KEEP GOING TO THE RACK
When Scott Skiles accepted the coaching job in Orlando, the former Magic point guard had several goals. Impose discipline: Orlando (14.9 turnovers per game) was among the sloppiest teams in the league last year. Improve on defense: The Magic finished 24th in efficiency. And make the top priority on offense clear: Attack the rim.
Despite their young, athletic lineup, the Magic finished last in the NBA in free throw attempts in 2014--15 (19.1 per game); in fact, their total of 1,565 was the fourth lowest in history for an 82-game season. And it wasn't as if they were loaded with elite jump shooters; no player cracked 40% from three.
Orlando has players who should get to the stripe. Power forward Aaron Gordon and shooting guard Victor Oladipo are dynamic and aggressive. Nikola Vucevic is a bruising center. Point guard Elfrid Payton was effective at getting to the rim as a rookie, but rarely drew contact. Skiles's message to them: Attack. Be active. Don't settle for the jumper. To encourage that mentality, Skiles implemented an up-tempo system in training camp with a greater emphasis on ball movement and penetration.
An asset to that scheme will be 6'8", 218-pound rookie Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick, out of Croatia. His draft stock soared because of his shooting range, but in summer league he showcased a Manu Ginóbili--like flair for finishing at the rim. Hezonja, 20, will have to make significant strides defensively to crack Skiles's rotation. When he does, he will threaten defenses and make the rebuilding Magic a far more dangerous team.
A rival scout sizes up Orlando
The best thing they did this summer was bring in Scott Skiles. They were just running in quicksand. They really underachieved. And with all their athleticism they just played so poorly on defense. Skiles is a defensive coach who will make guys accountable.... I love that they re-signed Tobias Harris, though they probably overpaid a little bit [four years, $64 million]. He fits right in with the larger trend of playing small, spacing the floor. He's a good locker-room guy, and he can make shots. Harris will go back and forth from the three to the four, but I imagine a lot of that depends on how Aaron Gordon comes along. He impressed me in the summer league.... If they start Channing Frye at the four and Nikola Vucevic at center, they'll be weak again defensively. And they're small at the two with [6'4"] Victor Oladipo.... Elfrid Payton is good defensively, and he's a good penetrator. But he makes a lot of mistakes—leaves his feet, makes bad passes. During the summer league you could see that his shooting got a little better, but it's still not good enough. To me, his shot is broken.... They'd be making a huge mistake if they bury Mario Hezonja or don't give him minutes early. He can do one thing better than anybody else they have by far: shoot the three. He doesn't have the quickest feet, but he's got great size at 6'8" and a nice body. He also may be the most athletic guy on this team. Seriously.... C.J. Watson was a real good pickup. There will be times at the end of games when teams are going to go under against Payton on pick-and-rolls, and he'll become a liability. You can't do that with Watson.
COACH SCOTT SKILES
(1st season with Magic)
2014--15 RECORD 25--57
(5th in Southeast)
PG ELFRID PAYTON
8.9 PPG; 6.5 APG; 1.7 SPG; 42.5 FG%
SG VICTOR OLADIPO
17.9 PPG; 4.2 RPG; 43.6 FG%; 33.9 3FG%
SF TOBIAS HARRIS
17.1 PPG; 6.3 RPG; 46.6 FG%; 36.4 3FG%
PF AARON GORDON
5.2 PPG; 3.6 RPG; 0.5 BPG; 44.7 FG%
C NIKOLA VUCEVIC
19.3 PPG; 10.9 RPG; 2.0 APG; 52.4 FG%
SG EVAN FOURNIER
12.0 PPG; 2.6 RPG; 44.0 FG%; 37.8 3FG%
PF CHANNING FRYE
7.3 PPG; 3.9 RPG; 39.2 FG%; 39.3 3FG%
PG C.J. WATSON*
10.0 PPG; 3.6 APG; 43.4 FG%; 40.0 3FG%
Players age 22 and younger who averaged 17 points and six rebounds while shooting 35% from three-point range. Tobias Harris became the most recent, last season.
NOAH GRAHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES