SportVU for you: Spurs vs. Magic

We are unveiling a new pregame series at Project Spurs, where Quixem Ramirez dives into the San Antonio Spurs' opposing team's SportVU data, mostly because he has no life. SportVU, powered by camera technology in all 29 NBA arenas, tracks miles per hour, distance traveled, touches, where they touched the ball, how long they touch the ball, and lots of other basketball minutia.
 
Today's team: the Orlando Magic. DISCLAIMER: If you do not like numbers, do not read ahead.
 
Orlando is throwing Victor Oladipo into the fire.
 
Orlando is 18th in the league in points per possession, an improvement of almost two points per 100 possessions from last year, yet their overall efficiency still doesn't belie their shooting, which has been encouraging.
 
The Magic are ninth in 2-point field goal percentage and 11th in 3-point field goal percentage, respectively.
 
They just turn the ball over a bunch — 17.4 times per game, representing 16 percent of their offensive possessions. This problem is intrinsic, of course, with heaping a massive amount of responsibility onto rookie Victor Oladipo.
 
Oladipo is soaking up 26.1 percent of their possessions, the highest usage rate on the team, and his play has been typical of a NBA rookie: uneven, with some positives and several negatives.
 
Positives: Oladipo is getting by the first line of defense, and creating free throws. He's averaging 4.7 free throws per game and making them at a respectable efficiency. 
 
Orlando is testing Oladipo, a 2-guard in college, and pushing him to his limits: He's driving to the hoop 6.2 times per game according to SportVU, and he's made 48 percent of these shots. He's scoring 0.75 points per drive, a remarkable efficiency considering he still has a very rudimentary arsenal of go-to moves — namely, a spin move away from the defender and a reverse layup he can utilize on both sides of the rim.
 
Negatives: Oladipo dribbles himself into trouble often, and he can't prod NBA defenses consistently without turning the ball over. He's turning the ball over on 24.4 percent of his possessions, the fourth-highest figure among players with at least 250 minutes according to Basketball Reference. He'll often continue a fruitless dribble drive, even though there is plenty of time on the shot clock, and hoist a contested floater type shot over his defender. His floater is A) very inconsistent and B) there are almost always better options on any given possession. He doesn't quite know how to change speeds — barreling to the rim is his preferred choice — and he misses opportunities to facilitate secondary play action.
 
Orlando is scoring 6.2 points per 100 possessions more with Oladipo on the bench, though their defense takes a steep dive without Oladipo's pesky perimeter It is a work and progress. Oladipo does some things right. He's a handful in most one-on-one scenarios. The turnovers just happen to be an inevitable byproduct of Oladipo vetting himself into the NBA.
 
Arron Afflalo is a legitimate shooting guard.
 
With Kobe Bryant rehabbing his torn achilles, Manu Ginobili playing scant minutes and Paul Pierce making fewer than 40 percent of his shots, there is not many shooting guards playing better than Afflalo this season.
 
Only two shooting guards, James Harden and Dwyane Wade, have higher Player Efficiency Ratings than Afflalo's 21.1.
 
Afflalo — a bonafide shooter making 50 percent of his 3-pointers (at a high volume, too) with some off-the-dribble creativity  – is an asset that could thrive in any offensive system, especially one relying on Oladipo and Jameer Nelson to handle the ball.
 
More than a third of Afflalo's points are of the catch-and-shoot variety, and his 111 points are seventh in the entire league according to SportVU. He's scoring 1.34 points per catch-and-shoot attempt, and his 66.9 effective field goal percentage (adjusted for the additional value of a 3-pointer) is 12th in the NBA.
 
Orlando can run pick-and-rolls with either Nelson or Oladipo on the right side of the floor, and if Afflalo's defender sinks too deep into the paint on the weakside, both point guards can make the correct pass to Afflalo. Afflalo is deadly from the left corner, mostly because he is entrenched into the left corner on many sets to allow Oladipo to utilize the right side of the floor.
 
Afflalo is not just a shooter. He can knock down shots off the dribble, giving the Magic a nice tertiary shot creator when Oladipo or Nelson take a breather. Afflalo is taking 6.2 pull up shots a game according to SportVU; he's made these higher degree of difficulty shots at a 43 percent clip, despite  defenders often disrupting his shooting pocket. Though he isn't quite Tony Parker (who is scoring a ridiculous 1.34 points per pull up shot), Afflalo is averaging nearly one point per pull up shot, which is still very, very good.
 
Orlando's offense is cramped when Afflalo sits, since there is no breathing room for their players to operate. This problem still persists when he's paired with Oladipo; Orlando is scoring 4.5 points per 100 possession more, meanwhile, when he shares the floor with Nelson.
 
Afflalo is playing a ton of minutes, and with very few competent scorers on the roster, he's suddenly a potent weapon rather than the meek one-dimensional shooter he was projected to be.
 
Nikola Vucevic is a good big man, in case you didn't know.
 
The third-big year big man just needed more minutes. In 33.7 minutes per game, he's averaging 15.2 points and 11.3 rebounds this season, both slight improvements from his resurgent sophomore year. 
 
Vucevic is touching the ball 69 times per game according to SportVU, with eight of his touches occurring close to the basket and at the elbows. Vucevic is not a reliable post option, and many of his post-ups follow the same pattern: a couple dribbles with his back to the basket and his head down, concluding with a semi-reliable hook shot.
 
Instead, he scores many of his points on tip-ins, cuts and mid-range shots. He runs the floor well, and he is adept at finding space near the rim to corral his teammates' misses. Vucevic has made 80 percent of his shots within 12 feet according to SportVU and a healthy 43.3 percent of his long 2-pointers, too. Vucevic is scoring 0.43 points per half court touch this season, the 20th best mark in the league.
 
Vucevic really cuts his teeth is rebounding, where he's fifth in rebounds per game. Orlando doesn't force many turnovers nor do they foul a ton, meaning there is plenty of rebounding chances for a really tall player playing 30+ minutes a night;Vucevic has converted almost two-thirds of his 260 rebounding chances according to SportVU. Even though Vucevic subsists on nearly eight uncontested rebounds per game, he often puts him in the optimal place to secure a rebound. That's a skill.
 
Vucevic doesn't do anything particularly remarkable so it's easy to overlook him. But there aren't many big men that can approximate Vucevic's two-way success.
 
They should play Andrew Nicholson more.
 
Orlando is 18.1 points per 100 possessions better with Nicholson on the floor — essentially, they are a beefed up version of the San Antonio Spurs on offense, and the Chicago Bulls on defense when he plays.
 
It's a dramatic split, subject to some regression, but one thing rings true: Nicholson is way better than Jason Maxiell, who started the first 10 games of the season. Maxiell is an undersized power forward with limited offensive and defensive value, while Nicholson is an elite mid-range shooter in limited time. Maxiell has played just 24 minutes in the previous two games — an encouraging trend that will hopefully continue.
 
Nicholson is making 57.3 percent of his mid-range shots, and he's also extended his range to the 3-point line this season (primarily in the corners). With Nicholson situated in the corner, Orlando can run other options with ample space. Nicholson has also flashed some promising moves on the left block, and a sweet up fake to turn a contested corner 3-pointer into a wide-open mid-range look. 
 
Nicholson isn't a game-change on either end of the floor, but his mid-range utility unlocks the pick-and-pop with Oladipo, and the rookie has been comfortable with turning the corner and delivering to an open Nicholson. 
 
This guy deserves more than 20 minutes per game. 
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