It’s no secret that the Orlando Magic lack a consistent shot creator on the perimeter. This has been the case since Vince Carter was traded last season, though it was an issue at times even when he was around. The Magic don’t have a LeBron James on the roster, someone that can get them a bucket on offense at any time. Instead, head coach Stan Van Gundy — as stated elsewhere — has to make up for it offensively by creating a lot of pick-and-roll, post-up, or spot-up opportunities. Very rarely will you see Van Gundy call for an isolation play.
Put it this way. Hedo Turkoglu, the likeliest candidate for Orlando to run an isolation play, given that he’s 6-foot-10 and can get his shot off without much resistance from the defense, has been involved in 12 such possessions this season. And that number is a team-high! In isolation, Turkoglu is averaging 0.67 points per possession according to Synergy Sports Technology, which isn’t very good. To compare, James has run 50 isolation plays for himself and has averaged 0.90 points per possession, which ranks eighth in the NBA.
It’s a night-and-day comparison and worth illustrating how the Magic don’t rely on isolation plays, as the Sacramento Kings were the latest team to find out.
Orlando runs so many pick-and-roll variations, it’s hard to keep track of them, but a lot of their plays come out of staggered pick-and-rolls. A staggered pick-and-roll is when an offense sets two screens, instead of one, for the ballhandler to create for either himself, one of the screeners, or someone else. It’s a great pick-and-roll variation to run because it creates extra space for the ballhander to wreak havoc on a defense. On this possession, Glen Davis and Ryan Anderson are the two screeners while Jameer Nelson is the ballhander.
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Anderson sets the screen on Tyreke Evans. Typically Davis would have been used as a screener too but Evans went around him. But that’s the beauty of a staggered pick-and-roll. Even though Evans cheats and gets around Davis, Anderson is there to set the screen for Nelson anyway. J.J. Hickson helps on Nelson while Evans recovers but that’s going to spell doom for the Kings very shortly. Nelson has a ton of options at this point. If Hickson sags, Nelson can take a jumper. Or Nelson can distribute the basketball elsewhere.
Nelson decides to be a distributor on this play. On this entire possession, Marcus Thornton is caught ball-watching on Nelson as he dribble penetrates into the lane. Little does Thornton know that while Nelson came around the screen, Jason Richardson executed a backdoor cut. In the blink of an eye, as soon as Richardson attacked the rim, Nelson passed it to him for a wide-open dunk. This play doesn’t happen if Nelson is aggressive in his approach offensively, forcing Hickson to account for him and opening up the paint in the process.
The staggered 1/5 pick-and-roll with Nelson, Anderson, and Davis is a type of play that the Magic like to run to really put pressure on a defense. Typically instead of Davis, Dwight Howard will be the screener at center.
In any case, pick-and-rolls are Orlando’s antidote to the lack of shot creators on the roster. The pick-and-roll, in essence, creates the same type of open space on the perimeter for Nelson or Turkoglu that an isolation set for James would.
Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.