Fans around the NBA may not realize this, but Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy is a really smart coach. Few coaches go into the level of detail that Van Gundy gets into with the Magic — if you ever have the pleasure to see a Stan Van Gundy white board like I have, you appreciate the level of detail Van Gundy can get to.
Typically all the national media focuses on Van Gundy’s grating coaching style and seemingly symplistic offense of surrounding four shooters around Dwight Howard.
After a disappointing first round exit, it would make sense that Van Gundy would re-evaluate his team’s strategy and style of play.
No such luck with the always-contrarian Van Gundy. He tells Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel that the Magic have no intention of changing their style of play entering the next season.
“We think it helps our center and we think it helps our point guard in penetrating if we can spread the floor out,” Van Gundy said last week at his coaching clinic in Orlando. “The numbers think that’s a better shot than the mid-range. And the other reason is, that’s who we have.”
Van Gundy is a known believer in the advanced statistics revolution in the NBA, favoring layups, free throws and 3-pointers over mid-range jumpers. He also said that the NBA is a personnel-driven league and right now the Magic have stuck to their philosophy of surrounding Howard with 3-point shooters. They have done this to a fault as the lack of a penetrating scorer on the perimeter — what Vince Carter was supposed to be — cost them in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals and throughout the 2011 season.
Van Gundy is quick to point out that everyone praises Orlando’s shooting when the 3-pointers fall, but criticize the team roundly when they do not. That is the big criticism of Orlando’s offense is that it is too reliant on 3-point shooting — which Van Gundy responded to by saying earlier this summer the 3-pointer certainly did not hurt the one-star Mavericks in the Finals.
A change in personnel is needed more than a change in play style it would seem.
The Magic 3-pointer issue boils down to a chicken and the egg-type conundrum. Is a coach made by his players or do the players make the coach?
Van Gundy was viewed as brilliant in 2007 when he arrived in Orlando and introduced a renegade style of perimeter-oriented play based largely on Howard, the pick and roll and 3-point shooting. As the Magic won the Southeast Division unexpectedly, Van Gundy was simply shaping his roster to make the most of the talents of Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. They clearly reached their zenith when the Magic made their surprising run to the 2009 Finals.
But the last two years, something has not worked. And Van Gundy’s unwillingness or inability to change has contributed to the team’s failure to maintain its championship caliber. Certainly player personnel moves have played a role as just about every player on the team is expected and encourage to fire away on the court. There are simply just too many of the same type of player on the roster and no perimeter scorer to take the ball when the team desperately needs points. As McCann points out, the Magic simply do not have the drivers to get to the basket at a consistent and efficient rate.
And so, until personnel changes, Van Gundy is going to defend his use of the 3-point line. Likely until he no longer can.