It is a common refrain from me, from Jacque Vaughn and from everyone else. This is a year for young players to grow and learn. This is a year to make mistakes and create habits.
The habit part is probably the most important for this young squad. The one thing the Magic are guarding against in this period of losing is complacency or acceptance of losing. This is perhaps some of the reason why Orlando has kept veterans like Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis and Arron Afflalo around. These three players have kept the Magic hungry throughout the season.
And this young squad has shown that the investment has been worth it. Maybe not in the win column, but in the way the team plays. In just this past week, the Magic have shown an ability to fight and work their way back from impossible deficits. Learning to win is the next part.
Maybe the hardest part of that is winning close games. These are the games where one play unfairly gets pointed out and dissected more than any other. Many coaches, like the players they coach get judged on these plays. Vaughn is learning as much as his young players are for these late-game situations as a coach.
The final play in Friday's loss to the Bulls had a lot of observers somewhat confused. Most of that was the execution of it. The Bulls were focused on stopping Beno Udrih all fourth quarter and they did a good job containing the pick and roll. Udrih drove somewhat wildly into the lane and spun into traffic, tripping over his own feet or someone else's and turning the ball over. It was a tough way to lose a game.
So what can we learn from this play? This do-or-die play on what should have been the final play of the game.
Jacque Vaughn explained after the game that the Bulls denied the first option and the Magic had to rush to get it in to Udrih in a position he could score (the play occurs at 1:45 in the video below).
First, Orlando tried to run a pick and roll with Udrih going to his left. Udrih is a left-handed player and so he is more comfortable moving to his left. He could easily dribble right toward the middle of the court and still have the option to cross over one more time and get to his left.
However, the Bulls already having switched Jimmy Butler onto Udrih blitz the screen. udrih is near the mid court line and so he proceeds cautiously. Nikola Vucevic flips around and set a screen for Udrih going to his right. Orlando's first option is cut off.
So the Magic reset on the right side of the court.
There really is not a lot going on here though. The Magic set up in a very basic pick and roll set. They are just looking to spread the floor and set up a pick and roll. That is a difficult thing to do against a good defensive team like Chicago and that proved to be what happens.
DeQuan Jones is in the near corner, Tobias Harris is on the opposite block and E'Twaun Moore is in the weakside corner. Clearly, these guys are capable shooters, but not shooters that absolutely terrify a defense. The Bulls therefore are going to be pretty aggressive.
You can see already how Jimmy Butler and Nazr Mohammad are set to play the drive. Butler is aggressively playing Udrih's left hand (his strong hand, remember) and he forces Udrih eventually to go away from the screen and dribble to his right.
That is where the trap is waiting.
Mohammad quickly rotates over to cut off Udrih and Radmanovic begins cheating off of DeQuan Jones. Jones is a 26.5 percent from beyond the arc this season. Not an awful idea to help off of him to keep Udrih from getting into the lane.
If you have a better 3-point shooter there, maybe Udrih is able to keep going closer to the basket, giving him more space to whip a pass back to Nikola Vucevic trailing the play (or rolling to the foul line) or maybe he draws the defender off of Tobias Harris freeing him up -- notice E'Twaun Moore is moving up the wing to replace Udrih and play safety on defense.
In any case, the Bulls are closing in quick on Udrih. And he is moving to his weak hand. Udrih gets to the lane and decides to move to his strong hand and performs that spin move. Butler does a good job chasing the play and putting more pressure on Udrih.
It looks like Udrih is trying to pass the ball either to Nikola Vucevic, who is crashing down on the play anticipating a rebound, or is trying to get the ball to Harris who is also heading closer to the lane. Either way, Udrih rushes the play and it is too congested making it easier for the Bulls to defend.
What can we take from this?
First, the Bulls defense is very good and everyone understands their role very well. That is a big key for a good defensive team like Chicago.
Second, you wonder if this was the look or thought Jacque Vaughn was trying to get or if he could not have added more intricacy to the play. Vaughn was limited by personnel. There simply was not a better 3-point shooter to put in that corner and Udrih seemed like the right option to run the pick and roll and create for others. No argument there (perhaps).
Third, close plays like this come down to execution. Orlando let Chicago's defense dictate and put Udrih in a difficult situation. Execution comes with experience. Magic are still learning and gaining this experience.
Now, when can we expect the Magic to show more tangible signs of improvement? That is perhaps the bigger question that merits a separate conversation.