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Orlando Magic Embrace Traditional Lineups, Helping Them Through Three-Point Slump

The Orlando Magic distinguished themselves offensively over the last three seasons by playing an unconventional style--known around here as "four-around-one" or "four-out/one-in"-- which keeps four shooters with three-point range on the court at all times, surrounding a traditional center down low. The three-point-happy offense has proven effective, with Orlando capitalizing on most opponents' inability to effectively defend the long-range shooting and Dwight Howard inside.

But this season, the Magic appear more confident in their ability to play a traditional offense. Rashard Lewis, the starter at power forward in each of the last three seasons, has shifted to small forward with regularity in this campaign, making room for Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat at power forward. This approach has paid off, as we'll soon see, for a couple of reasons.

The biggest issue for the Magic's offense to date is their woeful outside shooting. Prior to Tuesday night's games, they placed in a tie for 19th in the league in three-point percentage, connecting on 34.7 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. That's down from 37.5 percent last season and the 35.8 percent league average. Further compounding the issue is the sheer volume at which Orlando tries threes, as they account for 33.6 percent of the Magic's total shot attempts.

The slump is tied directly to poor performances from volume shooters Lewis (30.6 percent on 49 attempts), Quentin Richardson (25 percent on 40 attempts), J.J. Redick (12 percent on 25 attempts), and Ryan Anderson (31.6 percent on 19 attempts). That quartet of marksmen can't find the range. The Magic are still getting the sorts of shots they want, but they simply won't fall. As Kevin Pelton of ESPN Insider wrote Monday, if the Magic's three-point shooters connected at a rate closer in line to their statistical projection, Orlando would have scored 2.3 additional points per game.

So playing Bass or Gortat at power forward replaces atypically inefficient players with incredibly efficient ones. Bass' raw shooting percentage of 47.5 doesn't do him justice, because he's a volume free-throw shooter with great accuracy. His True Shooting mark of 60.7 percent places him fourth on the team. Gortat, on the other hand, hardly misses from the floor. He leads the team with 65 percent shooting from the field thanks to his soft touch around the rim and the little attention defenses afford him.

Add it all up--and I have, just below--and the Magic's offense has been 4.85 points per 100 possessions more effective with a traditional power forward in the lineup. But the bigger difference has come at the defensive end.

Player PF
Pts Poss. ORtg Opp Pts Opp Poss. DRtg Eff. Diff.
Stretch 124 131 94.66 134 127 105.51 -10.85
380 349 108.88 367 352 104.26 4.62
TOTAL 504 480 105.00 501 479 104.59 0.41
Brandon Bass Traditional 425 387 109.82 362 391 92.58 14.24
Marcin Gortat 50 45 111.11 45 45 100.00 11.11
TOTAL 475 432 109.85 407 436 93.35 16.60

That table ought to look familiar to you if you've read this site for longer than three weeks, as I used a version of it in this preseason review entry. The regular-season results bear resemblance to the preseason ones, but aren't quite as extreme: the traditional lineups performed better on both ends of the court, particularly defensively.

All the data presented here should be encouraging. Lewis and Anderson won't continue to miss threes so prodigiously, so the overall stretch offense will improve. Further, the increased usage of the traditional lineup--on a minute basis, the offense is split 51.5 percent stretch and 48.5 percent traditional--in conjunction with its effectiveness, suggest the Magic could seamlessly shift between the two styles if needed, depending on the opponent or situation. Last year, the traditional lineup proved to be a liability, perhaps because the team did little to cultivate it during the regular season; as I noted here, Orlando used a traditional lineup only 15.98 percent of the time. But now? It's the Magic's best option, at least until Lewis returns to form or Anderson works his way back into coach Stan Van Gundy's rotation.