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Fact or Fiction: The Orlando Magic Will Lead the NBA in Defensive Efficiency for a Second Consecutive Season

Fact or Fiction presents both sides of key issues the Orlando Magic will face in the upcoming NBA season.

The Orlando Magic will lead the league in defensive efficiency for the second consecutive season.

FACT: It starts and ends with Dwight Howard, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Now, Howard isn't the consensus "best" defender in the NBA because there are a number of individuals that could lay claim to that particular title, but he's clearly an elite player on the defensive end and the main reason why the Orlando Magic finished this past season with the most efficient defense in the Association. There's no doubt that head coach Stan Van Gundy will continue to build schemes around Howard, because ultimately it is he who is the main anchor, defensively.


However, Howard isn't alone when it comes to playing above-average defense. Rashard Lewis has developed into one of the better defensive power forwards in the league. Brandon Bass was brought in, somewhat, for his defensive acumen, which is remarkable considering that wasn't his modus operandi when he first entered the league. Marcin Gortat is nearly as capable of a defender as Howard. All in all, it's clear when looking at the roster, that the Magic have a number of players that can make an impact on defense. Even Vince Carter, when motivated.


What's the formula for defensive success?


The key numbers to look at in the upcoming season are opponent eFG%, defensive rebounding percentage, and opponent free throws/field goal attempts. Last year Orlando ranked #1, #2, and #4, respectively, in each category. Almost all three statistics can be attributed to Howard in one way or the other. I'll explain why. Opponents were deterred from penetrating in the lane, thus forcing them to shoot more jumpers from the perimeter. In turn, players didn't draw as many fouls in the process because they weren't attacking the paint as much. Not to mention, teams didn't get many second-chance opportunities because there weren't many offensive rebounds to come by. Most of that is Howard's handiwork. Impressed?


The Magic's ability to excel in three of the "four factors" defensively (the fourth being turnover percentage), thanks to Howard and Co., is THE reason why the squad stands a great chance of leading the NBA in defensive efficiency for another year.


As long as the team stays healthy and plays to its talent level, of course.


FICTION: The Boston Celtics.


Before Kevin Garnett went down with an injury this past season, the C's were on pace to have the best defense in the Association for the second consecutive year. As such, it's not too outlandish to suggest that with the return of Kevin and the addition of Rasheed Wallace, the Celtics pose a great chance of leading the NBA in defensive efficiency once again. With Boston, there will be justifiable concerns about age and health (more so age than health), but those factors notwithstanding, it would seem unwise to underestimate how good the C's will be on the defensive side of the ball.


This isn't to dismiss other teams that expect to have stout defenses, like the Cleveland Cavaliers, the San Antonio Spurs, or the Los Angeles Lakers, though. 


For example, even though Orlando did have the best defense in the league last year, Boston and Cleveland were just as good when looking at the numbers. The Magic (101.9 points/100 possessions), the Celtics (102.3), & the Cavaliers (102.4) all had excellent defenses that were nearly the same, from a statistical standpoint. 


So, this is like betting on (insert team here) vs. the field ...


Verdict: ... in which case, one would be wise to bet on the field instead of Orlando. This isn't to state that the Magic aren't capable of leading the NBA in defensive efficiency, but given there are other teams around the Association that have equally strong defensive units, it's easy to see the Orlando Magic fall a bit in the rankings.


Not by much, though.


With grateful acknowledgement to 3QC user derekk, who suggested this topic.