Steve Clifford sounded like a teacher who was disappointed in his students.
After the Magic’s 103-88 loss to the Pistons, during which Orlando was held to just 33 second-half points on 28.2 percent shooting, Clifford expressed disappointment in the Magic’s lack of ball movement.
“Obviously, offensively, we don’t have a lot of room for error,” Clifford told reporters after the game. “But, again the point is, it’s how you play. You’ve got to play in a way that you can get shots and move the defense. One guy dribbling the ball six, seven times in one spot is not doing it.”
When a reporter followed up by saying that Clifford was showing that to the team and going over it with them, Clifford cut him off:
“For over a year,” he said.
Still, after a year of lessons, the Magic’s tendency to overdribble and force (and miss) shots remains a concern. Those tendencies were magnified on Monday with the absence of their two leading scorers in Nikola Vucevic, who with his passing ability is the engine of the Magic offense, and Aaron Gordon.
“I don’t care about that,” Clifford said when asked of being shorthanded. “You gotta play the right way. If we play the right way and we lose thats one thing, and that’s not what we did. This league you’re gonna pay the price.”
The Magic paid that price in the second half, at one point missing 11 consecutive shots in the third as the Pistons established their lead.
By my unofficial count while rewatching the game, the Magic in the halfcourt set passed the ball more than three times on just 8 of 26 possessions in the third as they were held to 15 points and shot only 5-for-22 (22.7 percent). In the fourth, only 2 of 24 Magic possessions featured at least three passes.
“Our troubles come more with overdribbles, looking off a teammate who’s right beside you to try to make a better play. And that’s not our team,” Clifford said. “That ball has got to move. When the ball moves and it moves freely, we can play good offense. We reverted back tonight in the second half to, really to be honest, what’s been our biggest problem since I got here. Just pass the ball to the guy beside you.”
So, who is to blame for the Magic’s lack of ball movement? Is it the primary ball handlers? Is it their teammates for failing to cut enough? Is it Clifford’s for not finding a solution after a year’s time? Is it the front office for not addressing the Magic’s lack of shooters and spacing?
Probably a combination of each. Without Vucevic and Gordon, the spacing has closed up, leaving the already offensively challenged Magic with even less room to operate. Evan Fournier, who has been shooting the ball well this season, forced shots against the Pistons and struggled from the field (5-for-16, 0 of 5 from three). Here, out of a spread pick-and-roll late in the shot clock, Fournier attempts to beat Blake Griffin off the dribble and split defenders to take a contested runner when, with one simple extra pass, he would have found a wide open Markelle Fultz at the three-point line...
Here’s an example of forcing a tough shot in traffic instead of making the extra pass to a wide open Wes Iwundu... pic.twitter.com/IDt03pEANU— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) November 26, 2019
As poor as Orlando’s outside shooting has been, that pass has to happen, and the ensuing shot needs to be attempted and made (though the Magic did take and miss many good looks, which is just as big of a problem as the lack of ball movement).
“I think [the ball stuck] a little bit,” Markelle Fultz told reporters after the game. “It’s not on purpose, i think it’s every other play we’re all trying to make winning plays for us to win. I think it’s just something we gotta trust, just trusting each other. Moving without the ball, just knowing we’re going to get the ball when open and play for each other. It’s something easy that we can easily fix. I don’t think anybody is doing it out of selfishness or anything like that. I just think it’s us tying to be winning players and help our team win.”
The overdribbling has been a team-wide issue, particularly for D.J. Augustin, who has often dribbled the offense to sleep this season. But a team like the Magic, which doesn’t have the personnel for isolation, also need more off-the-ball movement to facilitate extra passes. That would help eliminate possessions as such where four guys are standing around watching and the fifth guy ends up launching a bad shot...
Overdribbling is an issue, as Steve Clifford said. But that seems a partial result of the Magic’s lack of cutting and off-the-ball motion. Too many possessions and shots like this... pic.twitter.com/XthbGMR4UX— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) November 26, 2019
It’s all intertwined. More motion creates more ball movement, more ball movement creates better shots. But it won’t mean much if the Magic don’t start hitting them.
“We got some good shots we missed too,” Clifford said. “I’m just saying, what you can control as a group is how you play, and your mentality, and understanding what we as a team have to do to play well...You gotta have a way to play and you gotta play that way, thats what the best teams do.”
NUMBER OF PASSES - RESULT OF PLAY
Three - Iwundu misses forced runner
Zero - Fultz pushes up-court off turnover, drives for layup
Three - Off turnover, Fultz drives and leaves for Birch, who is fouled
Three - Fournier misses runner
Two - Iwundu turnover on pass
Four - Isaac misses jumper
Zero - Isaac steal and coast to coast layup
One - Fournier kick out to Iwundu for three
One - Fournier fouled on drive
One - Isaac posts up Birch for baby hook
Two - Fournier dribbles and misses contested missed three early in shot clock
Two - Fultz drives and dunks
Three - Isaac misses three
Three - Isaac misses baseline J
Zero - Ross pull up
Offensive rebound: One - Aminu misses three
Two - Birch misses baby hook in post
Three - Ross misses jumper
One - Bamba blocked
Three - Aminu misses drive
One - Fournier misses J
Zero - Augustin drive blocked out of bounds
One - Fournier fouled
One - Bamba misses open three
One - Bamba airballs baby hook in post
Zero - Augustin blocked at buzzer
Totals: 15 points, 5-for-22 shooting, two assists
Two - Aminu alley-opp to bamba
Zero - Fournier misses three
One - Fournier fouled on runner, was looking for Ross coming around screens
Two - Fournier fouled on drive
One - Bamba post, misses J
One - Ross floater
Two - Turnover on second pass
One - Fournier pull up around screen
Two - Ross airballs jumper
Zero - Fultz offensive foul
One - Fultz pushes up-court and leaves it for Ross, misses three
Offensive rebound: Zero - Fournier, spread pick and roll, drives and misses
Three - Isaac baseline drive blocked
One - Fultz misses step-back
One - Fournier misses step-back three
Zero - Fultz stripped on drive
One - Birch fouled
One - Isaac stripped out of bounds
Two - Fournier airballs three
Three - Isaac pull up J
Zero - Fultz steal and coast to coast
One - Ross three
Two - Isaac misses jumper
Two - Fultz misses three
Totals: 18 points, 6-for-18 shooting, four assists