Denton: Magic Focused on Sharing the Ball

By John Denton
Feb. 9, 2014

ORLANDO – From the day he was hired, Orlando Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn has said that he’s never drawn up a game plan to get a certain player a definitive amount of shots or points in a game.

Rather, Vaughn would prefer that the defense dictate where the ball should go and the Magic move it to the open man or the open spots on the floor accordingly. That philosophy of sharing the ball is a big reason why the Magic are one of the most balanced teams in the NBA in years. According to Stats Inc., the Magic are bidding to become the first NBA team since 1991 to have six players average at least 12 points a game.

Orlando headed into Sunday’s game against Indiana with Arron Afflalo averaging 19.8 points, Victor Oladipo averaging 13.8 points, Tobias Harris averaging 13.7 points, Jameer Nelson at 13.2 points, Nik Vucevic averaging 13.1 points and Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis at 12.7 points a game.

``Our message hasn’t changed of being able to trust your teammate,’’ Vaughn said. ``You see that progress in the last few games of guards doing their jobs of being double-teamed and causing the defense to react. Or getting off the basketball and letting the big make the decision, Maybe he catches and shoots or swings the ball. Being able to trust whatever decision is made because the intent is there from each teammate.

The Magic have had nine different players lead them in scoring this season. Part of the team balance is Vaughn emphasizing the sharing of the ball, and part of it is the team lacking a superstar scoring and needing to play off one another to score. Another reason is that Orlando has three players who can initiate the pick-and-roll – Nelson, Afflalo and Oladipo – and three big men – Vucevic, Davis and Kyle O’Quinn – who can pass the ball to open cutters from the high post.

``As a coach I love going into a game and being able to depend on in-bounding the ball, side out of bounds, out of bounds underneath or bigs being able to catch the ball,’’ Vaughn said. ``I think all of our bigs are above average in (passing the ball.’’

YOUTHFUL PROGRESS: Lost in the hysteria of Friday’s buzzer-beating dunk by Tobias Harris for the Magic to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder was the fact that Oladipo and Maurice Harkless played the entire fourth quarter and closed out a tense game.

Those two players had a big role in Orlando outscoring Oklahoma City 23-14 in Friday’s fourth quarter. Oladipo had five points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Harkless’ long-armed defense played an undeniable role in superstar Kevin Durant missing six of seven shots in the fourth, including the shot that caromed long, was grabbed by Oladipo and fed to Harris by Harkless for Orlando’s game-winning dunk.

Oladipo has played both shooting guard and point guard this season, but usually his stints at the point have come in the second and third quarters of the game. But Oladipo got Orlando’s vastly improved second unit off to a strong start in Friday’s the fourth quarter and the coach stuck with the rookie at the end of the game. Oladipo rewarded that faith with some strong leadership to go along with his turnover-free play in 12 minutes.

``(Vaughn) told me before I went out in the fourth quarter: Be solid and be sound,’’ Oladipo remembered. ``When I went out there I was just making the right plays and taking what the defense gave me. I wasn’t trying to force anything and, most of all, I was playing my butt off on defense. And when we made mistakes, I was just trying to keep everybody positive and keep their spirits up. Because, as we have seen, anything can happen in the game of basketball.’’

Harkless has played the entire fourth quarter of each of the past two games and he’s become a leader of Orlando’s second squad with his defensive grit and his ability to stuff a stat sheet. Vaughn said that Harkless is on the floor because he’s earned the right with his willingness to do the little things for the team.

``The whole part of this process from A to Z is that the player is not the same,’’ Vaughn said, referring to his second-year small forward. ``We’re somewhere in the middle (with Harkless). I just want growth from A. He’s at a position where he’s garnered some trust from the coaching staff. We’ve put him in a position to find success and he’s leaned on that. He’s gotten better and he’s deserved those minutes in the fourth quarter.’’

BIG TEST FOR NIK: Still getting fully back in shape following a concussion that knocked him out of action for more than three weeks, Magic center Nikola Vucevic is in a stretch of games where he’s facing centers Roy Hibbert (twice), Andre Drummond and Marc Gasol.

Vucevic said he’s fully over the concussion, but his stamina is still coming back to him slowly. He looked as strong as ever earlier in the week when he limited Hibbert and Drummond to non-factors. Vaughn said one of Vucevic’s best characteristics is his ability to be consistent, especially when it comes to rebounding. When he can do the same defensively, he’ll be universally considered to be one of the best two-way centers in the NBA.

Vucevic credits with his improved strength – a point of emphasis for him last summer – for becoming a better defender in the post. He’s able to hold his position better and not let foes back him under the rim.

``Not only against (Hibbert), but all of the players that I play against, I feel like I’m able to match the physicality better than I did last year,’’ Vucevic said. ``I’m better on both ends of the court (because of the added muscle). When I want to post up I can get the ball deeper where last year I was getting pushed out of the lane a lot. And on defense when I get post ups on me, I feel like I’m doing a better job of keeping them out of the paint. So I want to keep getting stronger as I get older and I think it will help my game out.’’