Skiles Making Presence Felt in Orlando
It didn’t take long for new head coach Scott Skiles to make his presence felt around the Orlando Magic organization.
In his first few months with the franchise, he has made some controversial decisions such as moving Victor Oladipo to the second unit, benching Nikola Vucevic at times and calling out players after disappointing games, but there’s no question that his way of doing things has worked thus far.
Last year, the Magic were a 25-win team (third-worst in the Eastern Conference). They ranked 25th in defense (allowing 105.2 points per 100 possessions) and 27th in offense (scoring 99.6 points per 100 possessions). The front office was unhappy with these results and felt the team was underachieving, which is why Jacque Vaughn was relieved of head coaching duties.
The early results this season suggest that was the right move, as the players have bought in to Skiles’ plan and the team is competing at a high level each night.
This year, Orlando is 19-15 (which is just two games out of the second seed in the East). They have made huge strides on both ends of the court. At one point last month, they were ranked fifth in the NBA in defensive efficiency and they are currently 10th (allowing 100.8 points per 100 possessions). On offense, they are ranked 17th in the NBA (scoring 101.8 points per 100 possessions).
Suddenly, Skiles has this promising young group looking like a playoff team after three straight seasons near the top of the lottery.
Skiles’ style of coaching can sometimes rub players the wrong way – particularly when he’s benching them and then calling them out in press conferences – which is why his previous coaching stops all lasted just a handful of years. Prior to joining the Magic, Skiles coached the Phoenix Suns for three seasons, the Chicago Bulls for five seasons and the Milwaukee Bucks for five seasons. It was during these stints that Skiles earned a reputation for being a screamer and someone who never minces words.
However, that may be exactly what this young Magic team needs at the moment. Vaughn, who was quiet and more of a players’ coach, failed to maximize the group’s potential. He also seemingly lost the locker room by the end of his tenure.
Now, Skiles is creating a winning culture, teaching the young players to be professionals and making everyone earn their playing time (which is why even the team’s biggest names – Oladipo and Vucevic – have been benched at times).
Skiles is also skilled when it comes to Xs and Os, which helped him to win over the Magic’s veterans. This was an issue under Vaughn, as some veterans on previous teams felt he was in over his head (but in fairness to Vaughn, being a first-time head coach who’s replacing Stan Van Gundy isn’t easy).
Skiles’ contributions to the Magic didn’t go unnoticed by the league, as it was announced today that he won the NBA’s Coach of the Month award for December. He beat out fellow East nominees Mike Budenholzer, David Blatt, Van Gundy and Dwane Casey for the honor.
In December, the 51-year-old coach led the Magic to the East’s best record at 10-5 (.667). Orlando went 5-3 at home and 5-2 on the road (with wins over the Charlotte Hornets, Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets among others). On the defensive end, the Magic held opponents to 96.6 points in December, the fourth-stingiest mark in the NBA. On the offensive end, Orlando shot 48.1 percent as a team in December, third-best in the league and tops in the Eastern Conference.
This was arguably the team’s best month since Dwight Howard’s exit from Orlando and now the group has some momentum entering 2016. Skiles, who played for the Magic from 1989 to 1994, is no doubt a huge part of their success and a key for the organization moving forward.
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Wall, Durant/Westbrook Named Players of Month
The Washington Wizards’ John Wall and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook today were named the NBA’s Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Month, respectively, for games played in December.
Wall averaged 22.6 points, 11.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals to lead the Wizards to an 8-8 record, despite the absence of several key players to injury. He is the first player to average at least 22 points, 11 assists, four rebounds and two steals in a month since Chris Paul in April 2009. Wall scored 20 or more points 11 times, his career high for a month, and recorded 10 games with at least 20 points and 10 assists (the most in team history for a month). The guard also became the first player to post three straight games with at least 26 points, 12 assists and five rebounds since Dwyane Wade in November 2006. Wall shot 46 percent from the field and 83.6 percent from the free throw line.
Durant (24.9 points per game) and Westbrook (23.8 points per game) were co-winners in the West since they ranked sixth and seventh in the NBA in scoring as the Thunder went 12-3 in December.
Durant added 7.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 50.8 percent from the field. He reached the 20-point mark in all 15 games and shot 87.3 percent from the free throw line.
Westbrook led the league in steals per game (2.73) while also contributing 8.9 assists (fourth in the West) and 5.9 rebounds. He had three 30-point games, handed out at least 10 assists seven times and posted his third triple-double of the season.
Other nominees for Kia NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Month were Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, Detroit’s Reggie Jackson, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, the Los Angeles Clippers’ J.J. Redick, Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic, Portland’s C.J. McCollum and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard.
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