Magic Continue to Play With the Pass

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO – As they continue trying to improve on the defensive end of the floor – and the expected return of rookie Jonathan Isaac on Friday will almost certainly help with that – the Orlando Magic should take satisfaction in what they’ve been accomplishing on the offensive side.

Something that has really resonated with the players throughout this season has been their willingness to play with the pass. Magic head coach Frank Vogel emphasizes this message at every practice and often during timeouts to make sure they don’t forget this very fundamental, yet essential, principle.

Since Jan. 6, the Magic are tied for seventh in the NBA in assists (24.7 per game). In all but one of the 22 games during this period, the Magic have dished out at least 20 dimes.

“We’re having some really brilliant stretches of what I want my team to play like,” Vogel said. “Extra pass basketball, selfless basketball, running the floor, being in attack mode, just being aggressive and it’s looked really good at times since the All-Star break and prior to that. We just have to sustain that.”

The Magic have made major progress as it pertains to their offensive execution and precision. Last year, Orlando ranked 29th in offensive efficiency and 25th in 3-pointers made while this season it is currently 19th and 14th in those respective categories.

The players trust each other, and that’s a big reason why the Magic have been getting off to tremendous starts in recent games and keeping pace with some of the elite teams throughout the league.

“Just trying to play together, trying to build a winning culture, a selfless culture,” said D.J. Augustin, who posted 11 points, six assists and four rebounds on Wednesday against the Raptors and has a pair of nine-assist performances since jumping back into the starting lineup in early February after the Elfrid Payton trade. “I’m still learning guys because we had a lot of guys come back after the break, so we are all still trying to jell together.”

The feeling is that Isaac, with his incredible length, athleticism and versatility, will help make the Magic a more menacing defensive team. Chosen sixth overall in last June’s draft, Isaac joined the Lakeland Magic late last week for a G League assignment. He showed flashes in his short stint in Polk County, playing a total of 31 minutes in the two games combined.

It remains to be seen how much playing time he will get now that he’s back with the Magic and healthy. Isaac initially sprained his right ankle during a game in Denver on Nov. 11. He returned in late December and played in three games before re-aggravating the ankle.

“It’s going to be good to have him back,” Augustin said. “He’s long on defense. He can do a lot of things offensively and defensively. So, it will be good for both sides (of the floor).”