Magic inconsistent facing the pressure defenses

Written by Philip Rossman-Reich on .

Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY

The Magic have had an up-and-down year when it comes to turnovers.

A young team is going to struggle with turnovers and the Magic even have nine games with 12 or fewer turnovers -- including last night's solid 10-turnover performance against the Bobcats. There are still those three 20-turnover nights, one coming in the double overtime loss to Philadelphia.

Victor Oladipo's recent run of games shows just how inconsistent the Magic have been with the ball. Oladipo had four turnovers in each of his last two games, breaking a streak of five games with three turnovers or fewer. Oladipo has had four games with seven or more turnovers and the rest with four or fewer.

Orlando is coming around and growing in many ways. One way teams will continue to try to test the Magic is through pressure defense and forcing them into turnovers. Particularly Oladipo as his experiment playing point guard continues.

The biggest thing with a team is just attack," Jameer Nelson said. "You don't fall into the attack mode they are putting on you. When a team is pressuring you, it is kind of a false thing. They are doing it because they don't want you to get into your offense because they don't want to guard you.You just want to continue to run your offense and execute."

The purpose of pressure defenses, like the one the Heat famously run to much success in the NBA, is to speed up the offense and get them to play panicy and make mistakes.

Vaughn, in those back-to-back games against the Heat in late November, said he used a point guard like Nelson or E'Twaun Moore on the floor at the same time with Oladipo to help try and ease some of that pressure off of his learning young guard. That is generally what has happened too. Oladipo has spent 325 minutes on the floor with E'Twaun Moore, 300 minutes on the floor with Jameer Nelson and 83 minutes with Ronnie Price.

Oladipo has played a total of 682 minutes meaning it is safe to assume that just about every minute Oladipo is on the floor, he is paired with someone else who can handle the ball and play the point guard. Oladipo is rarely, if at all, the only ball handler on the floor for the Magic.

This is one way to relieve pressure, at least, regarding Oladipo and perhaps even other players on the roster. Arron Afflalo is a player how has had to learn how to bring the ball up, but he did it a few years into his carer, Afflalo said, and that helped with the transition.

There are a lot of moving pieces obviously with the Magic and a few players constantly and consistently playing somewhat out of position. The Magic's offense is better than it was last year, but barely -- 99.0 offensive rating this year compared to 98.9 offensive rating last year.

The team's turnover rate, a small sign of how the team has dealt with pressure defenses, has gone from 15.3 percent in 2013 to 16.6 this year. Some uncertainty with the Magic's ball handlers likely has not helped them that much. It is safe to say that the 8.5 percent increase in turnover rate is holding the offense down some.

"Just value the ball," Jameer Nelson said. "When we get shots, we get good shots. We have guys who can score the ball. When they are pressuring us, we just need to slow the ball down and attack. Sometimes we can be too passive and too unselfish out there. The reality is against a team like that you have to take teh first available shot. It's normally a good shot for you."

That is the key for the Magic and really any team attacking the press or pressure defenses. Attack. The press wants players to get hesitant and slow down. At the NBA level it is not so much to trap and force turnovers as it would be at lower levels. Pressure defenses do speed players up and force them either to get into their offense later in the shot clock or rush through sets.

Under these unusual circumstances, execution goes out the window against inexperienced teams. Like the Magic.

It takes a bit of composure to handle this pressure. The Magic are largely still learning how to be featured players in the league and have the defense's attention on them all while also generally trying to improve their games.

Unfortunately, beating pressure defenses and reducing turnovers comes down to execution and making the right read and making the right play. Sometimes that means having to do it quickly before the defense gets set.

"Just making the right play, making the right read," Nikola Vucevic said. "I can't really rush it, not rush the pass or shoot. I just got to take my time and make the right play. Usually when I'm double teamed, I try to get away from it and make a pass from it. [It's about] make the right read, really."

Vucevic has especially struggled some with turnovers as defenses focus more on getting the ball out of his hands. Vucevic has a 15.1 percent turnover rate after posting an 11.5 percent turnover rate last year. Vucevic has the ball in his hands a lot more and is higher up on the scouting report.

Again, these wasted possessions against defenses pressuring the Magic to make plays are the difference between an average offense and an abysmal one, like the Magic have right now -- they scored 100 points just once in the six-game road trip.

The results are mixed as expected. There are growing pains to go through and the Magic are going through them right now. There are also the flashes of what the Magic can do, even against the most difficult of defenses for a young team trying to learn.

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