Most Startling Statistics of Orlando Magic's Season so Far
There have been the highs, like the buzzer-beating walk-off against the Philadelphia 76ers on November 5th, and there have been the lows, like the broken foot suffered by first-round draft pick Aaron Gordon.
Nothing is set in stone 12 games into an NBA season, but habits are certainly starting to form. Team identities are being shaped, and the statistics compiled over the past few weeks can at least provide some sort of indication as to what type of team we are all watching.
The Magic's stats, much like the on-court results, have been a mixed bag. There are the good (Evan Fournier's emergence), the bad (too many turnovers) and the ugly (Elfrid Payton's shooting percentage).
The season is far from over and things can change very quickly, but there are certainly some numbers that stand out—both positive and negative.
Let's take a look at five head-scratching, surprising and all-around startling Magic statistics so far this season.
5. Second-Worst Turnover Differential
The Magic's plus-3.6 turnover differential is evidence of where they are in their evolutionary process and how difficult it is incorporating new players into the rotation. That number is second-worst in the entire NBA.
During last season's 23-59 campaign, the team ranked 11th in this category. One would think that with the addition of Payton at point guard this number would improve, but that hasn't been the case. On the offensive end, the Magic average 15.8 turnovers per game, fifth-worst in the NBA.
It's been a problem that's plagued them all season, starting immediately with their home opener, a 105-98 loss to the Washington Wizards. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel spoke to Nikola Vucevic about the turnover issues after that game.
"We tried to make some long passes, and they got those, and that hurt us," Vucevic said. "I thought we were playing pretty well, but those 18 turnovers are too much. We're not good enough to allow those."
To be ranked that low in turnover differential, it's certainly a twofold problem. Not only are they coughing up the ball too much, they aren't creating enough turnovers on the defensive end, either. The Magic rank just 23rd in steals and 25th in blocks.
One of the players brought in to revitalize the defense and bring energy to last season's lackluster unit is Aaron Gordon. In the 11 games he played before breaking his foot last week, Gordon tallied just 15 minutes a night and posted meager defensive statistics despite playing very well in stretches.
Part of the problem on that end has been the absence of Victor Oladipo, who missed the first nine games with a facial fracture.
The 2013-14 Rookie of the Year runner-up averaged a team-high 1.6 steals per game last season and can play solid pressure defense on the perimeter.
The players filling in for him, namely Evan Fournier and Ben Gordon, are in there more for scoring and floor-spacing purposes rather than their defense.
4. Evan Fournier's Scoring
Fournier has been a pleasant surprise for Orlando since he was acquired in a trade for Arron Afflalo over the summer. Afflalo led the team in scoring last season with 18.2 points a game.
This season, Fournier is averaging a career-high 17.3 points on a blistering 50 percent shooting from three-point range so far.
He was very much a wild card for this Magic team. Always considered a skilled shooter and a player with talent, Fournier never really got a chance to showcase himself while in Denver the past two seasons, averaging just 15.5 minutes per contest
So far in Orlando, he's started all 12 games and is clocking just over 34 minutes a night. He's a big reason why the Magic are leading the league in three-point percentage.
It's not just his shooting. He's very crafty off the dribble and at 6'7" possesses an uncanny ability to weave through traffic and create scoring opportunities for himself or his teammates. That versatility has been crucial in Oladipo's absence.
The Orlando Sentinel's Brian Schmitz even sees some similarities between Fournier's game and that of international legend and NBA champion Manu Ginobili:
But the Magic couldn't ask for a better start from Fournier, the relatively unknown 6-foot-7 Frenchman who is equipped with an array of flashy skills often displayed by international players. The way he can mix up his game — from 3-point shooting to slashing to the hoop — makes him look like a student from the Manu Ginobili School of Shot-Making.
It remains to be seen whether he can continue at this pace now that Oladipo has returned from his injury, but Fournier has proved to be an important cog in the rotation going forward.
3. 27th in Free-Throw Shooting Percentage and Attempts
The Magic are shooting 71 percent from the free-throw line as a team this season, fourth-worst in the league.
In their seven losses so far, five of them came by a margin of eight points or less. An improvement across the board in free-throw shooting could go a long way in swaying the outcome of close games going forward.
Out of the eight players on the roster who have logged at least 150 minutes this season, only two—Luke Ridnour and Ben Gordon, both of whom come off the bench—are shooting over 80 percent from the free-throw line.
Tobias Harris leads all starters at 78 percent, while the future backcourt of Payton and Oladipo is shooting 50 and 70 percent, respectively. As a team, the Magic attempt just under 20 free throws per game, also 27th overall.
In a game against the Toronto Raptors on November 1, despite shooting a significantly higher percentage from the field and beyond the arc, the Magic lost by 13 because of Toronto's ability to consistently knock down free throws.
Orlando was just 12-of-24 (50 percent) while Toronto shot 38-of-48 (79.2 percent). The attempts and percentage were there for Toronto, something Orlando needs to improve on.
The disparity is alarming, and a team with playmakers like Payton and Oladipo (did not play in that November 1 game) needs to get to the line more than 20 times a night going forward.
2. Elfrid Payton's Shooting Percentage
Payton, the 6'3" point guard from Louisiana-Lafayette, has done plenty of good things during the first 12 games, but his shooting hasn't been one of them.
He's currently shooting just 32 percent from the field and 50 percent from the free-throw line.
Payton's particularly good at setting up his teammates, hustling on both sides of the court and attacking the basket, which makes his shooting numbers all the more troubling.
For a guy that skilled at getting past defenders and penetrating, he has only attempted 26 free throws in 12 games. In six of those games, he didn't get to the line once.
While he is certainly a pass-first guard, he has the ability to draw contact and get easy scoring chances at the line. Perhaps his shooting woes prevent him from being more aggressive at the point of attack.
In a game against the Toronto Raptors earlier this month, head coach Jacque Vaughn opted to go with the veteran Ridnour for most of the game, with Payton playing a total of seven minutes and 41 seconds in the entire second half.
Ridnour's ability to shoot was a factor for the switch, according to Vaughn and via the Orlando Sentinel:
I just thought overall their schemes defensively, whether or not that was doubling Nik [Vucevic], I thought the opportunity to keep Luke on the floor [was valuable]. I thought he was savvy enough against [Kyle] Lowry and then also his ability to spread the floor for us came into the equation. And I just liked the feel and the flow at that time.
If Payton doesn't attack like he can or have the ability to knock down open shots, he'll have a hard time staying on the floor in crunch time.
Elite point guards like Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo have struggled with their shots throughout their careers, so Payton shouldn't be too discouraged at this point in his rookie season. It's a part of his game he needs to work on going forward.
1. Leading the League in Three-Point Percentage
The Magic are shooting a league-leading 41.6 percent from beyond the arc, a monumental leap from the 21st-ranked crew that shot just 35.3 percent last season.
This improvement can be traced back to a multitude of contributing factors.
For one, the organization made it a priority to surround Payton and Oladipo—two playmakers—with talented shooters.
It traded for Fournier (50.9 percent) and signed Channing Frye (45.6 percent) over the summer, two players known for their long-range prowess. They've been impressive in the early part of the season, living up to their billing thus far.
In addition to the players you expect to produce from three-point range, others have stepped up when called upon.
Harris, a career 29.3 percent three-point shooter, is pouring threes in at a 40 percent rate so far this season. Even Gordon, the explosive rookie who has often been criticized for his shooting ability, shot 4-of-8 from long range before suffering a broken foot.
This three-point barrage has yet to translate into overall scoring success because the Magic don't shoot nearly as many as they should. Even though they are the only team to shoot over 40 percent from three-point range, they attempt just 17 per game, tied for 24th in the league.
Orlando ranks 22nd in the NBA with 97.0 points per game, and while the early success shooting threes is a welcome addition to the offensive arsenal, it should become even more of a priority.
If those attempts get up to around 23 a game, it could make a huge difference.