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The Magic of the three-pointer

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Orlando has made seemingly minor improvements to its deep game, and they're paying dividends.

Channing Frye pulls up over Jeremy Lamb in the Magic's 113-98 win against the Hornets Wednesday night.
Channing Frye pulls up over Jeremy Lamb in the Magic's 113-98 win against the Hornets Wednesday night.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The future is here, and it’s ripping through the NBA on a nightly basis. For months – longer, really, just not at this level – the Golden State Warriors have been waging war on the rest of the league with long-range weaponry the likes of which have never been seen before. Sure, there are countless other things they do well that have factored into their near-perfect record, but the three point shot is the Warriors’s hallmark.

The Orlando Magic isn’t operating with near the same ferocity from beyond the arc this season, but it is showing some improvement, and actively attempting to get with the times. The past few years, under Jacque Vaughn, Orlando consistently ranked in the bottom third of the league in three pointers made. It doesn’t matter how blame for that is distributed between the coaching staff, front office, and players; the bottom line is it’s been one of the team’s biggest flaws for years.

This season, though, Orlando's showing signs of improvement. Check out the Magic's three-point shot chart from the 2014-15 season, and then look at the shot chart from this season.

2014-15 Three-point shot chart

The Magic's three-point shooting in the 2014-15 season.

2015-16 Three-Point Shot Chart

The Magic's three-point shooting this season.

Aside from some trouble in the right corner, Orlando's improving from beyond the arc, particularly at both wings.

Whatever the change has been this season – the addition of better shooters, a philosophy and system that better seeks out threes – Orlando is getting up more attempts, and more of them are falling.

In the 2014-15 season, the Magic shot 34.7 percent on 19.5 three-point attempts per game. This season, though, the team’s shooting 35.7 percent on 23 attempts per game. According to BasketballReference.com, Orlando’s making 1.4 more threes a night than the previous season.

Now, at first glance, these numbers may seem inconsequential. The team’s shooting one percent better on a few more threes a game. Small potatoes, right? Not quite.

That small improvement has provided the Magic with an extra 4.2 points per game, a significant boost considering how many close games Orlando’s played in already. So far, the Magic have been in six games decided by four points or less.

These 4.2 points a game don’t exist in a vacuum, sure, but the close games exhibit just how important four points here or four points there can be to an NBA team. So far, the Magic is 2-4 in such games, and was 6-9 in those games last year. Point is, the slight improvement, which accounts for four extra points, can’t easily be dismissed as trivial.

Orlando’s three-point shooting is somewhat unique, too, in that much of it comes from the frontcourt. Three of the five players with the team’s most three-point attempts are forwards. When Andrew Nicholson or Channing Frye force opposing big men to respect their shot from deep it opens up doors for the Magic’s guards, many of whom thrive when attacking the rim. Wider lanes to the basket make drives by Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton, and Victor Oladipo that much more effective.

And that’s what the future of the efficiency-infatuated NBA is: threes and layups.

Baby steps, that’s all it takes to start. Orlando is still 19th in the league in three-point attempts. But the minor improvements are paying dividends this season, and maybe Orlando’s team of the future isn’t quite that far from coming to fruition.