Coming off an tumultuous year that saw the team fire their head coach midway through the season, the Orlando Magic hope to begin turning the corner as they continue their rebuilding process. With a new coach in place, and players that seem hungrier than ever, the Magic are in a position to take crucial steps forward. To do so, however, the team must find a true calling card, an identity, if they want to make the strides everyone feels as though they can.
During training camp last season, then-coach Jacque Vaughn and players talked at length about wanting to build an identity on the defensive end of the floor. Early on, the team showed some signs of improvement, but still struggled to consistently string together strong defensive performances. As the season progressed, the defense seemingly got worse, which ended up costing Vaughn his job, and pushing the Magic down to 25th in the league in defensive rating.
Fast forward a year, and the team is once again talking at length about wanting to become better defensively. Now led by Scott Skiles, a no nonsense coach who has no problem benching a player for not putting forth their best effort, the Magic appear poised to finally find some consistency on the defensive end.
During the team's annual media day last Friday, Skiles and the team talked at length about needing to find an identity on the defensive end. Skiles, whose never had a team finish lower than 16th in defensive rating in his 13 years as a head coach, wants, and expects his team to be one of the best defensively in the league. "We want to be a top defensive team," said Skiles. "That’s exactly what we will do. I don’t expect any issues... I think we’re going to be a good defensive team, and if we’re not, we’ve got to go from asking to demanding."
The Magic's man in the middle, Nikola Vucevic, echoed Skiles' comments, saying it's "something I think we can do" when asked about being a top defensive team. "We have to do it on the defensive end. I would agree with him on that that it has to be our identity," said Vucevic.
One thing that held the Magic's defense back last season was the poor schemes Coach Vaughn used. As Victor Oladipo said, the scheme the Magic employ will be the most important thing for them. "I think the biggest thing is we have to have a defensive scheme and we have to buy into it," said the third-year guard. "We have to realize that we need each other defensively just like we need each other offensively in order to win. Everyone is going to have to be on it defensively... I think we’re going to do a great job of playing defensively because our coach wants it from us."
Second-year man Aaron Gordon, considered one of the top defenders in the 2014 NBA Draft class, feels as though there's no ceiling for the team if it's able to accomplish what it wants to on the defensive end of the floor. Gordon said it'll take "accountability, discipline, and consistency," for Orlando to reach its defensive goals.
Heading into arguably the most important season of their rebuild, the Magic seem poised to finally find the identity they've desperately searched for over the last few years. Skiles and his coaching staff will have the Magic's stable full of young guys ready to get after it night-in and night-out on the defensive end, and the sky could be the limit for the team as it looks to play meaningful games deeper into the season.