Perimeter Defense Major Area of Focus for Magic

By John Denton
Oct. 2, 2017

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – When the Orlando Magic made the change to a smaller, faster offensive attack late last season, head coach Frank Vogel described the move as one designed to ``adapt and modernize our team.’’

Over the summer, the Magic had the same sort of thinking in place when they made moves that should address their defensive deficiencies and make the unit more versatile and tougher to score on.

When the Magic drafted Jonathan Isaac and signed Jonathon Simmons in free agency, they added two long-armed defenders capable of guarding multiple positions. The 6-foot-10, 210-pound Isaac has the length to contest bigger players and the quickness to keep up with wing scorers. Simmons, who left the San Antonio Spurs to sign with the Magic, had the best individual defensive rating in the NBA last season and he could go down as one of the league’s biggest offseason additions.

With virtually every team shifting to more of a space-and-pace style loaded with 3-point shooters and drivers, Vogel knew the Magic needed more defenders capable of guarding on the perimeter. And if those defenders could switch and capably check foes of all sizes – such as with Simmons, Isaac and free-agent signee Arron Afflalo – all the more better.

``A big element of our defense (is switching) and a big area that we need to improve is our defense on the perimeter,’’ Vogel said. ``(Simmons and Isaac) should improve that. Obviously, Jonathan Isaac will be getting his feet wet and probably getting his butt kicked in a few situations as he’s learning the league and learning all of the veterans and the different types of actions that he’s going to endure. But he’s got the tools to put it together and be an effective defender right now.’’

Long a coach who has been seen as something of a defensive guru because his team’s successes on that end of the floor, Vogel admits he’s had to change the way he teaches defense. Now, the strategy is almost an outside-in strategy as opposed to it being the other way around for decades.

``We’ve had to kind of break the mold a little bit in terms of our old-school defensive principles,’’ Vogel admitted. ``But with the sophisticated offenses that we’re seeing in today’s NBA game, the ability to switch defensively is more important than ever.’’

FREE OPEN PRACTICE: In advance of Thursday’s home opener of the preseason against the Dallas Mavericks, the Magic will be giving fans an up-close-and-personal sneak peek at the team on Tuesday night.

The Magic are holding a free open practice for fans on Tuesday at the Amway Center. The practice begins at 6 p.m. and doors to the Amway Center open at 5 p.m. for fans. There is no change for entry, but fans must download the tickets at OrlandoMagic.com/openpractice.

There will be a fan-driven Q-and-A with Magic players at approximately 6:45 p.m. Stuff, the Magic’s mascot, and the Magic Dancers will attend the practice. Levy Restaurants will offer a 50 percent discount on select food and beverages and the Magic Team store will have discounts on purchases for season ticket holders (20 percent off) and fans (10 percent off).

For fans who can’t attend the open practice, the event will be broadcast live on www.facebook.com/orlandomagic.

HIGH PRAISE: While some in Orlando are still getting familiar with the exploits of Simmons – the Magic’s free-agent addition from San Antonio – Memphis coach David Fizdale thinks the Magic made a major score in landing the gritty defensive ace.

Fisdale is quite familiar with Simmons after his Grizzlies faced Simmons and the Spurs 10 times last season – four times in the regular season and over a six-game playoff series that San Antonio won in six after being tied through four games. Simmons, a reserve last season for the Spurs behind superstar Kawhi Leonard, had the best defensive rating in the NBA last season (96.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) for players who appeared in at least 75 games.

Fisdale said Simmons’ toughness and ability to disrupt opposing offenses would make any defense better. That’s good news for an Orlando team that struggled at getting stops most of last season.

``He’s an elite defender, an elite competitor and he’s really developed his game offensively,’’ Fisdale said. ``He’s really found himself offensively. I think he’s a winning piece to any formula.’’

NO LONGER NEW: When he was traded from the Toronto Raptors to Orlando last February, Terrence Ross had to pick up everything in his life and transfer it to Florida – all while still trying to keep his focus on basketball.

Ross had to learn new teammates likes and dislikes, adapt to how a different coaching staff wanted to play and try to fit in with the Magic quickly. He did an admirable job with that, averaging 12.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.42 steals in 24 games with the Magic.

No one is happier to have a training camp in Orlando under his belt more than Ross, who said his comfort level is dramatically different now than it was eight months ago. Ross spent much of his offseason in Orlando, readying himself for the season ahead and he hopes that hard work results in some vastly improved play this season.

``I feel so comfortable and we’re just having fun now because we know each other’s games so well,’’ Ross said. ``We’ve all been having fun and goofing around and that’s just going to help us get that chemistry going. We’re trying to establish a new identity from the one that we had last year. It’s all about togetherness, playing hard, being scrappy and being dogs on the court. We’re really going to show that (in the preseason) and try to set a tone and show what we’re going to head toward.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.