The Orlando Magic allowed an average of 106.7 points per 100 possessions last season for one of the worst defensive marks in the league.
Their problems ranged from deficits of talent to a striking lack of intensity and focus. Luckily, in the draft, they were able to land a transcendent defensive talent in Victor Oladipo. Intensity and focus are never issues for Oladipo, who he has the kind of defensive potential that can reshape the Magic.
One of the biggest challenges for the Magic's defense last season was handling screens. Although their bigs were culpable as well, a lot of the issues began with a wing player simply misplaying a screen.
This showed up in several areas. The Magic allowed 0.84 points per possession to ball-handlers in the pick-and-roll, ranking 27th in the league, and 0.95 points per possession to shooters coming off screens, ranking 26th in the league.
There were a variety of reasons for their struggles with screens.
In this first example, the Miami Heat are bringing the ball up with Ray Allen is running the baseline. As he curls around to pop out to the three-point line, Shane Battier sets a pin-down screen for him. Doron Lamb sees the screen coming, but instead of setting himself up to trail Allen and fight through it, he tries to go underneath and catch Allen on the other side. The problem is, as anyone who has watched Allen play over the last 15 years knows, Allen isn't coming out on the other side of that screen.
Simply taking a slightly harder angle and attacking the screen could have kept Lamb right in Allen's pocket and, at the very least, made this a contested shot. In this second example, DeQuan Jones simply gives up as Kyle Korver steps behind a screen and drills a three-pointer.
Here Jones is covering Terrence Ross as he curls around through the lane. Ross hesitates for a second and Jones gets caught watching the ball at the top of the key. By the time he picks up Ross, the Raptors have already set up to run him into a double-screen and there just isn't time or space for him to recover.
These same issues dealing with screens also happened in the pick-and-roll. Here Ish Smith has an opportunity to jump in front of a screen and keep himself close to Will Bynum. Instead, he opts to go under the screen, ceding a huge amount of space. Bynum then curls back and gets another screen from Charlie Villanueva, which Smith is now forced to go under again because he's so far removed from the ball. By the time that Smith finally gets his body back into position, both players are essentially in the lane and Bynum is able to exploit his size advantage for an easy layup.
Here, Mo Harkless feels Al Jefferson moving to his left to set a screen. It's difficult to see in the video, but he anticipates the ball heading in that direction and leans into Jefferson, as he prepares to fight through the screen. Alec Burks sees that Harkless is off balance and simply blows past him to the baseline.
In this example, Arron Afflalo ends up getting caught by the screen and has to switch off of MarShon Brooks. However, Brooks clearly has the advantage against Nikola Vucevic and there is a moment where Affalo could rotate down, cutting off penetration and giving Vucevic time to switch back. Afflalo instead opts to stay with Andray Blatche at the top of the key and Brooks has an easy time in getting to the rim.
These problems are diverse and all require breakdowns in several places. The Magic's bigs could be doing a lot more to provide help on the back line, but the issues are almost always initiated or exacerbated by the way their wings struggle with screens.
Whether it's their passive approach, not knowing the situation and personnel, or simply losing track of your man, these are all simple problems with theoretically simple solutions.
There is isn't a lot of available video of Oladipo in college, but this video does a nice job of illustrating a few things (starting at the 5:21 mark).
Watch the way that Oladipo anticipates and attacks screens, almost always getting himself over the top without fouling or losing contact with his man. He also does a fantastic job of recovering or continuing to defend from a trailing position. This is a cherry-picked video sample, but he is not a player who struggles with passivity or awareness.
Unfortunately for the Magic, Oladipo can't defend every opposing wing player at the same time. Jameer Nelson will be playing the majority of minutes at point guard and will continue to be vulnerable to attack.
A major challenge for head coach, Jacque Vaughn, this season will be to find ways to mix and match lineups so that Oladipo's defensive skills are being maximized against whatever opponents are presenting Orlando. Some nights, it will mean\ locking down the best individual scorer on the other team. Other nights, it may mean guarding point guards in bigger lineups and providing pressure at the point of attack.
For the Magic to make significant defensive improvements as a team this year, all of their individual parts will need to play better. But having a player with Oladipo's skill set and approach on the wings will make things easier for everyone. When he holds his ground against a ball-handler, all of the other pieces are able to stay in position and prevent the cavalcade of chaotic rotations that lead to breakdowns.
Keeping ball-handlers out of the lane means protecting not just the rim, but also the corners and the three-point line, so that the entire defense can hold its shape.
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