The enigmatic and erratic Orlando Magic | Magic Basketball

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Apr 15

The enigmatic and erratic Orlando Magic

Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

When it comes to championship contenders in the NBA, there’s five teams that are universally agreed upon — for the most part. Ranking them by their efficiency differentials, they are the Miami Heat (+8.6), Chicago Bulls (+8.1), Los Angeles Lakers (+6.6), San Antonio Spurs (+6.6), and Boston Celtics (+6.2). And since their trades, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets get pub too.

Then there’s the Orlando Magic, sandwiched in between those teams with an efficiency differential of +6.6, right between the Lakers and Spurs.

At the start of the regular season, the Magic were widely regarded as a threat to win a title. And when Orlando jumped out to a 15-4 start to the year, they were fulfilling everyone’s expectations. There were no surprises. Then the month of December came and everything fell apart for the Magic in a hurry. Orlando hit a stretch of nine games where they only won once. A lack of energy and effort from the players on a consistent basis, plus the regression of Rashard Lewis and others aided in the Magic’s fall from grace. Scoring, which was supposed to be Orlando’s strength since they finished 4th in offensive efficiency last season, faltered and suddenly the offense became an average unit. General manager Otis Smith attempted to rectify the problem by acquiring Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Gilbert Arenas in two separate trades on December 19. For a time, it looked like Smith’s gamble paid off, as the Magic roared to a nine-game winning streak (tying a franchise record) that could have been longer had the basketball bounced in their favor in games against the New Orleans Hornets and Thunder that each resulted in losses. Nevertheless, it appeared as if Orlando fixed their woes and the chemistry seemingly improved. The acquisitions provided the Magic with the jolt of life they needed, especially offensively. But the honeymoon soon ended, as Orlando regressed to the mean on offense, and Smith was back where he started with the roster, except it can be argued things got worse than better.

For all the scoring that Turkoglu, Richardson, and Arenas were to provide, Smith sacrificed defense, depth, and size to get it. As the Magic began to come down from earth offensively, it soon became clear that they got weaker. Even though Orlando remains third in defensive efficiency, thanks in large part to Dwight Howard and Van Gundy, when the big fella is on the bench, the interior defense has been compromised without the presence of Marcin Gortat. Depth, the Magic’s calling card last year, is nearly gone now that only J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson can be relied upon to contribute consistently. Free agent signees, Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon, have done little to help the cause. As for Orlando’s size, with Lewis and Gortat absent, they have gone from big to little. In the league, size is needed to win championships and the Magic had it with Howard and Lewis manning the frontcourt with Gortat, Bass, and Anderson coming off the bench. But the trades reshuffled things, and have put a lot of pressure on players like Howard to stay on the floor and avoid foul trouble. Earl Clark is an intriguing prospect, but he’s not a player that Van Gundy can rely upon and trust at the moment. Sure, it’s true that Mickael Pietrus, Lewis, and Carter are not playing right now due to various injuries but there’s no denying that Orlando isn’t the same team.

It’s been an interesting season for the Magic.

The question is, following the aftermath of everything that’s occurred, whether or not they’re a team that can be taken seriously in the playoffs?

Sort of. The answer isn’t strictly no. Howard and company can do damage in the postseason, but only if certain things happen along the way.

An All-Star needs to return to form
Usually Jameer Nelson’s achilles heel is that he’ll miss a considerable amount of time on the court due to injuries. That happens nearly every year for Nelson, but not this season. With 74 games under his belt, Nelson will have played the most games in a regular season since 2007, a small feat. Yet health isn’t an issue for Nelson. Rather, it’s the quality of Nelson’s play that’s the problem.

adj. +/- net +/- stat. +/- PER WARP Win Shares/48
’08-’09 (42 games) +6.66 +9.7 +4.81 20.6 5.8 .220
’09-’10 (65 games) -4.14 +1.5 +0.22 15.5 3.0 .130
’10-’11 (76 games) -3.54 +2.1 +2.20 15.4 5.6 .137

When he’s on top of his game, Nelson is an All-Star caliber point guard and a player that influences Orlando’s success, more than an other player on the roster and that’s including Howard. However, part of the reason that the Magic have been more ordinary this year than in past years is because Nelson has been more ordinary, or average to put it bluntly. For whatever reason, Nelson has battled bouts of inconsistency, in which he has an identity crisis on the floor at times and tries to be as much of a distributor as he is a scorer. Thing is, and Nelson needs to realize this before it’s too late, he’s a scoring point guard. And there’s nothing wrong with that, despite Magic fans continuous desire for a “true” point guard. Nelson is the perfect point guard for Orlando, but that’s only when he takes the bull by the horns and is aggressive as a scorer. When Nelson is looking for his shot, especially in pick and roll situations with Howard, that’s when he’s at his best. It’s when Nelson defers to his teammates too much that he neuters his impact.

Via Synergy Sports Technology:

2010-2011 regular season Time Poss. PPP* Rank Rating
OVERALL OFFENSE 100% 1104 0.90 44% Average
P&R Ball Handler 47.3% 522 1.16 80% Very Good
Spot-Up 17.7% 195 0.89 89% Excellent
Transition 12.5% 138 0.89 12% Poor
Isolation 9.8% 108 0.80 49% Average

The Magic don’t need Nelson to distribute primarily. Nelson needs to be the scoring point guard that he is, and that he was in the 2009 regular season and 2010 NBA Playoffs. If Nelson can firmly realize that he is the straw that stirs the drink for Orlando and he goes out there with the mindset to score, then he becomes a very dangerous player. That’s what the Magic need from Nelson and the only hope is that Van Gundy relays that message to him.

Time to rely on Turkoglu
If Orlando needs Nelson to be a scorer, then Turkoglu needs to be a playmaker.

Via Synergy Sports Technology:

2010-2011 regular season Time Poss. PPP* Rank Rating
OVERALL OFFENSE 100% 682 0.94 56% Good
P&R Ball Handler 34.5% 235 0.92 86% Excellent
Spot-Up 24.5% 167 1.12 83% Excellent
Isolation 12.9% 88 0.97 87% Excellent
Transition 11% 75 0.96 17% Below Average

Nelson is the heart for the Magic but Turkoglu is the soul. Turkoglu is the life-source that makes things happen for Orlando offensively. Turkoglu must be a dual-threat in the Magic’s pick and roll attack because that’s when he’s at his best. Too many times, Turkoglu has been too unselfish and not actively looking for his shot, forcing Van Gundy to chastise him for his deferring nature. Smith didn’t re-acquire Turkoglu to be a passer. Unfortunately for Orlando, there have been too many times when Turkoglu settles rather than attacks, and that’s doing nothing more than wasting his gifts as a point forward. Turkoglu, like Nelson, is at his best when making plays in pick and rolls. Whether it’s feeding the basketball to Howard cutting to the basket or finding shooters on the perimeter like Richardson, Redick, Nelson, and Anderson on kick-outs, Turkoglu can be a multi-dimensional threat on every possession.

Oh, and another thing. If Turkoglu wants to maximize his efficiency on offense, he can do away with his leaning fadeaway jumpers. Too many times, Turkoglu opts to create a shot that’s harder than it needs to be. When Turkoglu sets his feet, and it’s proven in the numbers, he’s an excellent shooter. It’s when Turkoglu takes his “Michael Jordan of Turkey” nickname too literally and tries to pull up for fadeaways that he gets in trouble and drives Van Gundy insane.

Turkoglu is a smart player and if he merely concentrates, the Magic will benefit from it.

Gilbert Arenas is wild card
If Nelson is the heart and Turkoglu is the soul for the Magic, then Arenas is the x-factor. It’s quite simple. If Orlando is able to get any production from Arenas in the postseason, then he can be a key cog coming off the bench.

Arenas is a turnstile on defense and won’t be expected to stop anybody, but he can still score when the stars align. The key for Van Gundy is that he has to put Arenas in positions to succeed. And Arenas needs to be disciplined enough to know his limitations at this point in his career — that’s asking a lot obviously.

Via Synergy Sports Technology:

2010-2011 regular season Time Poss. PPP* Rank Rating
OVERALL OFFENSE 100% 547 0.72 11% Poor
P&R Ball Handler 36.7% 201 0.78 45% Average
Spot-Up 19.4% 106 0.87 39% Average
Isolation 13.7% 75 0.64 20% Below Average
Transition 13% 71 0.83 7% Poor

Offensively, Arenas needs to strictly be put in situations where he scores off of pick and rolls or spot-up opportunities. That’s it. Arenas is worthless in any other scoring scenario and the Magic can’t afford for him to put up a bad shot or turn the ball over when their margin for error is small to begin with. That means that Van Gundy can’t be afraid to play Arenas alongside Nelson at the shooting guard position.

That’ll promote Arenas’ ability to hang around the perimeter because Nelson and Turkoglu will have the primary ball-handling responsibilities. Likewise, even if Arenas does execute pick and rolls with Howard, Nelson is more then capable of spotting up and shooting off the catch (same with Turkoglu for that matter). Defense would clearly be an issue, given that Arenas would struggle defending the likes of Joe Johnson, but it’s a lineup worth looking at.

At the end of the day, Arenas doesn’t need to be the difference-maker but he needs to be a difference-maker.

Ditto with Nelson and Turkoglu.

*points per possession

3 comments
hulkk
hulkk

These numbers mean absolutely nothing. I hope no one really factors these numbers up in anticipating this series. Waste of time.

TimJ
TimJ

Sure they do. They give coaches an idea about which plays might be effective against the opposing team. These are professional organizations, not a bunch of kids throwing the ball around to whomever is playing hot at the moment.

Predicting whether the Magic will win is a lost cause. Making an educated guess about the best way to get there is not.

Carlo Simone
Carlo Simone

Jameer will come through. He does it just about every year in the playoffs. Arenas I have no idea about but I'm not holding my breath. Turk will probably be a little sharper just because it's the playoffs and I'm sure he's happy to even be in this position given the way his career has gone.

But we can't forget about J-Rich. He's played big in the playoffs before and hit clutch shots this year. He hasn't been playing great for us this year, but he could be another difference-maker.