Jacque Vaughn Has Many Offensive Options

Victor Oladipo

By John Denton
Dec. 14, 2013

OKLAHOMA CITY – With the Orlando Magic whole for the first time all season, head coach Jacque Vaughn has more weapons at his disposal when it comes to calling plays and diagramming late-game scenarios.

In Nikola Vucevic and Glen Davis, Vaughn can call up sets where the ball is designed to go inside for rugged post-up shots. In Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson, Vaughn has two veteran ball-handlers capable of taking big shots or facilitating them for others.

Or he could turn to the returning Tobias Harris, a proven scorer who twice pumped in 30 points in a game last season. Andrew Nicholson is also an interesting option because he can score from either the block or the 3-point line. And then there’s always the one-on-one brilliance of rookie guard Victor Oladipo, who has shown an ability to get into the lane when he wants and the fearlessness to finish once there.

There are plenty of options, indeed, for Vaughn. All of those became available this week when Harris returned from a high ankle sprain, Vucevic rebounded from a turned ankle and Davis revved into high gear following the two foot surgeries that shelved him for 10 months.

Because Vaughn is suddenly flush with so many options, where he goes with the direction of the offense could change from night to night in the coming weeks for the Magic (7-16), who play in Oklahoma City against the Thunder (18-4) Sunday night at 7 p.m. ET.

``Overall, I’ve always talked about not knowing how many shots a guy will have going into a game,’’ said Vaughn, who prefers that the flow of the game dictate the Magic offense. ``But we have a system in place where we trust the players and we trust their judgment about the shots that they are going to take. I think you grow together by having an approach built around trust.’’

Of course, because the Magic have so many options it will likely mean that some players will not be on the floor at critical times late in game. One such instance came in Friday’s 109-100 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers when Vaughn went with Nicholson at power forward instead of Davis.

And Harris, who hit a 3-pointer with 8 minutes to play to put Orlando up by four points, didn’t play down the stretch because he is still working back into form after missing most of the last eight weeks with the high ankle sprain. He understands that the Magic have more options that slots right now and that players will at times have to make sacrifices for the good of the team.

``I think that’s the way that it has to be,’’ said Harris, who had 10 points and five rebounds in just his second game of the season. ``And as a team we have to buy in. We have to know if a guy is hot, keep giving him the ball. If we want to win games, we have to buy in together and know this is going to take a team effort every night.’’

The rapidly improving Oladipo proved himself to be a talented offensive weapon on Friday night. Mixing his driving abilities with his jump shot, the prized No. 2 pick in last June’s NBA Draft had three layups, got to the free throw line five times (with five makes) and also drilled three 3-pointers.

Oladipo’s 26 points tied his career high set two weeks earlier in a triple-double performance in Philadelphia. And like in that career night in Philly, Oladipo did plenty more stuff on Friday by chipping in five rebounds, four assists, four steals and three blocked shots.

Said Vaughn: ``He’s just getting better by the day. His ability to worry about today’s game only is pretty impressive. To play against a high level backcourt like the Cavs’ backcourt, you’ve got to give Victor a lot of credit.’’

Oladipo said some added work of late with Laron Profit, one of Orlando’s assistant coaches for player development, has helped to build confidence in his jump shot from long-range.

``I credit Laron for (the improvement) and a lot of the coaching staff has me watching film. And there was a little something that I had to do for me to feel better about my shot, and I’ve just got to be consistent with it,’’ Oladipo said. ``From watching the film, I wasn’t jumping the same way when I work on my shot and when I shoot it in the game. So in the past workouts, I’ve put an emphasis on shooting `game’ shots and jumping as high as I do in games. It’s paid off for me in these past couple of games.’’

As for Harris, he played almost 15 minutes on Friday and the Magic were leery of giving him too much too soon. He injured the ligaments that connect to the tibia and fibula just above the ankle two months ago and he proceeded to miss the next five weeks. He returned three weeks ago, but felt more pain in his one game against the Phoenix Suns and needed more time on the sideline.

The Magic are especially eager to get Harris back into the fold because of his ability to put up big numbers from either forward spot. He averaged 17.3 points and 9.5 rebounds last season over the final 27 games, and was hoping to use this season as a breakout year in terms of overall production. Vaughn still thinks that’s possible for the 6-foot-9 forward, but it might come back to him slowly.

``It’s good to see him back out there, that’s the first thing,’’ Vaughn said of Harris, who was used in a reserve role on Friday. ``We got him a few minutes and got him up and down and he said he felt good. He’ll continue to get more comfortable and rhythm-wise he’ll get used to playing with the guys around him. But it was just good having him back out there on the floor.’’

Who Vaughn has out on the floor at the end of games will largely be determined by which players have the hot hands and play the best together. The second-year coach will set a rotation pattern for the early portions of the game, and will rely on his ``feel as a coach’’ to know which options to turn to with games on the line.

And because he suddenly has so many options with all of the Magic’s players healthy for the first time this season, Vaughn said Orlando’s go-to options down the stretch could vary from time to time.

``As everyone gets back into the flow, we’ll have substitution patterns that will be pretty planned out,’’ Vaughn said. ``I don’t think you always go by who is hot that night. Take for example, Arron’s been our most consistent player this year, but there are going to be some nights when he isn’t hot in the fourth quarter and I might still go to him.

``That’s a part of having a feel as a coach,’’ Vaughn continued. ``I’ll play with my instincts and feel as a coach. And a lot of times the players in the game will make the decision for me in terms of how they are playing.’’