Are the Orlando Magic Legit?
Coming into the 2017-18 NBA season, we knew Giannis Antetokounmpo would do freakish things, we knew the Cleveland Cavaliers would need to work out some early-season kinks, and we knew the Golden State Warriors would maintain their prowess as a well-oiled scoring machine.
But let’s say you had to pick which team would own the league’s best record at the start of November. Is there any chance you’d put your money on the Orlando Magic?
Unless you’re from Orlando, the answer to that question is a resounding no. And even if you happen to be a Magic die-hard, you’re likely still not making that bet.
But here we are. The Magic have won six of their first eight games, and their tied with Boston for the best record in basketball.
Here’s a look at some of the magic fueling Orlando’s fast start, some of which is easy to see in the box score, and some of which, maybe not so much.
A hot hand and efficient scoring has never done anything to hurt the chances of winning basketball games, and the Magic have found themselves on the right side of both. Their 115 points per game is second only to the Warriors, as is their nearly 49 percent shooting from the field. And their insanely impressive 44 percent from beyond the arc is tops across the league.
(Early season hype and expected regression aside, just for comparison purposes: the best three-pointing shooting team of all time was the Warriors and their 41 percent from deep during the 2015-16 season. Keep pace for another 75 games or so, Orlando, and we're passing the crown.)
An offense firing on all cylinders like that is also sure to find themselves among the leaders in other gaudy categories like offensive rating (ORtg), true shooting percentage (TS%), and pace.
And just to boot, the Magic are playing a disciplined brand of basketball, ranking third in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.65) and ninth in turnover percentage (14.5).
An effective, yet simple recipe on offense: limit turnovers, shoot well, repeat.
Just as the Magic are able to stretch the floor on offense, they’re embracing a similar style on the opposite end of the floor.
The bulk of what’s propping up Orlando’s sixth-ranked defensive rating (98.2) is their ability to guard the three-point line. Not only are they limiting looks from deep, but they’re also defending the shots that do go up better than any other team in the league, holding their opponents to a measly 28.6 percent from long range.
Moving from the outside in, the Magic also do a good job of holding their opponents to just 44 percent shooting from the field. But as teams get closer to the basket, the Orlando defense tends to weaken. No team is allowing more points in the paint per game than the Magic (52.8), and they give up the fourth-most second chance points of any team in the league.
It may not be a perfect balance, but it’s been effective. And in a league where threes reign supreme, defending the game’s deadliest shot can go a long way.
The truth behind the Magic this season has been a blend of hustle and energy that not only helps to construct Orlando’s impressive stats, but also their current reputation.
“They was playing at a different speed than we were,” Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue said following a 21-point loss on their home floor. “Just way faster at almost every position. Just moving way faster than we did and we couldn’t keep up with them. They got early confidence and it was hard to put them out.”
Yes, @NikolaVucevic is still on 🔥🔥🔥. pic.twitter.com/BOUQzxWpoP
— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) October 22, 2017
It was a game in which Cleveland never led, and at one point, they trailed by as much as 37. The Magic held the Cavs to just 28 percent from three while countering with 17 treys of their own at a 48 percent clip.
And they weren’t done.
A week later the Magic hosted the 4-1 Spurs, only to beat them up with a similar combo of energy, pace, and disruption.
“The Magic played a great game,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after his team’s 27-point blowout loss. “I thought at both ends of the floor they were the aggressive team. Coach Vogel did a good job taking us out of what we wanted to do and they did it for 48 minutes. So, I think they outplayed us in just about every facet of the game.”
Yup, just about. The Magic locked down the straps on a title-contending team yet again, limiting the Spurs to 33 percent shooting, including a dismal 16 percent from three, and finished having forced 17 turnovers, snatching 9 steals, and logging 7 blocks.
Early season or otherwise, these are huge wins for one of the younger squads in the league during a theoretical rebuilding period. Meanwhile, they're developing a reputation even among some of the league’s best teams.
Truth or Illusion?
The discussions regarding regression and this team’s inability to stay this hot will continue, and they’re all fairly warranted. But one aspect of this team’s identity that can withstand a full season schedule is their effort on both ends of the floor and the energy it generates.
There’s no trick behind the Magic and their fast start to the season. It’s a combination of tough basketball and maximizing effort at the things they do best -- and a little bit of scoring fire sprinkled in. They’re a young, lively bunch quick to build on momentum, and there isn’t a team in the league who shouldn’t believe in the Magic.