Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 77

Dec 13

3-on-3 roundtable: A look at the Magic’s surprising start

orlando-magic-v-phoenix-suns-20121209-194215-360

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Orlando Magic have clearly been one of the surprise teams in the NBA this season. With Stan Van Gundy, Dwight Howard, and Ryan Anderson out of the picture, the Magic were projected to be one of the worst squads in the league.

Instead, Orlando has been borderline average, thanks in large part due to Jacque Vaughn’s coaching wizardry and the players competing hard on a nightly basis. Veterans like J.J. Redick have grown into bigger roles, almost out of necessity, and rookies like Andrew Nicholson have contributed immediately.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Magic can continue to overachieve as the dog days of the season near.

With one-quarter of the regular season in the books, the Magic Basketball crew gets together to examines some of the top storylines surrounding Orlando’s surprising 8-13 start.

Most pleasant surprise so far?

Nate Drexler: Orlando’s ability to win as a team. The old adage is that if you play hard as a unit, you will find success. The Magic are really proving that with their blend of young talent and veteran role players. It didn’t seem possible from the outset, but the way these guys are relying on each other to win games and executing in that reliance is both pleasant and surprising.

Sean Highkin: The two players the Magic got from the Sixers in the Dwight Howard trade — both of whom were seen as throw-ins when the trade was initially being dissected. Nikola Vucevic has blossomed into a reliable defender and rebounder as the Magic’s starting center. Moe Harkless has the beginnings of a solid defensive skill-set.

Noam Schiller: Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic started strongly as a rookie in Philadelphia, but by the second half of last season, he was shooting so poorly that Doug Collins found him unplayable. Be it a year of maturation or a friendly system that allows for mistakes, the Montenegrin big man has started every game and is performing relatively well.

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Dec 13

Recap: Atlanta Hawks 86, Orlando Magic 80

Jeff Teague, J.J. Redick

AP Photo/John Raoux

BOX SCORE

Heading into Monday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, the Orlando Magic were earning plaudits for going 3-2 on their West Coast road trip (which included impressive wins against the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors).

Unfortunately for the Magic, they were unable to keep the good vibes going against the Hawks, as Atlanta came into town and A-Town stomped Orlando. Don’t let the final score fool you. The game was not as closed as it seemed. The Hawks jumped out to a 16-2 lead in the first quarter and never looked back.

The Magic fell behind early because they were unable to get anything going offensively. Orlando is one of the worst offensive teams in the league, ranking 29th in Offensive Rating (only the Washington Wizards are worse), so it should come as no surprise that they hit a cold spell on offense. And it was mostly because the Magic settled for jumpers.

On the flipside, Atlanta didn’t do anything special against Orlando. The Hawks simply played good defense and displayed competence offensively.

Eventually, the Magic were able to get back into the game thanks to scoring runs of 9-2 and 10-2, which began in the latter stages of the first quarter and spanned up to the middle of the second quarter. Orlando even took the lead at 27-26 with 6:35 left in the period.

But Atlanta responded with runs of 6-0 and 9-0, pushing their lead back to double digits heading into halftime. After trading baskets to start the third quarter, the Hawks went on a quick 6-0 run and opened up a 17-point lead to blow the game wide open, which prompted head coach Jacque Vaughn to sub out the starting lineup en masse. The deficit ballooned to 19 points shortly thereafter for the Magic.

From there, Atlanta cruised to an easy victory over Orlando.

Again, the Hawks didn’t do anything special. Al Horford and Josh Smith had double-doubles for Atlanta, but they weren’t overwhelmingly dominant on both ends of the floor. Jeff Teague had a nice game, even though it seemed like he was sleepwalking through most of it.

This was a winnable game for the Magic. The problem was that Orlando got off to a slow start in the first quarter and were unable to dig themselves out of a hole. This is not the first time this has happened to the Magic and it won’t be the last. Can Orlando buck that trend sooner or later? It remains to be seen.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

Al Horford helped lead the way for the Hawks, finishing with his seventh-consecutive double-double of the season (13 points, 13 rebounds, and four assists). Horford’s play of the game was his posterization of Nikola Vucevic in the second quarter.

X-Factor

Josh Smith also finished with a double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks) for Atlanta, but it was his defense that stood out the most. Smith did an excellent job of blocking and altering shots at the rim.

That Was … Easy

The Hawks jumped out to a 16-2 lead to start the game and were on cruise control the rest of the way. The Magic tried to make a game of it near the end, but their efforts were thwarted.

Dec 12

Preview: Atlanta Hawks at Orlando Magic

Essentials

  • Teams: Atlanta Hawks at Orlando Magic
  • Date: December 12, 2012
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Florida
  • Arena: Amway Center

Records

  • Hawks: 12-6
  • Magic: 8-12

Probable starters

Hawks:

  • Jeff Teague
  • Devin Harris
  • Anthony Morrow
  • Josh Smith
  • Al Horford

Magic:

  • Jameer Nelson
  • Arron Afflalo
  • Maurice Harkless
  • Glen Davis
  • Nikola Vucevic

Advanced stats

Hawks:

  • Pace: 92.1 (13th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 104.6 (14th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.5 (6th of 30)

Magic:

  • Pace: 92.6 (10th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 99.0 (29th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 102.6 (8th of 30)

Read about the Hawks

HawksHoop

Dec 12

How are the Magic exceeding expectations?

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Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Thinking back to October, I wasn’t particularly optimistic about covering the Magic for the 2012-13 season. You didn’t have to over-analyze anything to realize the Magic were rebuilding, as they spent the summer offing the likes of Stan Van Gundy, Dwight Howard, and Ryan Anderson. This team was going to stink and everyone knew it. Or at least they thought they did.

Now Orlando is creeping up on mediocrity and looking more and more like an average NBA team. That’s troubling to some, as all this hard work and team effort will seemingly only amount to a low draft pick and more averageness.

I, however, have enjoyed this run of success Orlando has experienced in the early goings of the regular season. Themes of team effort, all-out defense, ball movement, and solid coaching echo throughout Orlando. And here they are at 8-12. It caused me to look back at five projected reasons for imminent failure this season and how Orlando has defied those expectations.

No Dwight Howard
This only really concerned me from a defensive standpoint. Sure, you miss a big threat in the middle offensively but truth be told, I thought Orlando would get murdered in the paint on defense. With a lack of size and a real lack of any major threat at the rim, it seemed as though teams would be able to waltz in, feed the post, attack the hoop, and live either in the paint or at the free-throw line.

What we’ve seen, though, is a real team effort and I mean that in every cliche sense of the phrase. Quite literally, the Magic’s defense has kept them in most of the games that they’ve played. It’s no secret the Magic lack any scoring punch, so you have to point to their eighth-ranked defense that has kept them afloat without a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate serving as the anchor.

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Dec 12

Glen Davis’ new nickname: ‘Black Hole’

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Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

A cursory glance at Glen Davis’ numbers might leave the impression that he’s having a career year so far this season. Davis is averaging career-highs across the board with 32.8 minutes per game, 16.1 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game, and 2.1 assists per game.

It’s fool’s gold.

Davis’ rebounding and passing has improved a little bit this season, as evidenced by a small spike in his total rebound and assist percentages, but his scoring has not. Davis may be averaging 16.1 points per game, but it’s buoyed by inefficient volume shooting. This season, Davis is posting the highest usage rate of his career (25.9 percent) with diminishing returns — his True Shooting percentage (47.8 percent) is well below the league average (53.2 percent).

This is par for the course for Davis, by the way, given that he’s historically been an inefficient player on offense. You’d have to go back to Davis’ rookie year with the Boston Celtics to find the last time he posted a True Shooting percentage above the league average. And that’s only because Davis was a low usage player back then. As Davis’ usage rate has increased over the years, his efficiency has declined in the process.

Now Davis has fully entrenched himself as a black hole offensively. Part of it is because the Orlando Magic, bereft of scoring, need him to be. But mostly it’s because Davis never saw a shot he didn’t like.

In some ways, there is value in Davis being a volume scorer. The Magic are 3.6 points per 100 possession better on offense with him on the floor, per NBA.com. The problem is that Orlando, as a team, is averaging 97.5 points per 100 possessions with Davis in the lineup (Washington Wizards level of futility).

So what kind of shots is Davis taking that is making him an inefficient player offensively and the Magic a poor offensive team?

Let’s take a look at Davis’ most recent inefficient outing, which came against the Sacramento Kings on Friday, where he scored 20 points on 8-for-19 shooting from the floor.

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Dec 11

Tuesday’s Magic Word

  • Ben Golliver of The Point Forward lists head coach Jacque Vaughn as an early contender for Coach of the Year: “Five of Orlando’s wins have come against bottom-dwellers (Pistons, Cavaliers and Suns), so Vaughn isn’t necessarily guaranteed to become the league’s next coaching prodigy, but his early work deserves a bit of early shine.”
  • Could Jameer Nelson be on the trade block? Zach Lowe of Grantland thinks so, as he lists Nelson as a name to watch: “The Magic badly missed Nelson’s playmaking during the seven games he was out due to injury, but he’s shooting poorly in the first year of a pricey three-year deal, and he hasn’t lifted Orlando’s offense at all since his return. Nelson’s almost 31, so the market for him won’t be very big even if the Magic try to pair him with J.J. Redick’s expiring deal.”
  • In the same link, Lowe also marvels at Arron Afflalo’s stepback jumper.
  • Glen Davis has improved his efficiency offensively in recent weeks.
  • What did the West Coast road trip for the Orlando Magic teach them? Quite a bit — like maybe it’s time for Andrew Nicholson to have a bigger role in the Magic’s offense.

Dec 10

Monday’s Magic Word

  • John Schuhmann of NBA.com: “The Magic continue to prove that they’re not that bad, going 3-2 on a West Coast trip and playing their best defense of the season along the way. The highlight came last Sunday in L.A., but more impressive was Monday’s win at Golden State, where there was no post-Dwight letdown. Of course, they’re still a long shot to make the playoffs, so it might not be good to be not that bad.”
  • Despite being the youngest head coach in the NBA, Jacque Vaughn is getting the most out of the current roster for the Orlando Magic.
  • Rob Mahoney of The Point Forward on Arron Afflalo becoming a volume scorer: “Now that he’s had a taste of high-usage basketball, I doubt that there’s any way for him to duck back into the more limited role that once defined his game.”
  • A list of 20 observations on the Magic after 20 games.
  • Jameer Nelson makes a weekly award list for the wrong reason.
  • Orlando, without Dwight Howard in the middle, is ranked 8th in Defensive Rating this season. Go figure.
  • Andrew Nicholson and J.J. Redick led the way in the Magic’s 98-90 win over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.

Dec 10

Andrew Nicholson carving out a niche

Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

With their win over the Suns on Sunday night, the Magic secured a 3-2 record over the course of their five-game West Coast road trip, which should be cause for celebration in and of itself.

More significant than a few tough road wins, however, has been the sense that Jacque Vaughn and the Magic are beginning to realize what they have in Andrew Nicholson — a versatile scoring big man that can be used as a building block for the future.

Nicholson had easily the best game of his rookie season against the Suns, posting career-highs in virtually every statistical category in just 25 minutes and scoring in a remarkably efficient manner — 9-for-11 from the field.

Nicholson’s performance wasn’t simply a rookie having a good night against a bad team (and the Suns are a very, very bad team). It was the culmination of several weeks of honing an offensive game that was already pretty polished at St. Bonaventure, but has only grown more refined since he debuted for the Magic.

Not a lot about Nicholson’s game is flashy. His scoring is more smooth than explosive, and at his best, as he was against Phoenix, he excels by finding ways to shake free of defenders and put himself in the spots he likes.

So where is his offense coming from so far?

In the limited minutes that will surely increase after Sunday, Nicholson has been devastating in the paint. He can finish ably around the rim on dunks and tip-ins, but he’s also shown a diverse set of moves in the low post. He’s averaging 1.14 points per possession on post-ups and so far has shown a highly effective hook shot, per Synergy.

Nicholson loves the long two from the left side of the floor — it’s easily his most successful shot as a shooter from outside the paint. However, he’s shown the ability to score from almost anywhere inside the three-point line if he gets open. He scores very efficiently out of the pick-and-roll as well, averaging 1.21 points per possession.

Nicholson is still playing a mere 14 minutes per game, which is to be expected with Glen Davis putting up lofty (albeit inefficient) scoring numbers. As long as the Magic continue to overachieve like this, it seems likely that Vaughn will keep relying on Big Baby to anchor the offense (or at least keep playing him to showcase him for a possible trade). However, it’s safe to say that Nicholson has proven enough in his limited minutes thus far this season to warrant a longer look as the season wears on.

Nicholson may not ever be a star or a first option on offense, but the Magic don’t need him to be. As Nate Drexler pointed out last week, the Magic as presently constructed don’t have a Kyrie Irving/Anthony Davis-type “franchise player.” This season is all about developing their young talent so that it will be ready to be good, high-level complimentary players whenever the Magic do land that star in a future draft, be it Shabazz Muhammad or Andrew Wiggins or whoever else.

And as a rookie, Nicholson is well ahead of schedule in developing into just that type of versatile scoring big man.

Dec 10

Recap: Orlando Magic 98, Phoenix Suns 90

AP Photo/Paul Connors

BOX SCORE

In the franchise’s 23 years of existence, the word “bust” has almost always been used to describe the draft picks made by the Orlando Magic. When the Magic haven’t owned the top overall pick, their track record in the draft has been horrible. Names like Fran Vasquez and Jeryl Sasser have provided a cautionary tale of drafts gone bad.

But every once in a while, the Magic get it right — players like Courtney Lee and J.J. Redick come to mind. Lee proved to be a key cog in Orlando’s run to the Finals in 2009, while Redick has been with the Magic in 2006 and has grown into one of the best sixth men in the NBA.

It may be time to add Andrew Nicholson to that short list of draft picks in the mid-to-late first round that pan out for Orlando.

The Magic concluded a five-game West Coast road trip (finishing with a 3-2 record) with a 98-90 win over the Phoenix Suns, thanks in large part due to Nicholson’s and Redick’s contributions off the bench.

Nicholson had his best game as a pro in an Orlando uniform, finishing with 19 points, nine rebounds, three assists, and four steals — all career-highs. Not only was Nicholson efficient offensively, shooting 9-for-11 from the floor, but he was big in the fourth quarter, scoring nine of his 19 points in the period.

Whether it was backing down Luis Scola on the left block and making a righty hook at the rim while showcasing some nice footwork in the process, or slipping the screen in a 2/4 pick-and-roll with Redick and making another righty hook in the paint, or nailing a midrange jumper along the right baseline on a sideline out-of-bounds play to put the game out of reach, there was very little the Suns could do from letting Nicholson have his way on offense.

As for Redick, he scored 17 of his 20 points in the first half and helped spark the Magic offensively when they were in need of a jolt. Redick did most of his damage scoring off of hand-off passes, where he was able to catch-and-shoot in rhythm. As the game wore on, Redick became more of a facilitator than a scorer, with six of his nine assists coming in the second half — four of them to Nicholson.

If there’s one thing that Nicholson has proven already with Orlando, it’s that he’s not a bust. In fact, Nicholson leads the Magic with a PER of 18.6 (minimum 100 total minutes). No, the question now becomes — how good can Nicholson be?

For Magic fans, that’s an exciting question to ask.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

Nicholson and Redick were standout performers against the Suns, coming off the bench and providing a big lift for the Magic. Nicholson (nine points) and Redick (five assists) each keyed a big fourth quarter for Orlando.

Defining Moment

In a game of runs, the Magic were able to use a 20-8 run that spanned most of the fourth quarter to come away with a 98-90 victory against Phoenix. With the win, Orlando finished their West Coast road trip with a 3-2 record.

Dec 09

Preview: Orlando Magic at Phoenix Suns

Essentials

  • Teams: Orlando Magic at Phoenix Suns
  • Date: December 9, 2012
  • Time: 8:00 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Florida
  • Arena: US Airways Center

Records

  • Magic: 7-12
  • Suns: 7-14

Probable starters

Magic:

  • Jameer Nelson
  • Arron Afflalo
  • Maurice Harkless
  • Glen Davis
  • Nikola Vucevic

Suns:

  • Goran Dragic
  • Shannon Brown
  • Jared Dudley
  • Markieff Morris
  • Marcin Gortat

Advanced stats

Magic:

  • Pace: 92.7 (9th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 98.5 (29th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 102.8 (8th of 30)

Suns:

  • Pace: 92.8 (8th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 104.2 (14th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 109.7 (29th of 30)

Read about the Suns

Valley of the Suns

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