By John Denton Jan. 3, 2018
ORLANDO – When Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel was remaking his team’s offense to more closely resemble the sweeping trend throughout the NBA to shoot more 3-pointers, one of the teams that he studied the most was the Houston Rockets under coach Mike D’Antoni.
What Vogel noticed most about the way that the Rockets play – besides taking gobs of 3-point shots – was that they don’t attempt many mid-range shots and they would prefer an open 3-pointer over a contested shot right at the rim.
Houston came into Wednesday far and away the NBA’s leader in 3-point attempts (43.3) and makes (15.8) per game. To put that into perspective, Brooklyn is second in attempts (34.1) while Cleveland is second in makes (12.5) per game.
The ``D’Antoni Effect’’ can be seen on the Magic’s style of attack this season in that they are attempting 29.2 3-pointers a game and making 10.4 a game on average. In terms of sheer volume, the Magic have attempted the seventh most threes in the NBA, while they have made the 11th most in the 30-team league. Those are big jumps over last season when the Magic attempted 26.1 threes and made 8.5 a game.
Vogel marveled at what he saw from the Rockets’ shot selection and he’s tried to implement some of their principles on his current Magic team.
``It’s a very simple system, but it’s executed at a very high level,’’ Vogel said of Houston. ``They’ve bought in completely to the analytics game, they don’t take mid-range shots and they don’t force it at the rim. If they don’t like what they have at the rim, they’re one of the teams that’s going to be throwing it out and looking for an open three. The mindset is that the open three is better than a two – that’s something that they live by and they’re having great success with it.’’
D’ANTONI’S REGRET: D’Antoni, the NBA’s Coach of the Year from last season for the job he did in turning the Rockets into a winner, said he never could have imagined that the style he played with in Phoenix more than a decade ago would spread throughout the NBA the way it has now.
He said his only regret from his highly successful days as head coach of the Suns was that he didn’t design the offense and the roster to shoot as many 3-point shots as his Rockets currently do. Last season, his Rockets set NBA records for 3-point attempts (40.3) and makes (14.4) per game – records likely to fall with his current team.
``I’m kind of disappointed in myself because I backed off of it and got scared and I should have been more aggressive in what we were doing,’’ said D’Antoni, whose Suns attempted 24.7 threes in 2004-05, 25.6 in 2005-06 and 24 in 2006-07. ``Steve Nash could have taken more threes and we should have gone after, personnel-wise, more shooters. It was kind of like, `Are we taking too many threes?’ We kept asking that question and we didn’t know. Now, there’s no such thing as too many threes; it’s just the type that you take. You take good threes, you can take as many as you want.’’
GORDON’S GROWTH: Last Saturday, when the Magic lost to the Miami Heat, forward Aaron Gordon experienced something new when head coach Frank Vogel designed a 3-point shot specifically for him in a late-game situation. Gordon, Orlando’s leading scorer this season at 18.9 points per game, has made two game-winning 3-pointers this season, but both shots came after the original play broke down and the ball was swung to him on the perimeter.
On Monday, when the Magic fell once again in Brooklyn, Gordon experienced another first that came as a result of his dramatic growth as a player this season.
When Gordon opened Monday’s game with 10 first-quarter points – a surge that came on the heels of his 39-point, five-3-pointer effort on Saturday – Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson shifted his defense toward the Magic forward in an effort to slow him down. When defenders weren’t fronting Gordon to try and prevent him from catching the ball, they were doubling him to get the ball out of his hands.
That strategy worked to perfection as Gordon made just four of 13 shots and missed all five of his tries from 3-point range over the final three quarters.
Being the top target on an opponents’ scouting report is an adjustment that he must make quickly, Gordon said.
``They gave me a lot less space to work with and pretty much face-guarded me the whole night,’’ Gordon said of Brooklyn’s defensive strategy. ``That’s OK and I accept that. I take it as a sign of respect and I appreciate that and I’m grateful for that. I’ve got to figure out ways to help my team otherwise.’’
ROAD WARRIORS: In an attempt to keep teams from resting star players in nationally televised games, the NBA re-worked its massive schedule this season to build in more off days and strategic rest. The league has attempted to give teams days off prior to key marquee games to encourage them to make their star players available.
There won’t be much time to rest up for the Rockets and the Golden State Warriors when the two play on Thursday in a nationally televised matchup (TNT) that could very well serve as a Western Conference Finals preview.
Houston played in Orlando on Wednesday night and then was scheduled to fly back to Texas for an early-Thursday morning arrival. Golden State, meanwhile, plays in Dallas on Wednesday. The rest time will be about the same as the Rockets tipped off just after 7 p.m. ET, while the Warriors/Mavericks wasn’t scheduled to tipoff until 90 minutes later (7:30 p.m. CT).
UP NEXT: The NBA schedule will throw the Magic a break as they will have the next two days to practice and prepare for Saturday’s game against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
When last the Magic and Cavs saw one another, Orlando went into Cleveland on Oct. 21 and won 114-93. Not only did Orlando make 17 of 35 3-point shots that night, but ended a 17-game losing streak against Cleveland – a streak that incredibly had dated back to Nov. 23, 2012.
Cleveland got injured point guard Isaiah Thomas back from a hip injury on Tuesday and he scored 17 points in 19 minutes off the bench. Thomas, who wasn’t expected to play on Wednesday, should play on Saturday in limited minutes.
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