The Orlando Magic have seemingly undergone a mid-season identity change.
The latest example of that came in Houston on Sunday. They entered with a 5-25 record against teams with a winning records, and steamrolled the Rockets. They led by as many as 32 points to earn their first win in Houston since 2011. They left with a 126-106 victory, arguably their best win of the season.
They have become a sudden offensive powerhouse.
This after the Magic entered the season an an offensively-challenged, hard-nosed defensive team that would go only as far as their defense could carry them. With an understanding of the basic concept of sustainability, they will soon be that team again. But until that regression comes, lets enjoy the new-look Magic, owners of the best offense in the NBA since the All-Star break.
In the 55 games before the All-Star break, the Magic posted a 105.5 offensive rating, which was 27th in the NBA. In the nine games since, they have a league-best rating of 117.8 (over their last 11 gams it is 118.2, but the break is a more convenient turning point). As for the defense, the rating has gone from 107.4, seventh best, to 116.3, third worst.
The drop is defense is hard to explain, and would likely cause Steve Clifford to lose hair if he had hair to lose. The formula for the offensive improvement has been simple: more possessions + more made shots = a more efficient offense. They are taking more shots and making more shots.
Since the break, the Magic have increased their pace from 98.16 possessions per game (28th in league) to 101.67 per (12th). While they’ve focused more on getting the ball in the paint, there hasn’t been a drastic change statistically in the manner in which they are playing or scoring. Their percentage of points scored via two-pointers, mid-range, three-pointers, points in the paint, fastbreak, etc. have remained fairly consistent. There has been a slight uptick in percentage of three-point field goals attempted from 35.8 percent to 37.2 percent, equating to about 2.7 more attempts per. There has also been a slight increase in free throw percentage, from 76.5 percent to 78.4 percent. Assist percentage is up from 60.7% to 62.1%, turnover percentage is down from 12.9% to 11.6 percent. They’re grabbing slightly more offensive rebounds (+1.5 per since break) and defensive rebounds (+1.1) for the league’s seventh best post-break rebounding percentage (51.9).
It’s mostly just a matter of players who weren’t making shots prior to the break are now making them.
As a team the Magic went from pre-All Star break percentages of 43.4 percent from the field (29th), 33.7 percent from three (27th), a 49.4 effective field goal percentage (29th), and 53.1 true shooting (29th). After the break? The Magic are shooting 48.7 percent from the field (4th), 35.6 percent from three (17th), a 55.3 effective field goal percentage (7th), and 58.6 true shooting (8th).
At the epicenter of that is Terrence Ross, who is taking and making more threes post-break. Ross struggled to find daylight for much of the first half of the season, and even his open threes were’t going down on a consistent basis. Before the break he shot 38.7 percent from the field, including 32.2 percent on 6.9 threes per, both of which were career-lows. Since the break, Ross is making nearly half of all field goal attempts (49.6 percent), and hitting 51.3 percent of his 8.3 three-point attempts per game.
The playmaking of Aaron Gordon has been a huge factor in the Magic’s offensive jump. Despite a drop in usage from 20.7% before the break to 18.6% after, Gordon’s assist percentage has jumped from 19.8% before the break (3.1 assists per) to 27.8% after the break (6.5 assists per). His field goal percentage has also increased from 42.4% pre-break to 48.5% post, as he has attacked more, increasing his points in the paint from 7.0 pre-break to 9.8 post, and slightly reduced his three-point attempts (31.7% of all field goals pre-break, 28.2% post).
The Magic have returned more to an inside-out style of play, with Nikola Vucevic reducing the number of threes he takes per game. His percentage of three-point field goal attempts has dropped from 29.4% pre-break to 18.3% post. That has helped Vucevic’s boost his field goal percentage from 45.8% pre-break to 51.2% post; his points per game from 19.0 points per pre-break to 22.1 post; and his points in the paint from 7.0 pre-break to 9.8 post.
With D.J. Augustin out, and with his struggles upon returning, Michael Carter-Williams carved out a niche on this Magic team, providing a spark at both ends with his ability to create turnovers and navigate the pick-and-roll on the defensive end, and push the pace and get to the rim offensively. He has also seen an increase in his post-All-Star break percentages, jumping from 41.2% from the field and 26.1% from three to 46.4% and 32.4%. Augustin has regained his rhythm over the Magic’s last two games, capped by a 24-point performance against the Rockets on 7 of 10 shooting.
“Obviously we’re playing better and better offensively,” Steve Clifford told reporters after the win in Houston. “We’re getting the ball more going towards the paint. We’re playing with better pace and it’s leading to more quality shots and better shot-making.”
The Magic are 11-0 when they score more than 120 points this season. They can gladly ride out this offensive surge for as long as it lasts, but that figure is in no way a realistic, long-term benchmark for a one-extreme-to-the-other team like the Magic. Even with the improved offense, and even if this really is the team putting everything together at the right time and not just another small sample-sized surge, the Magic have gone just 5-4 since the All-Star break.
The key to prolonged success for the Magic as currently constituted will be finding a balance at both ends of the court over an extended period, with their identity being that of a top-ten defense and consistent league-average-to-above-average offense that, on occasion, will explode as it has since the All-Star break.