By Fawzan Amer
A known scientist throughout the league who constantly mixes ingredients together to whip up schemes and coverages that haunt offenses for 48 minutes on a nightly basis. A tyrant who rose to the top by wrecking plans and pocket-snatching and running off with the opposing offensive coordinators belongings. A defensive mastermind who has implemented a system that is the pinnacle of team defensive strategy. Working under Rick Carlisle, Jamahl Mosley has adopted defensive playbooks he’s seen throughout his years of coaching from 2007 to create a defensive juggernaut in Orlando.
In his rookie season as head coach, the team went from a drop-centric scheme throughout the season and shifted into a high-flying hyperactive switching group of maniacs. It’s no secret that Mosley is an artist at adapting his scheme to the roster’s strengths and weaknesses. On the defensive end of the floor, the Magic’s commander delivered in his sophomore year on his expectations to utilize the team’s tremendous length to be a group that routinely causes disruption and chaos.
On the scope it may seem as the Orlando Magic fell short of expectations this season from a defensive standpoint. Posting a mere 113.7 defensive rating on the season (15th) finishing in the middle of the pack across the league. However, injuries to key players was the biggest culprit in Orlando’s troubles causing them to get off the ground tumbling with a 115.3 defensive rating (27th) in the NBA during the treacherous 5-20 start . Mosley’s defensive acumen is well known but due to being left without the entire pieces to his puzzle set he was unable to deploy his scheme accordingly which consisted of key components Orlando exploited teams with to finish the season just shy of the top five in defensive ratings once a majority of the players were acclimated from injuries.
Box And One
The box-and-one defense is a technique Orlando implemented to deny ball movement to star players on the opposing team. With four players forming a box at the top of the key with a perimeter player at each elbow of the free throw line alongside one defensive player using man-to-man defense. Each defensive post player guards a block in the low post area and is assigned to help the on-ball defender, or chaser, on a double team or help close out on a perimeter player at the three-point line. However, a post defender’s primary responsibilities are to defend the baseline, deny any post-up attempts, and box-out for rebounds on missed shot attempts.
The box-and-one is an uncommon look. All five players must recognize the play call, retreat to their assigned spots and understand their assignments. Orlando unleashed a box-and-one on this possession against Donovan Mitchell in the final game before they would officially see their play-in hopes face the ultimate deathblow continuing their postseason drought. Since the box zone is compact around the interior, the rotating zone defender (Paolo Banchero) is given the green light due to his man (Dean Wade) being stashed in the weak-side corner on a night he shot 1-5 from deep. As Darius Garland curls to receive the pass from Mitchell, Orlando flows into the “Box-and-one," the traditional alignment with Gary Harris face guarding Donovan Mitchell near half-court.
This time around, the box-and-one prevails in the sense that Donovan Mitchell who was hotter then a heater did not do anything but the Cavaliers having a secondary ball handler next to Mitchell goes a long way when teams try to take extreme measures to neutralize him. Despite Orlando's efforts Darius Garland is able to scrape together offense by capitalizing on a head fake allowing him enough space to connect on a five foot floating jump shot.
Box-and-ones are harder to recognize when they are implemented on primary ball-handlers such as Trae Young, as compared to when they are thrown out against Donovan Mitchell. Trae Young handles the ball a significant amount — most of his possessions throughout his NBA tenure have stemmed as the pick-and-roll ball handler. Including passes to teammates that resulted in a shot attempt. Recognizing the danger of the ball in Young’s hands in the pick-and-roll, Jamahl Mosley wrinkled in the box-and-one to throw haymakers at Trae Young in an attempt to make him uncomfortable to operate and rush plays.
On this specific possession, the box-and-one was executed perfectly. Trae Young crosses half-court, due to him being the ball-handler in the possession he manages to blow past Markelle Fultz despite the man-to-man pressure. The box-and-one defense presents him with Moritz Wagner at the free throw line elbow denying him a rim run and he forces up a 16 foot pull-up jump shot early into the shot clock.
Typically when teams pull out the ace to employ the box-and-one they’ll face guard the opposing primary threat in an effort to deny him possession of the ball and stay attached at the hip no matter what else is occurring throughout the play. Orlando runs a *softer* version of this, if the ball is away the designated Orlando defender usually will ease up upon the primary creator. The Toronto Raptors deployed a box-and-one here against Luka Doncic, watch Gary Trent Jr keep a hand on him despite the ball being at the weak-side of the action, never allowing him an inch of space.
In the play below, the Brooklyn Nets screen off Markelle Fultz to get Mikal Bridges a dribble hand-off due to Orlando running the junk defensive scheme.
Wendell Carter Jr and Gary Harris populate the top of the box. Paolo Banchero and Cole Anthony are at the bottom of it. Carter Jr and Harris communicate beautifully on this possession. With both of Orlando’s defenders at the elbow and Fultz now the trail man, Bridges is forced to kick out to a shooter (Spencer Dinwiddie) who misses the triple on a fly-by contest by Gary Harris.
The Magic were at their fiercest when their defense was at its most complex, bouncing from scheme to scheme dependent upon the opposing personnel. Having a point-of-attack options, a healthy Jalen Suggs, and more capable veterans, like Markelle Fultz, to absorb and execute strategies to annoy teams offensive schemes. Increased youth and complexity didn’t halt Orlando's defensive rating which ranked 6th in the league post December 7th. Unfortunately, the Magic had to treat all their matchups with increased defensive strategy due to the 5-20 start. It was common to see Mosley demonstratively dialing up a different scheme such as the “Switch-to-Blitz” and it was at the forefront for everyone to see against one of the individuals who scored the 22-23 NBA season high 71 points this season.
An aggressive coverage throughout the NBA profoundly for the ultimate premier threats in the league that can single handedly take the game over at will. It's a high risk, high reward style containing switching and blitzing the ball-handler. Luckily, Orlando can play this way consistently due to employing mobile bigs who can disrupt the ball handler.
Here is a possession from the opening tip of the game. Orlando begins the possession as many defenses do against Damian Lillard, using the switch-to-blitz technique with Jalen Suggs and Moritz Wagner. But Damian Lillard and company appear to know what’s coming and is resigned to the idea that it’ll be his teammates who must make shots. He steps right into the switch-blitz almost near half-court after the high ball-screen, passes it off to newly acquired Matisse Thybulle and a few swings later the balls lands in the hands of Drew Eubanks who caps off the possession with a ten foot floating jump-shot.
The next offensive possession contains of the same ripple effect concept, a high-ball screen from Drew Eubanks once again draws a switch-to-blitz from Paolo Banchero and Moritz Wagner. Heads up play by Lillard once again to hit Eubanks on a bounce pass who catches Jalen Suggs rotating off his primary defender Jerami Grant for a fly-by contested and one three pointer.
Now you may be asking why I'm unveiling a defensive scheme that clearly has telling signs of being exploited. The overall aspect of in coaching adjustments contain larger dynamics. Jamahl Mosley wants Damian Lillard to assume if he pushes the ball in transition for higher quality looks prior to the defense getting set to switch-and-blitz him it will pick apart Orlando's defense. Low and behold, midway through the second quarter Lillard pushes the tempo and decides to go prior to Eubanks coming to set him a ball-screen. Jalen Suggs is attached at the hip of the intended receiver and an overthrow gets intercepted by Paolo Banchero.
13 seconds later Lillard once again pushes the fast-break in an attempt to generate a quick transition bucket, only to get picked off by Franz Wagner this time. Orlando's strength is quick lateral defenders, which allows them to mirror speedy guards — combined with elite reaction time.
In Jamahl Mosley’s scheme, Orlando plays the role of chaotic defensive presences, roaming the court to wreak havoc all over the floor. Defenders are almost always engaged on and off the ball logging multiple steals throughout the season. This defensive play is run to harmonic precision on all accords. A switch-to-blitz by Franz Wagner and Markelle Fultz traps Damian Lillard near the sideline causing him to throw an over the hook pass outside of the outstretched arms of Fultz. The final result concludes in a back-court violation.
In the closing moments of the game Orlando goes back to the switch-to-blitz method with Markelle Fultz and Moritz Wagner trapping Lillard along a baseline drive toward the rim. Damian attracts a plethora of defenders and a spray-out finds a career average 33.5% three-point shooter from downtown as Lillard watches his teammates open shot barely touch any portion of the rim.
After securing the rebound Damian Lillard gets blocked from downtown to close a possession where he covered nearly the entirety of the court. The technique of switching and blitzing Lillard to limit the effectiveness paying dividends in the final portions of the game.
Magic fans have a ton of history with the roller coaster that was the zone defense this season. Serving as a backbone in games and completely unraveling in others. As the season progressed the zone became extremely effective for a young team that took time to iron out the wrinkles to the alignment and overall structure. The Magic play an interesting zone defense, setting up almost as a 1-1-3 zone before morphing into the more traditional 2-3 zone alignment. Jamahl Mosley's zone is a good change-of-pace with the primary goal being wanting to create hesitation, stagnation and taking away the interior. Orlando ran its zone defense in both matchups against the Houston Rockets this past season but the difference between the two games was night and day.
G1 vs Houston: Rockets scored 9 points in 4 possessions when the Magic went to zone G2 at Houston: Rockets scored 20 points in 29 zone possessions (0.69 PPP)
In the third quarter, the Magic decided to use a zone defense and like previous times before the Rockets and Stephen Silas had no counter once again being stifled by it. Due to the length of the Magic frontline and the speed that is their back court, the Rockets sputtered out of control. Orlando's zone involved two players across the top of the zone near each high post; (Markelle Fultz and Franz Wagner) two players a step outside of each block; (Moritz Wagner and Paolo Banchero), and Bol Bol in the middle of the key. Rockets are in a 4 out one in offensive personell with little to no dribble penetration and zero off ball movement by any player. Orlando takes advantage by rotating effectively and disrupting a late shot clock shot resulting in an air-ball.
Orlando’s move to a zone bewildered the Rockets as they saw their lead dwindle and eventually evaporate into the abyss. Houston failed to find its way to the rim and was run off the three-point line continuously. The team's offense was stuck in quicksand as each possession ended late in the shot clock. In fact, the Rockets missed their first seven shots after the zone switch. Same alignment below with the 2-3 formation and Markelle Fultz and Franz Wagner's responsibility once again is to cover the high post or the wing on a bump down. In the following scenario the balls near the middle of the floor and the Magic have a player in the slot to clog up the passing lanes by sinking into Green’s field of vision between him, Smith and Porter. Rocket's stagnation offensively causing yet another turnover resulting in a scoop and score for the sophomore sensation.
Another unique element to Orlando's 2-3 zone is the angles or stances that the wing players employ. Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner are angled with their chest toward the ball or half-court exaggerating their stance.
This is to funnel the ball into the middle of the floor and force the ball-handler into quick decisions. With the Rockets predicating their offense with the extra pass it eliminates a lot of their ball reversals and ball rotations creating that stagnant offense.
Orlando's zone is also effective during side-line out of bounds or end of game scenarios. Generally speaking SLOBS, BLOBS and ATOs are when coaches will scheme a majority of their set plays for the offense. NBA coaches are adapt at drawing up plays on the spot but it creates additional mayhem when your defense can effectively run zones in those situations.
"It was the zone," Green said. "We were trying to get the ball moving and find the holes. Their wingspan is crazy. They play a lot of bigs out there." Jalen Green went scoreless in the final quarter on only one shot-attempt. Stephen Silas’ squad committed 15 turnovers including 12 in the second half in a game where Jamahl Mosley coached circles around the jobless head coach.
The emergence of shots casted from all spots and distances has started to come at an unimaginable volume. Three-pointer’s dominance doesn’t garner the same results when playing a Mosley defense. Orlando constantly contests shooters on the perimeter by utilizing the three major components (switching to blitz, box-and-one and 2-3 zones) Jamahl Mosley's defense finished the season allowing the 5th lowest three point percentage to opponents (35.1%) despite allowing the third most attempts (37.0)
From December 7th till the final buzzer sounded in game 82, the Orlando Magic posted the sixth best defensive rating in the NBA (113.0) in a 57 game sample size. Jamahl Mosley and company will look to cement themselves as they envision disrupting teams past game 82 of next season.
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