Story by: David Tingley
“Our defense is NASTY.”-Corey Allmond-Feb 28, 2020
If you’ve been watching the Magic as closely as I have during their current 7-game win streak, your thoughts on Corey’s postgame comments after a 109-75 drubbing of the KW Titans recently are likely the same as mine……truer words have never been spoken. In the 4 years I’ve been broadcasting in the NBLC and watching ALL the teams so closely, I’ve never seen a more dominant unit. Here are the stats in the last 7:
Points per game allowed: 91
Opponents shooting %: 41
Opponents 3 point %:30
Opponent turnovers per game: 17
That’s stifling. Let’s break down what makes them soooo good on the defensive side of the ball.
1. Welllllll, it starts on the OTHER end: As ugly as the Magic are making things for their opponents offensively, that’s how picturesque things are for them. Here are THEIR numbers over that same stretch:
Points per game: 116
Shooting %: 51
3 Point Shooting: 46%
Turnovers per game: 10
It’s pretty simple arithmetic. If you have the ball more often, share it better AND shoot it better, you’re gonna win. Coming down the floor against a set Magic defense is a daunting task of late, all the more daunting when they’re scoring at such an efficient rate. Every shot comes with two types of pressure. The kind being applied by versatile Magic defenders and the kind that comes a miss could quickly be yet another two at the other end. Is the Magic defense the catalyst for their powerful offense or is it the other way around? It’s a chicken-or-egg situation at the moment and there is no wrong answer.
2. They communicate and stop the ball in transition: Every team in the NBLC scores over a hundred points a game. There is generally a pace of play in this league that necessitates recognizing cross-matches in the middle of live action, quick decision-making in recognizing the biggest threat and the ability to keep anyone in front of you. You’re not seeing many guys going coast-to-coast on this team right now.
3. They fight through screens: Switching every screen is certainly the easier thing to do from an effort standpoint defensively, but it’s not always the wisest course of action. The offense can force mismatches on the post or the perimeter, and lack of communication or even the briefest moments of complacence or laziness can result in layups from slip screens or wide-open threes. The Magic make you work for the catch whether it’s a down-screen, flare screen, or dribble handoff. That being said, the Magic certainly employ that other strategy when it’s called for and when they do….
4. ….they switch effectively and force teams into iso-ball and contested jumpers: when done right, with a high-level of communication, timing, and attention to detail, the switch leaves the offense right back where they started, absent mismatches and with less time on the shot clock. Having a load of switchable, competitive, tough and tenacious individual defenders certainly helps, and when teams unwisely run screen after screen on the perimeter waiting for the Magic to make a mistake, they most often have to resort to a challenged shot against the back end of the clock. Effective switching can turn an offense trying to employ the modern “pace and space” style of making things up-tempo and taking tons of threes into an inefficient jumper-fest…..see above re: the last seven games.
5. Communication Part 2: you can never have enough of this and, in the half-court, the Magic transform into a bunch of quarterbacks barking out plays. During the KW game, when it settled into a 35-40 point lead in the 4th quarter and the fans started sitting on their hands a bit, you could still hear the likes of Jeremiah Mordi talking to his teammates over murmuring of the crowd. When a team this far over .500 with a comfortable lead late is still executing at such a high level, that bodes well.
6. They WRECK pick-and-roll basketball: Go ahead, YOU run one against Wayne McCullough and Denzell Taylor right now…..good luck. Seriously, the way Denzell, Billy White, Wayne, and now Ronald Delph have been able to attack the ball-handler and recover to their own roll-men in the paint has been amazing to watch. They get a TON of help on the roll from wing defenders, but the max effort the big guys are showing off here is impressive.
7. They do NOT get beat cleanly off the dribble: I went back and watched almost all of the last three games prepping for this article and I found a total of 3 “blow-bys”, instances where Magic defenders were beaten easily off the bounce and gave up layups, and that might be a bit harsh. The word “cleanly” is important here, because we aren’t talking about a bunch of machines here, they may give up an advantage to the attacking player, but…
8. Their help defense attacks you before you can attack them: IF you manage to get the ball into the paint off the dribble, the Magic help defenders are doing their best impression of a swarm of locusts, except maybe more annoying. They take more fouls than almost any team in the league because they are constantly digging at the ball, swiping at passes, creating deflections and turnovers. But it’s not at the expense of their other responsibilities. Their timing on help and recovering to their own man is almost always on point. That’s incredibly important. Your help can be perfect time after time, but if you’re not recovering to shooters in today’s game, it’s all for naught. Which is why the next point is such a key.
9. A shot hardly ever goes unchallenged: if you’re finishing in the paint against Moncton right now, you’re doing it through hands and arms and a lot of contact. From the perimeter? It’s likely with a hand…literally…in your face. Again, watching three games, depending on how you quantify this, opponents MAY have had as many as 10 open jumpers. I mean, shooters are practically wearing Magic defenders like uniforms all game. And that comes down to….
10.Effort: Pretty simple right? I’ve had more than one coach tell me in my life that effort is a skill. And they were right. If it came naturally to everyone, these “second efforts” and “extra efforts” you see on Magic possessions wouldn’t be so pleasing to watch. Close-outs, box-outs, keeping your man in front of you. All those things can be drilled and take technique, but they are 80% pure effort. The Magic finish so many possessions with defensive rebounds right now because they’re almost always the harder working team.
11. Trust: Magic defenders know they can sell out and rotate to help on ball penetration or get off their feet to challenge a three-point shooter they’ve rotated to because they know the NEXT guy in line is doing his job as well. You can tell just how much these guys trust their teammates right now.
12. The big names set the proper example: When star players who can rest on their laurels instead go into the lab in practice and the offseason and get BETTER….young guys notice. Corey Allmond has gotten HOT recently and his shooting numbers are back up to where they usually are for a full season, but back when he was scuffling a little, he was still extremely valuable. Why? His playmaking for one. He’s never averaged more than 1.5 assists a season because he’s never been asked to fill that role. He’s a shooter. Well this year, he’s been a secondary ball-handler and a really good one. He averages 3.3 assists per game while posting a 2.8/1 assist to turnover ratio, good for 6th in the league. But more to our point, he’s gone from maybe a little below average as a defender to a damn solid one. As always, he’s in ridiculous shape, he seems more confident using his physicality to keep players in front of him, and he’s been a terrific team defender. And how about Billy White? He’s always been a good defender, but this year, he’s one of 5 guys in the league averaging over a steal and a block a game, at 1.1 and 1.2 respectively. He’s never averaged a steal before and his previous best for blocks was .6/game. And beyond the numbers, he’s simply one of those long-armed, athletic guys rotating into help and terrorizing ball-handlers.
13. Coaching: None of what I’ve outlined here is possible without Coaches Salerno, Mims, McKillop, Robertson and Rowley creating a system and a set of expectations for guys to follow. The Magic are better organized defensively than anyone in the league right now. But more than that, they simply play harder more consistently. That’s professional basketball players taking pride in their work, but it also speaks to the expectations the organization creates. It’s a remarkable defensive run the Magic are on right now and the Island Storm have a tall task ahead of them tonight.