For all of the hype and hoopla surrounding the Dwight Howard situation before and during this season the Orlando Magic have proven to be one of the better teams in the NBA. Right now Orlando is 3rd in the East in Wins and 5th in the NBA. However wins alone don't accurately paint the story of this seasons Orlando Magic squad. Individuals have struggled, Lineups have brought fans to near meltdowns and some players are having career years.
Problem- Orlando's offense has been streaky at best this season. Orlando ranks in the bottom three in Field Goals Attempted and Made. They rank 19th in Field Goal Percentage, Dead last in Free Throw Percentage (Mostly due to Dwight Howard). That all adds up to a pretty abysmal offensive team but then Orlando reveals it's trump card the 3 point shot.. Orlando of course ranks 1st in three pointers attempted and made while being 4th in percentage. Making Orlando's offense a whole lot more effective than most offenses who are putrid within the 3 point line. However even with the spectacular 3 point shooting Orlando ranks at the bottom half of the NBA in points per game at a measly 93.1 PPG. Orlando's offensive issues revolve around this teams most glaring weakness. Nobody on this team can create their own shot and Jameer Nelson hasn't been consistent enough to set the table for his teammates.
Solutions- Solutions for Orlando aren't as abundant as they've been in past seasons. Orlando's bench unit is a big reason for Orlando's stagnant offense. However there are a few areas where Orlando might be able to improve. Option A) Replace Duhon in the rotation with Ish Smith. The reasoning behind this is simple, Duhon has an affinity to turn the ball over and kill all Orlando momentum. Duhon plays too passive on offense and it kills Orlando's offensive system. He will pass up an open shot hold the ball and make a pass that turns into a decent look at best. He consistently picks up his dribble too early and holds the ball for 10 seconds usually leading to a horrible Glen Davis shot as the clock is winding down. Ish Smith is an up tempo player can penetrate the lane and is always looking to get his teammates good shots but not usually at the cost of not taking an open look. Option B) Explore Von Wafer at the Small Forward. You can't run Wafer out there against guys like LeBron but against players like Grant Hill he should get a shot. There are absolutely weaknesses to Wafers game. Most coming in the basketball IQ and defensive end. However Wafer can bring the scoring punch that Orlando needs from the bench unit. Q-Rich tends to settle for bad jump shots and doesn't move on offense much. Wafer is the exact opposite, Always moving and while he can take a questionable shot now and then he wants to attack the rim. Option C) Never let a lineup of Duhon-JJ-Q-(Clark or Anderson)- Davis hit the floor again. That lineup has 0 creators on offense. It's a decent defensive lineup but it's not worth what it doesn't bring offensively. Duhon/Q/Clark are all offensive liabilities and Duhon makes Davis an offensive liability.
Problem - Orlando's defense is much harder to critique from a numbers standpoint. Orlando ranks 9th in the NBA in Opponents Field Goal percentage. 10th in Opponents 3 Point Field Goal Percentage and 4th Opponents Points Per Game. Yet you feel as though Orlando can do better. The perimeter defenders on Orlando are all below average. Dwight Howard's blocks per game and effort during stretches on defense are down. With all that being said Orlando is still one of the better defensive teams in the NBA.
Solution - The solutions on defense are limited to one key element, Effort. We've seen glimpses of Orlando's defensive effort. The first matchup against Miami after the team started hitting 3's the defense picked up they got back and stopped the fastbreak. Orlando's defensive system relies entirely of getting back on defense and setting up so the D has to go through Dwight Howard to make a basket. So the more effort the guys put in on getting back on D the better the defense will be.
There isn't much to say about Stan Van Gundy. He's a great coach. He's saying the right things. The problem being is that the players don't always respond. This year people have questioned his rotations and that's fair. A lineup of Duhon-JJ-Q-Anderson or Clark- Davis should never hit the floor. Duhon probably shouldn't be playing at all. Stan has his reasons. Trust and knowing the system are probably at the top of the list. When guys like Wafer, Ish and Clark are ready to contribute more than they make mistakes they will get the time.
Solution - Sadly the solution for this is to have avoided the extended lockout. Orlando's young players were really hurt by the lockout.
The Good -
Ryan Anderson - Anderson has been spectacular this year. He's been shooting lights out. His shot selection has improved as the season has gone on. His post defense has improved. One of the things Ryan needs to work on is effort on defense. Ryan sometimes seems disconnected on defense if he's not involved offensively early and his man takes it to him.
JJ Redick - JJ has been having a career year. He's improved his arsenal offensively. He attacks the basket using his jumper as a threat and comes off curls for mid range jumpers. He's an adequate team defender. Most importantly he's a smart player and rarely makes bad mental mistakes.
The Bad -
Jameer Nelson - Jameer struggled with the Dwight Howard trade rumors and requests. He was clearly affected and hurt that Dwight basically asked for guys to replace Jameer as Point Guard. Jameer's on court performance was that of somebody who was afraid to make a mistake. Jameer was rarely aggressive and wasn't in good enough game shape to start the season. The good news for Orlando fans is since Jameer came back from his concussion he's played a lot better and looking more like vintage Jameer.
Hedo Turkoglu - Hedo started the season strong hitting 3's an an incredible clip. Now he's struggling shooting 26% from 3 in the past 14 games while adding 3 turnovers per game. Hedo's never been a great defender but this season Stan Van Gundy has actually benched him for his defensive effort. Hedo has had some great 4th quarter moments this year but not enough to take away from his horrible quarters 1-3.
Chris Duhon - I'm not Chris Duhon fan. His stats just don't prove how bad he's played. He's constantly killing momentum with bad turnovers. His lack of creativity and aggressiveness lead to horrible shots on a constant basis. His defense (supposedly his calling card) is below average.
The Duhon-Redick-Q-Anderson-Davis lineup - How many times has this unit let a team right back into the game?
Otis Smith - When you thought he couldn't make things worse he won't keep his mouth from running and he signs Larry Hughes.
This current Magic squad is a good team with a higher ceiling than most would give them credit for. Stan Van Gundy will have to have the best coaching job of his career if the Magic are going to make the Finals with this current roster. Otis Smith is going to have to earn his paycheck and get Orlando some bench help or some upgrades in the starting lineup for this team to become truly elite. This team has room to improve. Let's see what the second half of the season brings this Orlando team.