AP Photo/Eric Gay
When I covered high school sports and had to interview a coach of a young team that just got blown out of the water, there was one phrase that I heard more than any other.
“The guys are learning. They are getting better.”
As obnoxious and coach-speaky as it may seem, there’s a lot we can glean from those stock comments. And actually, Magic fans, coaches, and players ought to adopt some similar thinking this season. Because if you’re any one of these people and you’re gauging success by what you see in the win-loss column, it’s going to be a long season.
Success, in some cases, simply means improvement, and there are a few specific ways that the young talent in Orlando can start improving on the offensive side of the ball in the 2013-14 season.
Use the pick-and-roll to your strengths, not your weaknesses
Jacque Vaughn hasn’t stood the test of time yet, but he’s clearly not the wrong guy for this assignment in Orlando, at least right now. Vaughn appears to possess a keen understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of his roster.
An example of this understanding is found in his use of the pick-and-roll. The eye test suggests that the Magic ran the pick-and-roll last season a bit less than they did during the Dwight Howard era. That’s true to some extent, but a closer look using Synergy gives a far clearer picture.
Last season, 20.9 percent of the Magic’s possessions were in the pick-and-roll, per Synergy Sports. In 2011-12, that figure was 23.1 percent. But that difference largely stems from the fact that they didn’t run it for the ballhandler. Instead, they ran it for the roll man. In 2012-13, Orlando ran the pick-and-roll for the roll man 7.1 percent of the time, per Synergy Sports. That percentage was the same in the 2011-12 season, but less in 2009-10 and 2010-11 (4.5 percent in both of those seasons).
A few things contributed to the steady use of the pick-and-roll to set up the roll man, not the least of which is the fact that players like Andrew Nicholson and Tobias Harris (to name a few) were simply efficient when they were involved in that play type.
To be more specific, Harris shot 45.7 percent from the field last season when he operated as the roll man, per Synergy Sports. That number is higher than his field goal percentages in any other play type, barring transition and offensive rebounding, which are basically percentage boosters for anyone. Nicholson, who is already an efficient shooter from just about everywhere, got 18.9 percent of his offense as the roll man and shot 50 percent from the field.
On the flipside, the Magic have basically one guy (Jameer Nelson) who is an effective scorer as the ballhandler in the pick-and-roll. In 2012-13, Maurice Harkless shot 32.5 percent when he handled the ball, per Synergy Sports. E’Twaun Moore shot 38.5 percent from the field (5-for-15 from deep). And Arron Afflalo was just a touch worse (36.6 percent from the field and 1-for-11 from deep).
A big key for Orlando will be if they can find a secondary ballhandler in the pick-and-roll. My money is on Oladipo, who appears comfortable pulling up from midrange or driving all the way to the basket.