After a loss where his defense was nowhere to be found against the Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn shook up his starting lineup in an effort to get a better balance, not only from the starters, but from his bench as well. Vaughn removed third-year guard Evan Fournier and veteran big man Channing Frye for a couple of younger guys, who have made a bigger impact on the defensive end this season: Elfrid Payton and Kyle O`Quinn. Both Payton and O`Quinn can help make their teammates better on D, but can also have an impact on the flow of the offense on the other end.
After the team's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, the first time the starting lineup of Payton, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, O`Quinn and Nikola Vucevic played extended minutes together this season, Vaughn talked about having to find that balance.
"I think defensively we were okay, but looking down at the stat sheet, we're going to have to find a better balance offensively with those guys starting and the difference in the second group." The third-year coach also said he felt as though Payton and O`Quinn came out with good energy, and that it helped them defensively.
While they were unable to come away with the victory in that game, they did show some growing continuity. The lineup, which had only played nine minutes together prior to that game, gave the Sixers fits at times, and showed that they had potential to be dominant on both ends of the floor.
Their second game out, the results began to show even more. Out of the gates, the team was flying around on both ends of the floor, suffocating the visiting Boston Celtics defensively while moving the ball at a high rate to get good, clean, open looks at the other end of the floor. When the first 12 minutes had finished, the Magic were sitting pretty after holding the Celtics to just nine points, while scoring 26 of their own.
Even though they did struggle some later in the game--mainly in the fourth quarter when the team appeared to get relaxed with a large lead--what they showed should give the coaching staff and fans alike hope. They struck a balance of having guys who can score in Harris, Vucevic, and Oladipo, along with guys who can get after it and wreak havoc on the defensive end in Payton, O`Quinn, and Oladipo. The ending to the game might not have been their best, but they're finding that cohesion and balance that they need to be able to potentially take the next step in their rebuild.
Following the game, I had a chance to ask Coach Vaughn how we felt the balance was between the starters, and the bench.
"I thought overall, I quickly looked at the box score, but the shots our guys got off the bench were really good," he said. "I thought Ben [Gordon] really added to that group, that second unit, but the balance of having Evan, Ben and Channing on the floor at the same time worked out pretty well with the physicality and also the ability to defend with Elfrid and KO in the first group."
Though they were outscored by the Celtics' reserves by a 40-25 margin, the Magic's bench gave the team some good minutes. Gordon helped the team get going again in the second quarter with a few easy buckets, and Fournier knocked down a few free throws late that helped the team seal the deal. It might not be much, but the move could be one that is beneficial, especially if they're able to strike a balance between offense and defense with that unit, like they're hoping to do with the starters.
A couple of the players also chimed in on the new lineup. When asked, O`Quinn said he thought the starters did "a'ight" in just their second game starting together. "We've got improvements to make; tomorrow we've got another step to make in practice, but I think we did a'ight."
Oladipo, the piece many people believe the Magic are focusing on with their rebuild, echoed what O`Quinn had to say. "I think we're doing a good job," he said. "It's going to take a little bit of time to get the little kinks out, but I think that five is doing a good job, especially defensively. We just gotta build on it."
Harris, the team's leading scorer at 18.6 points per game, also weighed in. He said the new group was jelling "pretty good," but also wasn't ready to call the move a total success.
"We played some good basketball tonight. Got into the lane, made some big plays. You know, it’s a chemistry thing, it’s not going to come overnight," he said. "But I think when, you know, we play together, play team ball, I think it’s going to come a lot faster than usual."
Statistics also favor this new Magic starting lineup as one of the better ones the team deploys. In 46 minutes over four games, the Payton-Oladipo-Harris-O`Quinn-Vucevic group has an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 114, and a defense rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 103.9, good enough for a net rating of 10.1. Of the team's lineups that have played 40 minutes or more, only the lineup of Oladipo-Fournier-Harris-Frye-O`Quinn has a higher offensive rating (116.5) and a lower defensive rating (100.2).
It's only four games, and the 46-minute sample size is small, but the Magic seem to have found something with their new starting lineup. Not only does it give them a better balance at the start of games, but the bench should improve as a result of it, something the team was in desperate need of.