give Orlando a 2-0 lead. Unfortunately for Larry Drew, Atlanta ranks near the bottom of the league, 19th, in stopping the roll man.

The Magic are also successful when the pick-and-roll ball handler attempts a shot. They score the 4th most points per possession in the NBA on this play, and Atlanta is in the middle of the pack (15) at stopping the ball handler. Nearly 50% of Jammer Nelson’s possessions make use of the pick-and-roll, and he is the 30th best player in the NBA in scoring from that set up.

The Magic are near the top in the league scoring off cuts, and Atlanta has issues defending this play. However, Orlando only cuts to the rim about 1 out of every 20 plays.

To no one’s surprise, Orlando is the second best team in the league on scoring after offensive rebounds. When the MVP candidate secures the ball right at the rim, he usually scores. Atlanta is dead last in the NBA at thwarting opponents from scoring on offensive rebounds.

Expect a fierce battle when Orlando spots up on offense. The Magic sharp shooters are the 5th best in the NBA on this type of play, and the Hawks are the 6th best at stopping teams from scoring on spot ups.

Don’t expect great performances in transition. Orlando’s offense and Atlanta’s defense are among the worst teams in the NBA in transition.

Ranked by points per possession

Orlando’s most decided advantage over Atlanta is on the defensive end of the floor. Orlando has the 3rd best defense in the NBA, and Atlanta has a run-of-the-mill offense.

The Magic’s pick-and-roll defense is upper echelon. They are the best team in the NBA at stopping the ball handler, and only three teams stop the roll man better than Orlando. Clearly, Dwight Howard is a threatening presence in the lane. This persuades guards to pull up for jumpers and forces the roll man into difficult shots near the rim.

The battle after offensive rebounds are secured will be much more competitive on this end of the court. Orlando stops opponents after offensive rebounds better than anyone in the Association, and the Hawks score more points per possession than anyone on the offensive glass.

If you enjoy transition basketball, you will experience more viewing pleasure when Atlanta has the ball. The Hawks are above average when they run, and the Magic defense is among the league’s best at stopping teams from scoring.

The Hawks are the NBA’s best on hand offs, but they only run that play 1 out of every 100 possessions.

With Al Horford and Dwight Howard, one would surmise these Southeast Division rivals excel down low, but that is not the case. The Hawks offense and Magic defense are both average in post-up situations.

The charts show how Atlanta’s offensive changed when they faced Orlando during the 2010-2011 regular season.

The Hawks used nearly 5% fewer possessions in transition against Orlando than they did in the rest of their games. This is a sound strategy because the Magic are the 4th best team in the NBA at stopping teams in transition, the Hawks are an average offensive team when they run (13).

Another interesting trend is how Atlanta attempted to score off the pick-and-roll. The Hawks ball handlers used fewer possessions, and the roll men used more. Again, this is sensible as Orlando stops the ball handler better than anyone in the NBA, and they rank 4th in stopping the roll man. Watch for Atlanta to encounter severe resistance when they run the pick-and-roll in round one of the playoffs.

The Hawks are in the middle of the pack (11) when they spot up, but they did so more often against Orlando than they did versus the other teams in the league. Dwight Howard, one of the best defensive players of all-time, is a strong deterrent to players penetrating the lane and his presence sways the opposition to pull up. Orlando wins when they force a spot up attempt because Stan Van Gundy’s squad is the 5th best in the NBA against these attempts.

The charts show how Orlando’s offensive changed when they faced Atlanta during the 2010-2011 regular season.

Orlando’s game plan versus the Hawks is clear. They post-up. The Magic used more than 20% of their possessions posting-up in three of the four games versus Atlanta. Surprisingly, Dwight Howard’s performance is relatively weak in post-up situations. Nearly 60% of his possessions are of the post-up variety, but his average of 0.93 points per possession ranks 58th in the NBA. He is much better as a pick-and-roll man (1) and as a cutter (3).

In games versus the Hawks, Orlando has utilized their ball man in the pick-and-roll more than usual. It is refreshing to see Orlando take advantage of one of their strengths, and simultaneously expose a weakness of Atlanta. The Magic is the 4th best team in the NBA at scoring with their ball handler, and Atlanta is right in the middle of the NBA at stopping the play (15).

The Magic may benefit from cutting frequently against the Hawks, but so far Orlando has run this play less often versus Atlanta than the rest of the NBA. The Magic are the 4th best team in the league on hand-offs, and the Hawks rank near the back of pack, 25th, in stopping it.

Orlando got away from the pick-and-roll in the final match-up of the season in Atlanta. The ball handler used just 13 possessions in game number four, and the roll man used it only once. Stan Van Gundy called for Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson to run the play at the end of the game. However, with Orlando down two, Jameer kept the ball off the screen and missed a game-tying floater over Jason Collins.

Let’s hope the Magic revert back to their pick-and-roll strategy from the first three regular season match-ups versus Atlanta. In those games, Orlando used the pick-and-roll about 23 times per game.


I'd like to see more of a breakdown on Orlando's post-up defense. Are the numbers misleading, or is Dwight not as good at it as we expect? Perhaps he challenges those plays less to avoid foul trouble. Or maybe it's from the contributions of other players defending a post-up? This is something I haven't noticed much one way or the other this season.

I'm worried about them posting up Dwight all the time in the playoffs, even if it's against Atlanta. I hope we don't see a repeat of the Boston series where they kept feeding it to Howard until game 4, at which point they started torching the Celtics on pick and rolls.