NBA AM: Magic Preach Team Basketball

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Many around the NBA questioned the moves the Orlando Magic made over the offseason. From fans to basketball writers to even some players elsewhere, the team’s decision to essentially double-down on defense seemed a bit confusing.

In a time when defense is a necessity in the NBA, the Magic followed that mold by adding a couple of key defensive-minded players over the summer. But it’s the offense that looks to have its fair share of problems and that’s where the concern is.

The team’s roster doesn’t feature a go-to scorer, which seems to be a problem for everyone except those inside the organization. It’s hard to gauge exactly how a team’s season will go based on just three preseason games, but the Magic only have two players averaging double-digits in scoring: Evan Fournier and Jeff Green.

The common thought in the NBA is to have a scorer a team can count on to carry the offensive load night in and night out. No player on the Magic’s roster immediately sticks out as a player who could possibly carry that title, but it appears as though Fournier will be the team’s best offensive option.

Through the team’s first three preseason games, Fournier is averaging 17.3 points on 59 percent shooting from the field, including 62 percent (8-of-13) from three-point range. Preseason results are meaningless, but those games give teams an opportunity to adjust lineups and see which units are the most productive.

While it looks like Fournier could become the team’s go-to player in certain situations, it’s a role that he doesn’t want to fully embrace. With so many new pieces to integrate together, the coaching staff has embraced playing as a team and going with the hot player when it’s needed. That mindset appears to have trickled down to the players.

“I’m not a fan at all of, ‘You’re going to be the guy or you’re going to be the go-to scorer,’” Fournier said. “The game dictates it. If I have the hot hand then so be it. One night it can be [Nikola Vucevic]. That’s what the term ‘team’ means. I’ll never start a game saying, ‘Okay, I got to take my 20 shots tonight.’ Not at all. [I think], ‘Take what the defense gives you and be a good teammate.’”

“When we’re out on the floor, we’re playing team basketball,” Green added. “Our motto is if the shot is there, take it. If it’s not, try to make the next player on your team better. I think we’ve been doing a great job of that and sharing the ball and being aggressive at the same time. … We got guys that can put some numbers on the board so it’s great to have everybody back.”

The main priority for the Magic at this point in the preseason is just getting their whole team on the court together in the first place. Key players like Elfrid Payton (hip), Aaron Gordon (ankle) and Serge Ibaka (knee) missed the team’s first two preseason games before returning to action last night against the San Antonio Spurs.

The results from those three players in the 95-89 loss looked at times to go about as well as expected from guys who haven’t yet played in a game setting. Payton finished with three points (on 1-of-5 shooting), Gordon recorded just six points (on 3-of-10 shooting) and 10 rebounds and Ibaka had seven points and three rebounds.

It’s important not to read too much into the results on the box score. Those three players hadn’t appeared in either of the team’s first two games and have been held out of practice for much of training camp. With so little time spent on the court so far, their slow starts shouldn’t be all that surprising. Naturally, they’ll need time to knock off the rust.

Perhaps the most important thing to accomplish for this group is to get some playing time with the rest of their teammates and get back into game speed. These players will also need to regain their wind as well, as they looked to be a bit gassed at times. Despite the team playing together for the first time, the outing was still seen as a positive by most of the players.

“They have to get the rhythm, but with that being said we still accomplished some things that we set out the last couple of days that we wanted to do in this game,” Green said. “We know their rhythm will come back and we know they will play better next game. This is their first game back and they have to get the rhythm of the game. When you come back from an injury, it’s tough.

“The first two games, it’s just guys going out there and playing. We got our guys back now and going against the Spurs, even though they didn’t have their guys, we showcased some great things. We have to just continue to work [and] continue to get better. We will be better; we will be a great team. It takes some time, but it felt good to get everybody out there on the floor healthy.”

Preseason games usually bring out some overreactions by fans and those watching. Sometimes too much can be read into one player not contributing as much as they should be or another player not playing up to expectations. It’s more about getting guys familiar with each other and on the same page.

For head coach Frank Vogel and the rest of the team, Orlando’s final four preseason games will be critical as they get prepared for the regular season opener against the Miami HEAT on October 26. Players seem confident that once the games start to count, they’ll be ready to go.