Posts Tagged ‘Scott Skiles’

Blogtable: Smartest coaching move of the offseason so far?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Smartest coaching move of offseason? | Your advice for Tim Duncan? |
More pressure on Lakers or Sixers in Draft?


> What has been the smartest coaching move (so far) this offseason?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Orlando hiring Frank Vogel to replace Scott Skiles. Bringing Skiles in always seemed odd, and his decision to walk had the optics of disaster for the Magic’s highest-ups, who pushed for his return. Fortunately, Vogel became available, and he’ll be a much better fit for the team’s young core. Whatever you think of Elfrid Payton, the Magic’s basketball people think a lot of him and want him to succeed, so he should have a coach who believes in him and can get the most out of him. Vogel should be able to do that, as well as find ways to maximize the Magic’s youth and length to raise its defensive profile.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comEach of the interviewees and candidates who turned down the Sacramento job? The hierarchy there, both formal and unofficial, should trouble any solid basketball professional, in my view. But let’s not dwell on the negative. I’ll go with Tom Thibodeau’s hiring in Minnesota. He was the best available candidate landing in the best situation as far as talent base and a willingness to (finally) make significant changes. He has the authority in his dual role to make the necessary changes and he’s already made a few in the front office. The Timberwolves are on their way up and Thibs will end up doing Flip Saunders‘ legacy proud.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThere’s a lot to like. Luke Walton has the smarts, the championship experience as player and coach as well as the Laker bloodlines to make his hiring the right move. Frank Vogel should be the guy who finally gets the Magic shifted out of neutral. But I’m going with Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota as exactly the right prescription to get the young talent of the Timberwolves howling on defense and taking the first steps to become a long-time force in the Western Conference.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Jazz and Quin Snyder doing an extension. I don’t think many others will make the same choice, and there are other good moves to pick, but Snyder-Utah is such a good fit. His background of working with veterans and developing prospects has already come through, and I sure would have liked the Jazz’s chances to be in the playoffs if they were anywhere close to healthy. This is a team obviously heading in a good direction. Snyder is one of the reasons.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Tom Thibodeau took a year off after getting booted from the Chicago Bulls, rather than jump at the first offer. In hindsight, this was the best offseason move. He waited for the best opening this season, and now gets the luxury of coaching a young and intriguing Timberwolves team that’s on the way up and also serving as GM. On paper anyway, it appears to be a solid match, especially if Thibodeau learned from the mistakes he made in Chicago.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThere were also big upgrades in New York and L.A., but it’s hard not to like the addition of Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota the most. The Wolves have a group of young talented players that’s ready to take the next step and can play great defense with the right direction. The offense will come, but if Thibodeau can take them from the bottom five to above average in defensive efficiency, they can be a playoff team next year.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The smartest coaching move, by far, is the Los Angeles Lakers adding Brian Shaw to the staff to assist Luke Walton. No one knows the importance of a top flight assistant head coach like Walton does, having served in that role for reigning NBA Coach of the Year Steve Kerr this season. Shaw would have been a fine coaching candidate himself, but lands in the perfect spot with a franchise he knows inside and out after years of experiences in The Finals as both an ex-Lakers player and assistant coach (under Phil Jackson). For an organization that hasn’t earned praise for much recently, this is one of the better moves they’ve made.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comMany of them — Tom Thibodeau to Minnesota, Scott Brooks to Washington, Frank Vogel to Orlando and Nate McMillan’s elevation with Indiana — make a lot of sense. One that was not so obvious was the contract extension for third-year coach Quin Snyder, which speaks to Utah’s investment in the longterm. The Jazz, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, appreciate the direction of their steadily-improving young team and with Snyder they’re looking to build a program that can last.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The move that keeps coming to mind for me is the Magic grabbing Frank Vogel. They really lucked into him, in a lot of ways, with Scott Skiles surprising everyone by stepping down, and Larry Bird removing Vogel in Indy despite what seemed like Bird not really wanting to part ways. Vogel took a young Pacers team a few years ago and made them a legitimate challenger to the Heat’s Big Three, and came up with a defensive scheme that made Roy Hibbert an All-Star. In many ways, it’s thanks to Vogel that we still talk about “verticality.” Now Vogel has a roster he can shape and mold to play any style he wants.

Report: Magic set to hire Frank Vogel

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — The Orlando Magic have agreed to a deal with Frank Vogel to become the team’s new head coach, according to a report from the Orlando Sentinel.

Vogel replaces Scott Skiles, who resigned unexpectedly a week ago.

Vogel spent the last five-and-a-half seasons as head coach of the Indiana Pacers, compiling a regular season record of compiled a regular season record of 250-181. Vogel led the Pacers to the playoffs in five of those seasons, though they had not advanced out of the first round since 2014.

In one season under Skiles, the Magic went 35-47. They have not been to the playoffs since 2012.

Morning shootaround — May 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant silenced in third quarter | LeBron: ‘I have no idea’ what flagrant foul is on me | Report: Magic confident they can get Vogel | Ginobili to talk with Duncan, Popovich

No. 1: Warriors find way to keep Durant under wraps  In Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant finished with 26 points on 10-for-30 shooting. His shooting woes were more about him just plain missing shots than anything the Golden State Warriors threw at him defensively. In Game 2 of the series last night, Durant got his points (29) and had a solid shooting night in terms of raw numbers (11-for-18), but a third quarter stretch cut off OKC’s hopes of a win. Erik Horne of The Oklahoma has more on Durant’s Game 2:

Coming off a scorching 23-point first half, Kevin Durant hoisted his first shot attempt of the third quarter. The fadeaway jumper fell, a textbook Durant stroke.

It came halfway through the quarter. The Thunder trailed by double digits. It was far too late on a night when the turnover issues of Durant vs. Warriors past came back in full force in Golden State’s 118-91 win.

Still, it was Durant’s only made shot from the field in the third: a pull-up jumper at 6:22 that was sandwiched in between Stephen Curry’spersonal 14-point barrage. Durant had only two shot attempts in the entire third quarter in which the Thunder was outscored 31-19.

Why?

“They were sending three guys and I was trying to make the right pass,” Durant said. “I was turning the ball over, playing in a crowd.”

Durant finished with eight turnovers, upping his season average against the Warriors to 6.4 per game – his most against any opponent.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said it wasn’t anything new. Durant’s seen the double and triple teams the Warriors threw at him. The swarming. The sneak attacks from a help defender as his back is turned.

Donovan wants Durant to be a willing passer, but he also wants better decisions from his star … and those around him. On Durant’s pass attempt to Roberson, Durant held the ball for seconds, probing and waiting for movement before trying to laser a pass between three players.

“… so maybe I’ve just gotta shoot over three people,” Durant said in postgame.

No, but Donovan wants better decisions from not just Durant, but the players around him.

“He’s got to do a better job, and we’ve got to do a better job creating open avenues and gaps for him to either pass it or drive it when teams elect to kind of send somebody at him,” Donovan said. “When he’s up there playmaking and they’re coming at him, obviously you’ve got to make those decisions very quickly.

“So I think Kevin watching the film will have a chance to get better from it.”

Morning shootaround — May 14




NEWS OF THE MORNING
What it takes for Heat | Vogel to Orlando? | Spurs face questions | Mavs eye Howard | Grizzlies talk to Ewing
No. 1: Heat come through when heat was on — Unconventional? Necessary? Desperate? Use your own adjectives. But trailing 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Heat had no more room to back up and, as our own Lang Whitaker points out, they did what they needed to do to survive and force Game 7 on Sunday:

While starting a rookie at center was largely prompted from attrition, it was a couple of veterans who did the heavy lifting for the Heat, helping them even the series with a 103-91 win. When the Heat were looking at a possible end of their season in Game 7 of their first round series against the Charlotte Hornets, Goran Dragic took control, scoring 25 points. Facing elimination again Friday, Dragic shredded Toronto for a career playoff-high 30 points, and chipped in seven rebounds.

“I didn’t want to go home to Europe,” Dragic joked. “I wanted to stay here.”

Dragic got significant help from Dwyane Wade, who finished with 22 points, giving him 110 points in his last four games. While Justise Winslow looked Lilliputian lined up against Toronto center Bismack Biyombo, he finished with 12 points and three rebounds, and more than held his own in the paint.

Miami’s rotation shuffles were mostly due to injuries — Miami center Hassan Whiteside went out during Game 3 with a knee sprain, which made the series “go sideways,” according to Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. But the Heat’s smaller group was also a way to give Toronto a fresh look after five games against the same team.

“It’s just unconventional,” said Wade of the smaller lineup. “And sometimes unconventional works… at this time of the series you need something a little different.”

***

No. 2: Magic talk with Vogel — Suddenly confronted with an unexpected coaching vacancy when Scott Skiles quit after one season, the Magic are planning to reach out to former Pacers boss Frank Vogel about taking over the job. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel caught up to Magic G.M. Rob Hennigan, who might as well have been talking about Vogel when describing the traits he’s seeking in a new coach:

On Thursday and again on Friday, Hennigan said the Magic would seek to hire someone who places a high value on the defensive end of the court.

“Sort of the fulcrum of what we’re looking for,” Hennigan said Friday, “is someone who puts an emphasis on the defensive end of the floor, someone who puts an emphasis on player development and also someone who puts an emphasis on building lasting connections with the players on our roster.”

***

No. 3: Spurs decisions beyond Duncan — The first question to be asked in the seconds after the Spurs were eliminated by the Thunder was whether Tim Duncan had just walked off an NBA court for the final time after a 19-year career. But as Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News points out, the organization that was shockingly upset after a franchise best 67-15 season has plenty of questions that go well beyond their Hall of Fame big man:

Barring trades, the Spurs will bring back at least seven players from a 67-win team: LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, and Kyle Anderson.

Duncan, Manu Ginobili and the 35-year-old David West hold player options that, if exercised, would add their names to the list. Those decisions don’t have to be made until July.

The Spurs own a team option on rookie guard Jonathon Simmons, which they are likely to exercise.

Depending on how those answers shake out, the Spurs could create salary-cap space to pursue another maximum-dollar free agent. They have already been linked to OKC star Kevin Durant and Memphis point guard Mike Conley.

West, who famously gave back $12.6 million in Indiana last summer to accept a veteran minimum deal with the Spurs, says he has no regrets about that decision.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said West, who remained non-committal about his future. “I needed this for where I am in my career and where I am as a person. It kept me sane. It kept me in basketball.”

Once the free-agency horn sounds July 1, Boban Marjanovic will become the most interesting internal decision for the Spurs’ front office.

He is a restricted free agent, meaning the Spurs retain the right to match any offer he receives, and a provision in the collective bargaining agreement limits the amount he can earn next season to $5.6 million.

Competing teams could choose to structure an offer sheet for Marjanovic with a salary spike in the third year. The Spurs would then have to decide whether to swallow that so-called “poison pill” and match.

***

No. 4: Howard could top Mavericks wish list — The Mavericks have not exactly had a great deal of luck in the past landing big name free agents. Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan are just a few names that have slipped away. But now the Mavs might be turning their attention back toward Howard this summer, according to Dwain Price of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

At the top of the Mavericks’ wish list this year is Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, who plans to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent this summer. Howard, it would seem, has absolutely everything the Mavericks need from a center.

Plus, Howard constantly draws a double team, which would allow Dirk Nowitzki to hang out on the perimeter and basically enjoy target practice during the twilight of his career.

Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, Chicago’s Pau Gasol and Atlanta’s Al Horford are the other centers the Mavericks will probably pursue if they can’t land Howard, who is good friends with Mavs forward Chandler Parsons.

The negatives with Howard are many: He wants a long-term contract with an annual salary of around $30 million, he’s a career 56.8 percent shooter from the free-throw line, and, according to his critics, he doesn’t take the game seriously.

***

No. 5: Ewing interviewed by Grizzlies — With general manager Chris Wallace having already been spotted dining out with ex-coach Lionel Hollins, the Grizzlies have also spoken with Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing about their bench opening, says CBS Sports and Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

Ewing, a 53-year-old Hall of Famer, reportedly interviewed for the Memphis job Thursday. He previously talked to the Sacramento Kings about their head coaching job that Dave Joerger filled two days after he was fired by the Grizzlies.

Ewing is a retired player who paid his dues as an assistant yet hasn’t been seriously considered for a head position.

“All I can do is continue to coach, continue to work, be good at my craft, and hopefully, one day, that will help me when and if I get that opportunity,” Ewing once told USA Today after being elevated to associate head coach of the then-Charlotte Bobcats under Steve Clifford.

Ewing started coaching as an assistant for the Washington Wizards in 2002. He spent three years on the Houston Rockets bench. The New York Knicks legend also worked under Stan Van Gundy with the Orlando Magic.

“I know he is an excellent coach, and he has more than paid his dues,” Clifford told USA Today. “If you’re around him every day, you see it. I lean on him for a lot of things, the tough times … He helps me in every imaginable way.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwyane Wade passed Hakeem Olajuwon for 12th spot on playoff scoring list … Hassan Whiteside says he will not play in Game 7 vs. Toronto … Jerry Sloan talks openly about his battle with Parkinson’s Disease … Kevin Durant says beating the Spurs was “not our championship.”… Rockets fans want Kenny Smith as the next coach in Houston … The Spurs will pursue free agent point guard Mike Conley … The Celtics and Danny Ainge ready for this most important draft … LeBron James would have voted for Terry Stotts as Coach of the Year.

Morning shootaround — May 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thunder KO Spurs in Game 6 | Carroll, Deng questionable for Game 6 | Warriors’ Green says ankle improvingWho do Magic turn to next?

No. 1: Thunder become Spurs-like in Game 6 clincher  It may be hard to remember now, but the Oklahoma City Thunder hardly looked like they’d give the San Antonio Spurs a series after Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series. The Spurs won that game by 32 points and looked dominant in every way, shape and form. Yet here we are this morning with the Thunder having ousted the Spurs in Game 6 on Thursday night in a fashion that was more Spurs-like than San Antonio could muster, writes Berry Trammel of The Oklahoman:

The Thunder blasted the Spurs 113-99 Thursday night at Chesapeake Arena to win this Western Conference semifinal series that started with a blowout one way and ended with the same the other way.

And what came in between was even more remarkable. The Thunder became the Spurs. The Spurs became the Thunder.

In winning four of the final five games, OKC went San Antonio-style.

Ferocious defense. Superior passing. Spreading the offensive wealth. Big boosts off the bench.

Those are San Antonio calling cards. But by series’ end, the Spurs were hard-pressed to slow the Thunder, San Antonio’s offense had become isolation-heavy with overreliance on its stars and the bench difference was mighty in OKC’s favor, thanks to the superior play of Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters.

Iso ball? That’s been the knock on the Thunder for years. But after the Game 1 blowout, the Thunder out-assisted the Spurs 92-88, including 12-5 in the first half Thursday.

The Spurs’ best offense was isolation with Kawhi Leonard or LaMarcus Aldridge. They are great players, but not as great one-on-one as Durant or Westbrook. The Spurs’ “beautiful game” of passing went by the wayside.

No Spur other than Leonard, Aldridge or Tim Duncan even scored the first 16 minutes.

Bench? By series’ end, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was trying all kinds of combinations, including 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic, ex-Thunder Kevin Martin and 40-year-old Andre Miller, none of whom had played in the series since mopup duty in the Game 1 blowout.

Meanwhile, Billy Donovan shortened his bench and got the same quality play he’s been getting from Waiters and Kanter.

It all was a stunning turnaround from Game 1, when the Thunder seemed outclassed. By series end, the Spurs seemed old and tired. All they had left was their pride.

Pride they had. The Spurs trailed by 26 points after three quarters but didn’t give up. Even cut the lead to 11 late in the game.

But it wasn’t enough. Victory was secure. The transformation was complete.

Skiles surprises NBA world, abruptly resigns as coach of Magic

Four seasons or so. That was Scott Skiles‘ typical shelf life as an NBA coach, the average length of his stays in Milwaukee (4.4 actually), Chicago (4.3) and Phoenix (about 2.4 spread over three years, after two as a Suns assistant coach).

The length of Skiles’ stints with those teams, as much as the way they played while he was in charge, came to define his coaching style and effectiveness. He was old school, a demanding boss who got rapid improvement and then began to grind, not just on his players and his employers but on himself. Late in his stays in Chicago and Milwaukee, Skiles was the one ready to spit out the bit, just to end the aggravation.

No one had much faith, when the Magic hired Skiles last May as their 12th coach, that Orlando would be any different. Except that it was — Skiles announced his resignation Thursday morning, surprising the NBA at large after just one season.

“After much thought and careful consideration, I and I alone, have come to the conclusion that I am not the right head coach for this team,” said Skiles. “Therefore, effective immediately, I resign my position as head coach of the Orlando Magic. I realize this type of decision can cause much speculation. The reality though is in the first sentence. It is simple and true. Any other rumors are pure conjecture.”

“I sincerely apologize for any unintended consequences that may adversely affect anyone associated with this decision,” Skiles continued. “The Magic are a world-class organization that employs world-class people. I wish them nothing but great success. I will always be thankful, especially to the [owner Rich] DeVos family, for the opportunity.”

As direct as Skiles’ explanation was, it also was accurate: conjecture immediately followed. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel noted that:

The Magic finished Skiles’ lone season as the head coach with a 35-47 record.

But the team started the year 19-13, and Skiles felt the team’s inability to recover during an awful January in which they went 2-12 was indicative of an overall softness within the team and a lack of a professional mindset.

And Robbins’ colleague, Brian Schmitz, hinted at a disconnect between Magic GM Rob Hennigan over personnel and tactics:

Hennigan, who had referred to Skiles as a “tremendous fit” when hiring him less than 12 months ago, was quoted on the Magic’s official statement as well:

“While we understand it was a challenging season, we reluctantly have accepted Scott’s (Skiles) resignation,” said Hennigan. “We appreciate Scott instilling a culture of accountability and certainly wish him and his family well.”

The timeline of Skiles’ lone season as Orlando’s coach — he also played 384 of his 600 games as an NBA point guard for the franchise — seemed typical but accelerated. The Magic improved by 10 games to 35-47 last season and showed progress on both sides of the ball. Their offensive rating improved from 99.6 in 2014-15 to 102.6 this season, while their defensive rating improved from 105.2 to 104.6.

But Skiles’ patience apparently flagged more quickly as well. It wasn’t initially known whether Skiles had negotiated a buyout of the remaining years on his reported four-year contract (or will attempt to do so).
What does seem clear is that, in a profession where no owners or GMs embrace one-year plans – and generally prefer to do the firing — Skiles’ unexpected resignation won’t have him atop any team’s candidate list anytime soon.

In a sea of trade madness, a deal that works for all sides

HANGTIME HEADQUARTERSBrandon Jennings and Scott Skiles reunited?

It seems a bit strange after all of these years and the rumored head-knocking that went on between the younger Jennings when he played under Skiles for the Milwaukee Bucks. But it makes sense now with Jennings coming back from injury in search of a starter’s role and Skiles in need of a steady, veteran hand at point guard as he tries to push the Orlando Magic to the next level.

The Pistons, who are set at point guard with Reggie Jackson, will send Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova to Orlando for Tobias Harris, which was first reported by Michael Scotto of Sheridan Hoops. In a sea of trade madness that always accompanies Thursday’s trade deadline, this is a deal that appears to work for all involved.

In Harris the Pistons get the versatile young big man who can work on both ends. The Magic get a capable role player in Ilyasova and a seasoned floor leader in Jennings, both with experience playing under Skiles from their time in Milwaukee.

Jennings said all of the right things as he returned from missing nearly a year after rupturing his Achilles last January. He’s averaging a career-low 6.8 points in the final season of his current deal in a limited role, one that should expand dramatically in Orlando.

What this means for second-year Magic point guard Elfrid Payton is unclear. He’s had his struggles but is certainly not a lost cause this early in his career. If nothing else, Jennings provides some insurance for the remainder of this season and possibly into the future, depending on how things progress the rest of this season.

With Jackson clearly the future at the position in Detroit, the career reset could be exactly what Jennings needs. The chance to showcase himself in Detroit would have been difficult with limited minutes, while the situation in Orlando is wide open.

Blogtable: Who is the first-quarter Coach of the Year?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Are Cavs a lock in loaded East? | What makes Curry a great shooter? | Quarter-point Coach of the Year?



VIDEOLuke Walton explains early season success of Warriors

> Who’s your early, first-quarter-of-the-season pick for Coach of the Year? Why?

David Aldridge, NBA.com: I love what Scott Skiles has done so far in Orlando with a very young team. They’re not only playing very good defense, they’ve been good on offense. And bringing Victor Oladipo off the bench required expending a lot of capital — but so far, it’s working.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Gotta be Golden State’s Luke Walton. What he’s done is as remarkable as NASCAR’s Kyle Busch flipping the keys of his No. 18 car to a parking valet, only to have the kid veer onto the asphalt of the Talladega Superspeedway and lap the field in the Winn-Dixie 300. Besides, Walton officially has a 0-0 record, which would add a great, bizarre, historical asterisk — if, that is, first-quarter hardware actually existed.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Luke Walton.  I assume you’ve seen the standings.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHow can it not be Luke Walton? I get that he was handed a championship roster with a proven system in place, and that the Warriors have yet to see a tough part of the schedule, but the guy has handled an unusual situation as well as anyone could have expected. He has maneuvered around injuries to Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes, and has faced the pressure of replacing the successful and well-liked Steve Kerr without flinching. Two other names: Steve Clifford and Rick Carlisle. There’s a reason the Hornets and Mavericks, respectively, didn’t fall apart even when their plans did.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIn any year, if your team began the season on a 23-game win streak, then you’d be pretty much a slam dunk to win the award. Therefore, with all due respect to Steve Kerr, shouldn’t this be Luke Walton’s to lose? The only catch is if Kerr’s health improves and he returns to the bench before long. Can we have co-winners of the award, with the two finalists from the same team?

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Coach of the Quarter is certainly Luke Walton. Now, if Steve Kerr returns in January or February and damages Walton’s full-season candidacy, two coaches who have put themselves in good position with what we’ve seen so far are Steve Clifford and Frank Vogel. Expectations for both the Hornets and Pacers were relatively low, and they’re two of just five teams that rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency through Tuesday. Both guys have done a fantastic job of reinventing their team’s offense while staying strong on defense.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Since Luke Walton doesn’t officially own any of these wins the Warriors have piled up, he’ll have to be excused from this competition. There are a host of coaches in the Eastern Conference who have done fine jobs in the early going, but I’m going with Rick Carlisle in Dallas. Once again he’s shown an ability to take whatever group he has and squeeze the best out of them. The Mavericks whiffed on DeAndre Jordan and grabbed Zaza Pachulia as a replacement to hold down the center position and Zaza has been nothing short of fantastic for Carlisle and the Mavericks. Carlisle always seems to find a way. Guiding the the Mavericks into the top four in the Western Conference standings behind the Warriors, Spurs and Thunder at this point in the season is a reflection of the masterful job he’s done.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com How can there be any choice other than Luke Walton? It’s as simple as could be: He could not have done any better.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Come on, Luke Walton! 23-0! To quote a recent birthday boy and former NBA owner (Mr. Shawn Carter to you), What more can I say?

Skiles separates his young guards


VIDEO: Oladipo’s 24 points lead the Magic over the Knicks on Wednesday.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton are 23 and 21 years old, respectively, both taken with top-10 picks in the Draft. They are, seemingly, the Orlando Magic’s backcourt of both the present and the future.

But early in his tenure as Magic coach, Scott Skiles has discovered that he can’t play the two guards together for too long. In Game 15 against the Knicks on Wednesday, Oladipo came off the bench, and the Magic were a better team as a result.

As you’d expect, the Magic rank as one of the league’s most improved defensive teams under Skiles, who has a history of transforming teams in that department. Orlando has allowed 4.7 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season, jumping from 25th to 13th in defensive efficiency.

But Orlando has been bad both offensively and defensively with both Payton and Oladipo on the floor. They’ve been much better on both ends with one or the other on the bench.

20151127_oladipo_payton

Among 165 players who have attempted at least 100 shots this season, Oladipo (40.8 percent) ranks 152nd and Payton (37.5 percent) ranks 160th in effective field goal percentage. Not only are they both poor shooters from the outside, but they’ve been the two worst shooters in the restricted area among players who have taken at least 60 shots there.

Defensively, the Magic have forced a lot of turnovers with Oladipo and Payton on the floor together. But opponents have also shot better and more often from the restricted area.

Skiles made note of the defensive end of the floor when talking about the lineup change on Wednesday.

“It was not an easy decision and in some ways, it’s not even right,” Skiles said. “We’ve been preaching ‘Play better defense’ from the beginning and I’ve commented multiple times that Victor is our best defender, and oh, by the way, you’re out of the lineup. Victor is kind of a victim.”

The other three players on the floor have something to do with the defensive numbers,which could improve over time. But the Magic’s offensive issues with both guards on the floor is no surprise.

Oladipo and Payton actually were actually on the floor together more in Wednesday’s win over the Knicks (14.4 minutes) than they were in Monday’s loss in Cleveland (13.8 minutes). And the Magic scored 37 points in those 14.4 minutes, by far their best offensive output this season with the pair on the floor. Oladipo himself scored a season-high 24 points in his first game off the bench in more than a year. Payton recorded a season-high 11 assists.

If the Magic can sustain their new offensive success, they need to have a good showing on Friday (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV), when they host the worst defensive team in the league. The Milwaukee Bucks rank last in defensive efficiency and has allowed an incredible 119 points per 100 possessions in its last five games. Tougher tests for Orlando will come after that.

One Team, One Stat: Looking for Defense Up Front in Orlando


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Orlando Magic

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Orlando Magic, who are hoping to play some defense under new coach Scott Skiles.

The stat

20151015_orl_2-big_combos

The context

20151015_orl_basicsPower forward Channing Frye was brought to Orlando last season to give the Magic’s offense a lift. He didn’t really do that, and the defense was at its worst with him on the floor.

Center Nikola Vucevic is one of only *two players to average a double-double (in at least 50 games) in each of the last three seasons. But he’s been one of the league’s worst rim protectors over the last couple of years.

*Zach Randolph is the other.

In 2013-14, opponents shot 56.3 percent at the rim when Vucevic was there to defend it, according to SportVU. That mark ranked 60th among 64 players who defended at least five shots at the rim per game in at least 40 games.

Last season, opponents shot 53.7 percent at the rim when Vucevic was there to defend it, a mark that ranked 61st among 72 players who defended at least five shots at the rim per game in at least 40 games.

The Magic ranked 25th in defensive efficiency last season, and weren’t very good on that end of the floor whether they played with two bigs or one. They ranked in the bottom three in field goal percentage defense in the restricted area and at the 3-point line.

So the Magic hired Scott Skiles, who has a history of turning bad defenses into good ones. In seven of the nine seasons in which he has coached at least 60 games, Skiles’ teams have ranked in the top six in defensive efficiency.

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At his last stop, Skiles took a Milwaukee Bucks team that ranked last defensively in the year before he took over (2007-08) to above average in his first season and top-5 in his second.

Along the way, Skiles helped Andrew Bogut turn into one of best defensive anchors and rim protectors in the league. Bogut was about to turn 24 years old when Skiles became his coach.

Skiles’ new project will be Vucevic, who is about to turn 25, with a four-year contract extension kicking in this season. If the Magic are to improve defensively, it has to start up front.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions