Each week, Tyler Lashbrook will let loose on whatever Orlando Magic subjects capture his interest. Welcome to Ty Tuesday. - ED
I intended to write about some draft prospects for this edition of Ty Tuesday. I changed my mind. Not because there isn't news to write about in the college landscape--this Marcus Smart thing is a big deal and Orlando Pinstriped Post community members are likely following along--but because the Orlando Magic our attention and applause for their efforts this past weekend.
Victor Oladipo's fourth quarter heroics
There have been ups and downs in the former Indiana Hoosier's first year in the NBA, but that roller coaster has been riding high for a long time now. He's settled in to a point where he's beginning to read multiple layers of defense, he's picking the right times to attack and when to pass and he's, for the most part, an Energizer bunny on the defensive end.
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn trusted his rookie guard late against Oklahoma City; Jameer Nelson did not play in the final period. Orlando doesn't win that game without Oladipo's stoic manner as the lead guard in the fourth quarter. He scored just five points, but he rebounded well and put the team in the right position to make plays. And he only turned the ball over once against the league's fourth best defense, via basketball-reference.
Against Indiana, he took on a scoring role in the final period. This time, Nelson played just three minutes but, alas, it didn't matter. Oladipo led the way, pouring in 13 points and dishing out two assists. Without the rookie, Orlando doesn't make that late run; it doesn't pull away in the final seconds; and it doesn't secure the eventual, game-winning rebound.
Aside from a couple of games, the new year has been good to Oladipo. He's averaging 15.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.5 assists while upping his long-range shooting to 32.3 percent. His True Shooting percentage has been slightly above league average and his turnover rate has dropped nearly five percentage points on practically the same usage rate. These last two games have just been an extension of that.
Maurice Harkless' defensive potential
All-Star forwards Kevin Durant and Paul George combined to shoot 3-of-12 for 10 points in the fourth quarter of each game. For the majority of that time, Harkless guarded both of them. That is two of the NBA's top five players legitimately struggling Orlando's 20-year-old wing. Video shows this, too.
I don't have my video editing software on the laptop I'm using at the time of this writing, but there were multiple times in each of those final minutes that Harkless' length bothered each superstar. The St. John's product is long and has the lateral footspeed to stick to the hips of opponents. That's exactly what he did against each team's best player: he chased them around ball screens, navigated his way through picks, then finished with a solid contest.
One play near the end of the Thunder game comes to mind. The Thunder set Durant an off ball screen at the top of the key. The superstar read the screen and curled around to evade a trailing Harkless. Kyle O'Quinn, who worked in tandem with Harkless in this particular set, dropped below the screener, forcing Durant into a jumper. Harkless was athletic enough to swivel around the pick and contest Durant from behind. The result was a missed shot and it was really beautiful to watch.
The idea of Harkless becoming a plus-defender is nothing new in Magic Land. Harkless is gifted with the physical tools to shut down scorers at different sizes: he's long, quick laterally and he's tremendously fast north and south when he gets a head of steam. The problem is that he's had issues putting it all together on that end. In these last two games, Orlando fans caught a glimpse of just how dangerous of a defender he can be and it's a special thing.
Vaughn's willingness to play small and "competitive edge"
Vaughn has taken a lot of heat from Magic fans. Some of that has to do with the position he's in: Orlando's roster isn't built to win a lot of games and it's tough to blame the young players because the expectation is that they are going to mess up, because, well, they are young and inexperienced and playing against the world's best basketball players. Plus, there's more hope with players.
Young guys typically get three years or so before fans are ready to put them in the microwave. That's because--unless a guy is viewed as a transcendent superstar in the mold of Durant or LeBron James--the thought is that it takes time to develop and max out for a player potential. Coaches don't really have this luxury with most fans; it's almost like they are expected to be finished products the second they take the clipboard.
This is simply not possible. Coaches have potential just like players do. They are unfinished products--hopefully--using the resources provided to them to get the most out of their players and to put them in the best position to succeed. Vaughn is an unfinished product. He's been a head coach for less than two years, yet there's this idea that he should make all the right decisions all the time. Oladipo doesn't do this. Tobias Harris doesn't do it either. Neither does Vaughn.
One can point to late in the Pacers game when Vaughn chose to substitute Glen Davis and Nelson in for Harkless and Harris when the latter pairing served as key cogs in the comeback. This move was puzzling, but one can imagine that the thinking behind it was that Orlando's two veterans would be more comfortable in a late-game situation. That idea isn't unreasonable, but, personally, it would have been nice to see the young guys finish off a run they started.
Still, Vaughn had some bright moments these last two games. In Evan's fantastic Pacers notebook, Vaughn said that he put Harris at power forward to disrupt the Pacers' middle pick-and-roll, a set that was tearing Orlando's defense to shreds. That's reading the game, seeing a problem, and finding a solution. That's coaching. It was a smart move and one that disrupted Indiana's offense. Later in Evan's notebook, Oladipo says that the team fed off Vaughn's energy and "competitive edge." Getting professional basketball players to consistently play hard for you isn't easy, but it seems like Vaughn has that part down: the team usually plays with consistent effort. The hope is that the in-game stuff will continue to develop.
Smile, Magic fans. Moments like this past weekend are rare during a rebuilding process.