The Orlando Magic weren’t the defensive juggernaut they hoped to be in the 2016-17 season. The Magic missed their potential with a new coach, mismatched lineups, and a weak bench. But an almost entirely new team and an established system could change that this season. With players looking for a breakout year, a returning coach, and a new roster, the Magic will have a better defense in 2017-18.
Evaluating the Orlando Magic Defense in 2017-18
Frank Vogel will return as head coach this season. It may not seem like much, but this will be important for the Magic. A young team like Orlando needs consistency and stability for its players to develop. This is something the Magic have lacked since the days of Stan Van Gundy. Additionally, Vogel is well known for being an excellent defense-first coach. In Vogel’s six years with the Indiana Pacers, his teams ranked top-10 defensively each season. A familiar system will be vital for the progress of Orlando’s returning players. Defensive-minded players like Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton will need that. However, questions remain about whether or not Vogel’s current team is skilled enough to reach that milestone again, or if his defensive style can work in today’s NBA.
In the modern NBA, scoring from range is as important as ever for guards. The Magic’s defensive scheme will undoubtedly try to prevent teams from scoring beyond the arc. Orlando’s starting point guard, Elfrid Payton, will especially be a key to this. The team’s starting wings, Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross, both play more of an offensive game.
To compensate, Payton needs to have a productive year on the defensive end. However, he has struggled to show the defensive prowess he was expected to have when drafted. The young point guard was beaten easily on screens and in one-on-one situations last season. This shouldn’t be an issue with his length and athleticism. However, this is attributable to yet another year with a new coach and play style. Moreover, Payton still needs to show more effort on defense. Ultimately, Orlando’s backcourt defense will rely heavily on Payton.
The defense in the frontcourt isn’t necessarily about the players available. By and large, the pairing of Orlando’s big men will determine the capability of its defense. After a summer of weight loss, Nikola Vucevic should be more agile, which will help him defend. Regardless, defense-first play just isn’t Vucevic’s style. Orlando’s defense will be at its best with Gordon and Bismack Biyombo. This pairing will be excellent for preventing drives to the rim and sweeping up rebounds. Furthermore, Gordon is versatile enough to effectively defend both types of forwards.
It will be important for Gordon to be quick enough to defend small forwards, as well as strong enough to guard power forwards. He showed the ability to do this last season when he played at the small forward position, which is a good sign.
Unfortunately, lineups with Gordon at the three are limited offensively. Coach Vogel will need to optimize his frontcourt pairings to ensure the best balance of offense and defense.
Predictions for the 2017-18 Season
The 2017-18 season will be important for Orlando’s returning players. It’s an opportunity for the management to assess who the team should retain and who they should let go. With a defensive-minded team, it needs to be every player’s priority to improve. Vogel’s coaching prowess, a budding starting group, and an improved bench will help the Magic’s defense progress. However, there still isn’t enough skill throughout the roster to be a top-10 defense just yet. However, the Magic will easily break back into being a top-20 defensive unit this year. If Payton adjusts to the system, and if Orlando’s wings are more productive, they can even be top-15 or better.
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