By John Denton Nov. 29, 2017
ORLANDO – Just as it took star forward Paul George time to get used to seeing Frank Vogel coach another team last season, it will take Vogel some additional time adjusting to seeing George in an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform.
From 2011-16, Vogel was George’s head coach and confidant while the two of them were together with the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers chose to not extend Vogel’s contract following the 2015-16 season, allowing him to take over the head coaching duties with the Orlando Magic in May of 2016.
This past summer, George was the one leaving Indiana. After issuing a trade request, he was dealt to the Thunder in exchange for former Magic standout Victor Oladipo and Orlando draft pick Domantas Sabonis. Just like when they were together in Indiana, and George was often a guest at Vogel’s house for cookouts and family time, the two have stayed in close contact.
``When the trade went down, we talked. And just over holidays, we still keep in touch,’’ George said.
Vogel had high praise for George’s ``selfless’’ play while making the transition to playing alongside of Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook. Vogel once again had high praise for the defensive abilities of the 6-foot-9 George, who came into Wednesday leading the NBA in deflections by a wide margin.
``I think he was well-coached as a youngster in this league,’’ Vogel said jokingly of George. ``I’ve always called it Allen Iverson’s instincts in Scottie Pippen’s body (with George) and he’s just got a knack for getting into the passing lanes, whether it’s deflecting the pass or ripping the ball out of guy’s hands or mixing it up inside. He’s always had a knack for it.’’
Both Vogel and George’s teams came into Wednesday night in rough shape. After an 8-4 start to the season, the Magic entered Wednesday in the throes of a nine-game losing streak. Meanwhile, the Thunder – despite the additions of Anthony and George around Westbrook – have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams that season and hit Orlando losers of their last two games.
Just as George is confident that the Thunder will turn it around after ``looking around in the locker room and seeing what we have,’’ he believes that Vogel is the man to help turn the Magic’s run of back luck around. George said Vogel played a major role in helping him become an all-star because of his strong support and his detailed preparation for every game.
``Frank is a positive guy and always has a positive outlook on things. I think it’s great when it comes from the head coach who is trying to keep everyone’s spirits high and keeping a great environment. When players believe and buy into it, it just flows throughout the locker room,’’ said George, who came into Wednesday averaging 20.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists. ``(Vogel) gives you the blueprint and the game plan and it’s pretty simple in terms of you showing up and doing your part. If you can’t do that, he’s willing (to make changes). He’s very strict on his game plan and he just wants you to do your work.’’
ROOKIE REVIEW: While the Magic’s recent struggles align with the timeframe that Jonathan Isaac has been out with a severely sprained right ankle, the Magic know their issues run much deeper than simply being without the talented rookie forward.
Isaac, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, went down on Nov. 11 when he swatted the shot of Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay and landed on the guard’s foot, causing his own ankle to roll over. Isaac originally thought he’d return quickly from the injury, but lingering swelling and pain kept him out a ninth straight game on Wednesday. He went through some non-contact work on Tuesday and might be ready to play by Friday.
Vogel stressed that undoubtedly there is a link between the Magic’s defensive struggles of late and the loss of the 6-foot-10 Isaac, who offers rim protection and switch-ability on pick-and-roll sets. Despite playing just 12 games, Isaac ranks second on the team in blocks (1.25 blocks a game).
``He’s a 20-year-old kid and you hate to say that we’re relying on a rookie, but he changes us,’’ Vogel admitted. ``He’s a dynamic player, especially with what he does on the defensive end. You see what our numbers look like over the last nine games during this streak – it’s not all because of Jonathan Isaac – but he would help with what those numbers look like and we’re eager to get him back.’’
Over the course of Orlando’s nine-game losing streak, they surrendered 117.4 points and yielded 120-or-more points five times.
NEEDING TO REBOUND: The Magic knew full well going into this season that with 6-foot-9, 220-pounder Aaron Gordon at power forward, their starting five would be undersized most nights and would need a team effort to keep pace on the boards.
Thus far, Vogel said the Magic have failed to do just that. They came into Wednesday ranked 29th in defensive rebound percentage and 26th in offensive rebounding percentage – numbers that show how often teams have been able to keep possessions alive against the Magic.
Center Nikola Vucevic leads the Magic in rebounding at 8.5 boards a game, but that’s his lowest total since an injury-plagued 2015-16 season. Gordon isn’t far behind at 8.0 rebounds a night, but the Magic haven’t gotten enough caroms from Bismack Biyombo (4.5 rpg.), Evan Fournier (3.4 rpg.), Terrence Ross (3.3 rpg.) or Elfrid Payton (3.7 rpg.).
``We have guys who don’t commit to boxing out, quite frankly’’ Vogel said. ``It’s a little frustrating because that’s a controllable element of the game, in my mind. We’re coaching it and preaching it, but it’s not coming fast enough for my taste. Combine that with the fact that we’re small at most positions, even center position, and we’re not going to be a dominant rebounding team, so we’ve got to do it by committee. And we’ve got to be great at hitting people. That’s one of the areas where we’re not physical enough.’’
UP NEXT: Orlando’s challenge only gets tougher on Friday as the reigning champion Golden State Warriors come to the Amway Center.
The Warriors beat the Magic 110-100 on Nov. 13 to extend their winning streak over Orlando to nine games. In that game 2 ½ weeks ago, Orlando had it tied at 56 at the half, but it got hammered 32-19 in the third quarter. The Warriors, the NBA’s best third-quarter team all season, made 13 of 23 shots just after halftime even though Stephen Curry (thigh bruise) didn’t play that night.
Curry averaged 26 points a game against the Magic in two games last season, including 27 points at the Amway Center.
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