By Fawzan Amer
Jamahl Mosley’s defensive system is the pinnacle of team defensive strategy. Working under Rick Carlisle, a defensive mastermind in his own right, Mosley has adopted defensive playbooks he’s seen, as well as implemented his own in Orlando. The Orlando Magic have been one of the better defenses in the league throughout the season. However, it has fallen off a cliff post All-Star break as the early sparks have looked put out. Playing defense asks each individual in a five-man lineup on the floor to view their opponent and themselves from a birds-eye view. A good defense, on any given play, collates different perspectives on the action — how the opponent typically runs the play, how the defense would run the play if they were in that same position on offense, and how extenuating circumstances on the floor might affect execution.
Instilling defensive schemes requires much discipline, pattern recognition, and preparation, and it was a staple for the young Orlando Magic team prior to the month of March, where the defense has faded into the abyss, taking their play-in hopes with them. There have been stretches when the defense post-All-Star break has been downright unwatchable. As the ball moves on offense, defenders don’t follow. It’s an aesthetic migraine for Head Coach Mosley, who wants to see fluid movement in his defensive rotations being played between the anchors on his defensive unit.
Pre All Star Break DEF RTG
Post All Star Break DEF RTG
December: 112.7 DEFRTG (12th)
March: 119.8 DEFRTG (30th) *LAST*
January: 115.8 DEFRTG (15th)
Post ASB: 116.3 DEFRTG (22nd)
February: 108.2 DEFRTG (4th)
Dec – Feb: 112.6 DEFRTG (7th)
The Magic’s defensive problems have presented loads of turbulence. As befits a young team that likes to run, the Magic force a healthy amount of turnovers—but it’s hard to find anything else positive to say. Today’s NBA is full of 3s, and the emergence of shots cast from all spots and distances beyond the arc has started to come at an unimaginable volume. The 3-pointer’s dominance has taken over the league by storm with surprising speed. Unfortunately, the Orlando Magic have not only failed to follow suit in this trend, but, post All-Star break, have played a pivotal role in allowing a ton of shots from behind the arc to find the basket due to getting rolled on back-door cuts, screwing up pick-and-roll coverages, and declining to close out on capable outside shooters. Miscommunication is frequent, and effort appears to be optional.
On March 1st, the Magic took on the Milwaukee Bucks and were picked apart on the perimeter via corner triples as the Bucks used Giannis Antetokounmpo as a primary ball handler in half-court sets. Coming into that matchup, the Bucks mandated the corner triple as a staple of their offensive scheme on offense. 9th in frequency on corner three-point attempts. One in ten shots being consumed from the corner of their shot diet, and the Magic failed to pick up on and adjust all game long as the spray outs on drive became increasingly too much to battle back from.
Orlando opted to shrink the floor by bringing help at the boxes and elbows – keeping all five defenders within arms length deep into their drops
Though the Bucks mandate a ton of their shot diet from the corner triple, they held the fifth-worst percentage from the corners on the season coming into last night. Jamahl Mosley switched into a man-to-man defense after consecutive makes, but it didn’t end up mattering much as it had become evident that it was too little too late.
Of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s six assists that night, three of them came from leveraging the threat as the primary ball handler in sets/transition plays to spray out for corner triples. Orlando made an effort to apply pressure whenever he had the ball with a variety of digs, stunts, & doubles. Milwaukee finished the night shooting 62.5% from the corner and 46.4% from beyond the arc as a whole.
Orlando's defense excelled at loading up the strong side box while having weak side defenders zone the back side. As a result, Mosley's defense forced ball handlers in isolation and pick and rolls baseline, proceeding to then send second defenders from weak side over to the strong side block to cut off dribble penetration. Jamahl Mosley's defensive scheme this season contests more 3's than any other team in the NBA. Those contests impacted opposing shooters by reducing their normal 3P% by -1.2% (5th in NBA) prior to the month of March.
Post All-Star Break
Pre All-Star Break
OPP 3P%: 39.2% (4th Highest)
OPP 3P%: 34.6% (T-3rd Lowest)
OPP 3PA: 36.6 (8th Highest)
OPP 3PA: 37.2 (2nd Highest)
OPP 3PM: 14.4 (4th Highest)
OPP 3PM: 12.9 (T-4th Highest)
Higher = Worse
Lower = Good
Continued repetition of allowing low-tier opponents to be placed on a heater and scorch them from beyond the arc occurred a few nights ago against the San Antonio Spurs on the road when the Spurs lit them up for 22 total three-pointers in regulation. The problem is limited in scope to opponent 3s, yet it’s still massively important because the modern NBA is such a make-or-miss league. Based on factors like shot location and defender distance, it became abundantly clear why the Spurs, who came into the game 26th in volume and 25th in percentage on 3PT shots, found the success they did in order to convey damage. The Spurs made 12-18 (66.7%) of their shots from downtown with the closest Magic defender 6+ feet away and 9-19 (47.3%) with the closest defender 4-6 feet away.
All twenty-two of the Spurs made three-point field goals were assisted. San Antonio used their penetration on dribble drives to the basket to distort Orlando’s defense which was loading up on the elbows — the Spurs used a ton of drive & kicks to spray shots from above the break, shooting 8/13 (61.5%) from that spot on the perimeter.
A significant part of what made the Orlando Magic successful defensively prior to the All-Star break was their ability to swarm around the half-court to help against drives and after-running shooters off the line. It requires a higher level of communication, real-time recognition of play development, and a willingness to make extra efforts. The Magic left shooters open against the Spurs when that type of execution failed to occur.
In the month of March, the Orlando Magic are allowing the most points per game (124.3) on an unreal 51.3% (2nd highest clip). And to make matters worse, in 23 of those 32 regulation quarters, the Orlando Magic allowed their opponents to score 30 or more points. They have allowed over 130+ points to opposing NBA teams eight times this season. They’re 1-7 when doing so, and four of those eight games have come post All-Star break.
Milwaukee Bucks (139)
Milwaukee Bucks (134)
Utah Jazz (131)
San Antonio Spurs (132)
Mosley allows his guards to impact the game in a variety of ways. He vocalizes using their long strides and shiftiness to press up into bodies & be disruptive presences, applying pressure. His defense also encompasses his team's ability to constantly jump lanes & clog up passing lanes & angles, resulting in turned-away drives and tagging rollers and cutters near the nail. The following play is a microcosm of zero communication on a freelance transition play. Cole Anthony picks up the ball handler (Cam Payne) at halfcourt, and Moritz Wagner points to the corner indicating to Bol Bol he needs to be the low man for rim protection as Franz Wagner rotates off Landale to defend Ish Wainright. Bol Bol never sees the finger point, and Moritz doesn't fully commit to the corner in confusion which allows Landale to slip inside and convert on a no-look cutting dunk.
“It all starts with our ball pressure. When we were at a very good clip, we were getting into the basketball. We were dictating what teams were doing vs. letting them be comfortable in their sets. Getting back to picking up full-court. Pressure on the ball in the pick and roll. Being more consistent with how aggressive we are early on,” Head Coach Jamahl said pre-game. Coming into the final stretch of games post All-Star break, a multitude of events had to transpire in order for the Orlando Magic to take part in the play-in. After an abysmal stretch of March, winning only two of their eight games thus far, the hope of a chance at the play-in has perished, much like their defense down the stretch. The hope is for this young squad, filled with an amplitude of talent across the board, to finish the season on a high note and continue team-building as the Magic front office faces a tall and exciting task of furnishing out roster holes to provide the necessary moves across all avenues.
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