Magic Embracing Small Ball Strategy

By John Denton
Nov. 3, 2015

NEW ORLEANS – Like most of teams around the NBA these days, the Orlando Magic have embraced the modern-day version of small ball and their ``space and pace’’ style of play has led to an increased rate of 3-point shots.

Advanced analytics show that the shots that result in the most points per possession on average are layups, free throws and 3-point shots. New Magic coach Scott Skiles is fully onboard with his team taking as many 3-point shots as opposing defenses dictate, but with one catch.

``I’d like some of them to go in, first off,’’ Skiles cracked, referring to Orlando’s 29.3 percent accuracy from beyond the 3-point line coming into Tuesday’s game in New Orleans.

Orlando came into Tuesday night ranked sixth in the NBA in 3-point shot attempts per game (27.3), but just 16th in makes per game (8.0). The Magic’s accuracy from 3-point range in the first three games ranked just 23rd in the NBA.

Those numbers are up dramatically from last season when Orlando attempted 19.4 3-point shots per game and made just 6.75. However, their 34.7 percent accuracy was respectable – and that’s a number that Skiles would like to see the team get back to over time.

``One of our goals was to take more threes,’’ Skiles said. ``We felt like if the team could shoot a similar percentage that the team shot last year and shoot more (threes) that that would be a good formula for us. So far, we just haven’t been able to make them. I think we will and it would be nice to start doing that. If we shot the same percentage and took a few more a game that would be good for our offense.’’

NO EXTENSION: Evan Fournier’s two closest friends on the Magic – center Nikola Vucevic and forward Tobias Harris – can offer some perspective on the often finicky nature of contract negotiations to the guard.

Fournier, who is in his fourth NBA season, was eligible to sign a contract extension with the Magic as long as it was finalized by Monday’s midnight deadline. No agreement was reached, meaning that the versatile wing player will become a restricted free agent on July 1. Orlando will have the right to match any contract offer that Fournier agrees to if it so chooses.

``The focus is on winning,’’ Fournier said. ``(Not getting the contract extension) is really no difference to me. I’m about playing basketball and winning and not contracts. It’s going to take care of itself this summer.’’

Vucevic came to terms on a four-year contract agreement prior to last season, while Harris failed to reach a deal, played last season without an extension and then signed a four-year deal with Orlando just days into his restricted free agent status. Fournier, who turned 23 years old last Thursday, posted career numbers last season and he’s averaged 14.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists a game thus far.

``Once the season starts, you try not to think about it,’’ Fournier said of his contract status.

HIGH PRAISE FOR SKILES: New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry has seen lots basketball and hundreds of coaches come and go during his 10 years as a NBA head coach and 18 years on NBA benches as an assistant. Gentry, who turns 61 on Thursday, is a highly respected voice in the NBA and he was widely credited for revolutionizing the offense that helped Golden State win its first title last season when he was Steve Kerr’s associate head coach. New Orleans saw that and acted quickly last spring by naming Gentry as its next coach.

So when Gentry throws around praise, it comes from someone with a vast base of experience in the NBA and it’s taken seriously around the league.

When the topic of the Orlando Magic was broached on Tuesday morning, Gentry didn’t hold back on his admiration for the team’s hiring of Skiles in late May. Gentry said he can see signs of the toughness and discipline that Skiles had as a player in the way that his teams perform on a nightly basis.

``To me, they’ve got one of the best coaches that’s ever coached in this league in Skiles,’’ Gentry said candidly. ``The signature for this team is that they play extremely, extremely hard and they play for 48 minutes. It doesn’t matter if they are down 18 – as they were (Sunday night) in Chicago. They’re going to play until the last buzzer goes off and they are going to execute in the half-court offense. That has been the staple from Day 1 since (Skiles) became a coach in this league.’’

TRASH TALK AMONG FRIENDS: Former Magic power forward Ryan Anderson and current Magic power forward Jason Smith are especially close friends from their time spent playing together with the New Orleans Pelicans during the 2012-13 season. They are so close that Smith was at Anderson’s side when his former girlfriend, Gia Allemand, tragically committed suicide in August of 2013. Read more about their friendship here: https://www.nba.com/magic/news/jason-smith-helped-support-friend-ryan-an....

When the Magic and Pelicans played two weeks ago in the preseason in Orlando, Smith and Anderson were matched up on one another in the game. Anderson was asked on Tuesday morning if there was some playful trash talk between the two friends and the Pelicans’ power forward had some good-natured fun with the topic.

``There were a lot of `Yo Mama’ jokes,’’ Anderson said while trying to keep a straight face. ``Remember that Blake Griffin (flagrant foul) thing that he did where he just knocked him out of bounds? New Orleans remembers him knocking (Griffin) into the stands and the crowd went crazy. He got ejected. That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s just a goon, so just a lot of that kind of talk.

And Anderson wasn’t finished with his good-natured ribbing of Smith, adding: ``His mom just makes the worst meals that I’ve ever had. That was the nature of my banter. `Man, yo mama’s cooking (stinks),’ the whole time through the game. He was like, `But, you know, your mom isn’t very good (at cooking) either, Ryan.’ It just went on along the lines of that all night.’’

Anderson then playfully jabbed at center Greg Stiemsma’s roughhousing style of play. When told that Stiemsma was no longer with the Magic after being waived late in training camp, Anderson said, ``Ohhhh nooooo! I’m sorry Greg. Greg’s my buddy and I love Greg. And I love Jason. Jason Smith is a great guy.’’