Vaughn Already Planning Strategies for Next Season

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By John Denton
July 9, 2014

ORLANDO -- It’s been nearly three months since the Orlando Magic played a regular-season game, but Jacque Vaughn said he never really stops being a coach even during his summer downtime.

Whether it’s scribbling down ideas culled from other teams in the playoffs, scouting college players or evaluating how potential free-agent signings would fit with the Magic, Vaughn never completely distances himself from the coaching portion of his life.

Accordingly, Vaughn has already given lots of thought as to how he wants his Magic to play next season with their dramatically revamped roster. Even in the middle of the summer, Vaughn is thinking hard about how he wants his youthful and athletic teams to attack other squads.

``I think you will see us having the ability to really fly around the court on both ends,’’ Vaughn said. ``We’re going to be able to be aggressive defensively and create a lot of havoc. And when you have the ability to get stops it allows you to get out and run and not have to play against set defenses. So I’m excited that we’re going to be able to run. Our roster is trending toward us playing faster, really getting up and down and the guys will enjoy that.’’

Vaughn has already started thinking about the future following the off-season acquisitions of rookies Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Roy Marble, veteran guard Willie Green and the sweet-shooting Evan Fournier. And when the NBA’s moratorium on free-agent signings is lifted on Thursday, the Magic could have even more firepower with which Vaughn can start designing sets for next season.

With the release of 10-year veteran Jameer Nelson and the trading of Arron Afflalo to Denver (for Fournier), the Magic figure to be one of the youngest teams in the NBA next season. Green, an 11-year pro, will provide veteran stability in the locker room, but he’ll likely play in a reserve role. Mainstays Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris and Kyle O’Quinn have already talked about evolving into players that the Magic can count on for leadership next season.

``That’s something that I’m going to have to continue to learn how to do and grow at it,’’ Oladipo said of assuming more of a leadership role. ``I have to keep getting better as a player and a leader. I feel as I go, my team goes. That’s probably why we didn’t do too hot (in Wednesday’s Summer League loss). But it’s a learning process for me. In college it felt like everybody was looking up to me and asking questions, so I had to take on that role. Now having to do it at this elite level – the best level of basketball – I am going to have to keep getting better.’’

Vaughn hopes that with the development of players like Nikola Vucevic, Oladipo, Harris, O’Quinn and Harkless and the infusion of young talent that the Magic will be getting better next season. Orlando showed a three-win improvement last season and won seven more games at the Amway Center than the season before.

Vaughn was heavily involved in the Magic’s draft process and he weighted in heavily on the team picking the 6-foot-9 Gordon fourth overall, trading for the 6-foot-4 Payton and snagging the 6-foot-6 Marble in the second round. When he was an assistant coach in San Antonio prior to coming to Orlando, Vaughn was responsible for keeping tabs on the college game and studying available prospects. That history has helped him properly study players available for the draft.

``Once our season is done, my i-Pad is full and I’m catching up on college basketball,’’ Vaughn said. ``I’ve watched quite a bit of Arizona and Louisiana-Lafayette games lately.’’
Gordon was an All-American as a freshman at Arizona, while Payton won the nation’s Defensive Player of the Year award while starring at Louisiana-Lafayette. In those two players, Vaughn saw a couple of superior athletes who can play multiple positions and possess high basketball IQs.

``They do a lot of different things that impact winning throughout the course of a game. Whether it’s a weak-side shot block or a steal, a great pass or a timely shot, when you broke down their films there was a common theme of them making winning plays,’’ Vaughn said. ``Us as an organization we’ve talked about versatility and how important of a role that plays in this game. To have two men who can guard multiple positions that really helps. And offensively, it will give us the chance to really get up and down the floor.’’

Vaughn is excited about having a player like Fournier, who can handle both guard slots, is an adept 3-point shooter and has shown tremendous creativity as a pick-and-roll creator. A second-year pro who was the 20th pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, Fournier averaged 8.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 76 games last season with the Nuggets. Fournier played mostly off the ball last season in Denver, but managed to improve his 3-point shot from 37.6 percent as a rookie to 40.7 percent last season.

``What he does is he gives us another ball handler who can really play pick and roll,’’ Vaughn said. ``You see from his stats that he can shoot the basketball. He’ll create space for us and be a guy who can catch an outlet pass and has a good basketball IQ to make the right decision. He’s really going to add to our group.’’

Shooting figures to be an area of needed growth for both Gordon and Payton, athletic players who became college stars by getting to the basket. Vaughn knows that if Payton is going to play the point and Gordon is going to start his career primarily as a small forward, they must improve their jump shots to keep defenses honest.

Gordon made 35.6 percent from the college 3-point line as a freshman, but he often shied away from the shot, while Payton made just 14 threes as a college junior and shot only 25.9 percent.

``I won’t mention specific names, but in my many stops along the way playing and coaching, there were guys who dramatically improved their shooting. That’s something that can be done with a willingness to work on your game,’’ Vaughn said. ``There’s no doubt to me that these young men will work on their games and we’ll help them with their shooting.’’

The Magic do not employ a ``shooting coach,’’ but instead attacks fundamental flaws as an entire staff. Vaughn pointed to the improvements that Harkless made from his first season to his second season as an example of how the Magic coaching staff can fix a player’s form. Assistant coach Brett Gunning worked primarily with Harkless, getting him to release the ball higher and quicker, and those changes saw him go from a 27.4 percent 3-point shooter in 2012-13 to a 38.3 percent 3-point shooter in 2013-14.

``What we want to do is put those guys in an environment where they will get better. Our (coaches) this past year did an unbelievable job of developing our guys,’’ Vaughn said. ``Take a guy like Maurice and his ability to improve his shooting for us. I feel like (Gordon and Payton) will work on their games and we’ll facilitate whatever it is to help them improve their shooting.’’