Players are not the only NBA professionals expected to make a 'leap' in their careers, so are head coaches. The training wheels are off for JV entering Year 2 of the A.D. (After-Dwight) time frame. There are NINE brand spanking new gentlemen at the helm of an NBA bench this season. That's unprecedented and goes to show a changing of the guard as far as how truly valued age and 'experience' are. Jacque went through the 2012-2013 season about as well as a Magic fan could hope for considering all the injuries that had to be dealt with as well as the perception that winning wasn't (and still isn't just yet) a main focus for this franchise no matter how adamant the front office may be in denouncing that notion. That changes in the summer of 2014.
But until then Jacque has to continue to properly motivate and groom his relatively young roster while simultaneously appeasing the veterans... oh, and throw in some subtle tanking to follow management's plan. So let's take a look at some things I'll be looking for out of Jacque this season as JV strives to improve on his 20-62 debut.
1. Offense Not the Problem
Look, last season Orlando's offense was anemic on numerous occasions last year and ranked 27th in the league. That came about due to those countless games lost to injury and tanking. A larger culprit is item #2 in this piece. When the ball is in motion and the players are cutting and rotating to create space, Orlando can score and it was exhibited in this 2-6 preseason. More shots inside 10 feet or behind the 3-point line and way less in that midrange dead zone. Orlando didn't win a single game last season when they didn't reach 90 points in a contest. Usually even terrible teams can fluke their way to a low scoring victory or two.
That means we point our fingers toward the defense that was top 10 while Glen Davis was healthy during that 12-13 promising start last year, but coughed up the sixth most points by the end of the season. I'll be intrigued to see if Maxiell can provide any type of intimidation playing next to Vucevic. Orlando couldn't stop anyone in crunch time due to blown assignments, bad fouls, and warranted disrespect from refs. E'Twaun and Afflalo were supposed to be perimeter stalwarts yet were two of Orlando's worst defenders last season. Arron has improved in the preseason, but Moore continues to regress on what should be his bread and butter. Add another concern until I'm proven wrong, excessive fouls committed and coughing up a lot of free throws to opponents. Jacque demands defensive improvement (it's why Nicholson got buried on the bench at times last season), so it's up to Vaughn to stand by his guns and reward those who can actually keep a man in front of them.
2. Utilize Your Free Throw Attempt Behemoths
That means getting Oladipo and Tobias constantly attacking the bucket. Thanks to his added bulk, expect Harkless to raise his 1.7 FTA average of his rookie campaign. Maurice averaged about double that in preseason thanks to his constant attacking and impeccable focus at the rim. Remember, Orlando broke an NBA record for fewest team free throw attempts per game in a season. Ever. An embarrassing 16.6 per contest. Based on preseason play, I think the Magic can average around 20 per contest. That'll win you a few extra ball games just in that improvement alone.
3. Don’t Cool Off the Hot Hand
Now if you’re tankin, ignore this. I can't count on two hands the games last season that Orlando would’ve won had Jacque not been hellbent on sticking to a rotation and instead stuck it out with a hot shooting Magic man or two. *Insert Andrew Nicholson here* It's a pill I don't want to have to swallow if Tobias goes berserk on opposition.
4. Pick Your Spots But We Want Some Anger
Yes, that includes if I ask a stupid question. Don't hold back. I'm not saying call out a player or throw anyone under the bus, but perception goes a long way in regards to reality. Again, you don't have to smash clipboards in a Brian Hill manner. We still want that positive attitude Coach Vaughn with that genuine smile, but we don't want it at the point where fans think it's a forced fake kind of deal (which I'm not insinuating, it's what I read on message boards). Don't be afraid to get thrown out by pissing off a ref, plus that adds to the tanking.
We all appreciate what Jameer's done for this franchise, but light into him when he's 'dogging it' on defense. Give Afflalo a stern look when he's hoisting up bad jumpers or committing unnecessary turnovers. Notice I'm picking on veterans who were shielded last season and who may not necessarily be here come the trade deadline. Feel free to unload bench sparkplugs if starters are sleepwalking. Always make sure this team is communicating on that parquet floor. Orlando committed at least one out of bounds entry pass turnover in seven of the eight preseason contests. I can't recall anyone on the Magic bench looking all that furious. I know it doesn't count, but that was an issue all of last season. I'm looking at you, O'Quinn. It's simple stuff like that that accumulates and determines if you win 20 or 30 contests.
5. Don't Outsmart Yourself on Defensive Schemes
Again, this is one of those tanking moral dilemmas. Just because man defense is simple doesn't make it a bad thing. I've seen immense one-on-one defensive progress out of Vucevic and Nicholson during their FIBA tournaments and preseason showings so far. Especially with Nik, we saw the 3rd-year Montenegrin hold his own against guys like Dwight, Dirk, and Marc Gasol.
Last season was tough to deal with every time I saw over and over the repeated switches and unnecessary long rotation help recoveries from all the Magic men. Nicholson, Jameer, Afflalo, even Vucevic and others were not laterally quick enough handle those switches. If your Durants and LeBrons want to go off for 40, 50 points then that's fine because you can still win the game when no one else is in a scoring rhythm. Harkless, Oladipo, Afflalo are grown men, they can find a way to deal with getting torched. It's a more suitable solution than gift wrapping open 3s and uncontested dunks/lay-ups.
The 2nd year of the Jacque Vaughn regime offers a lot of hidden promise, but the players can't be the only ones who show necessary progress. I don't want to see Vaughn handle the brunt of the rebuilding work only to be cast aside when it comes time to legitimately compete. Then you end up on the Matty Guokas side of Orlando history.