Stats That Matter: Previewing Magic-Bucks Playoff Series

by Josh Cohen

Aaron Gordon has done a very good job on Giannis Antetokounmpo

Gordon has been the closest defender to 49 of Antetokounmpo’s shots in the Greek Freak’s career, per Second Spectrum tracking data. Only 22 of those attempts were made baskets, meaning the reigning league MVP and favorite to capture the award again this season has made just 44.9 percent of his attempts when Orlando’s versatile forward was the closest defender. That’s nearly nine percent lower than Antetokounmpo’s career shooting percentage and over 11 percent lower than his shooting clip in 2019-20. Taking it a step further, 44 of those shot attempts were contested by Gordon, with Antetokounmpo making just 19 of them (43 percent).

Only nine players since 2014 have a better defensive field goal percentage against Milwaukee’s perennial All-Star with at least 40 shot attempts. Among them, LeBron James and LaMarcus Aldridge are the only two who have held Antetokounmpo below 40 percent when they have been the closest defender.

The Magic will need Antetokounmpo to have a bad 3-point shooting series

Everyone knows that Antetokounmpo’s only major weakness is his outside shooting, although he has made some strides in that department this season. In wins in 2019-20, the 25-year-old shot 34.1 percent from downtown. In losses, he shot just 16.4 percent. A big key is to force him to take most of his threes from the wings rather than the top of the arc or in the corners, although he’s rarely stationed in the corners anyway. From the 3-point left wing this season, Antetokounmpo shot 19.7 percent on 71 attempts, per Second Spectrum. From the 3-point right wing, he shot 23.3 percent on 30 attempts. Meanwhile, from straight-away, he made 35.2 percent of his 179 tries and from both corners combined he knocked down 45.5 percent of his 11 attempts.

The Magic did something special on defense for a second straight season

Milwaukee was the NBA’s best defensive team in the regular season. However, it was Orlando that actually accomplished something that Bucks and every other team failed to do in 2019-20. The Magic ranked in the top 10 in all four of the NBA’s defensive miscellaneous categories. They ranked No. 1 in opponent second chance points, No. 2 in opponent points off turnovers, No. 4 in opponent fast break points and No. 9 in opponent points in the paint. Orlando and Milwaukee were the only two teams to achieve this last season. (Note: There are a few more regular season games Friday, but it’s unlikely this season’s rankings will change)

To play at a faster pace or not?

The Bucks played at the quickest pace in the league this season. They averaged a 2019-20-high 105.5 possessions per 48 minutes. Last year, they averaged 103.5, so this is one area they clearly made an effort to improve in. The dilemma is that the Magic were at their best this season when they themselves played more up-tempo. In wins, Orlando averaged 100.1 possessions per 48 minutes and in losses that average was 98.1. The key is to limit turnovers. In Milwaukee’s wins this season, opponents averaged 14.4 turnovers against them. In losses, opponents averaged 13.1. The Magic finished tied with the Blazers for third in fewest turnovers per game.

The Magic’s ball movement is going to have to be extremely good against Bucks

When they share the rock and everyone gets involved in the flow of the offense, the Magic are tough to beat. In Orlando’s 33 wins this season, the Magic’s assist to pass percentage was 9.7, tied with the Suns for the highest mark in the league in team victories. In its losses, that average dropped to 8.1. On a more basic level, the Magic’s assists average in wins this season was 26.3, while in losses it was 22.0.

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