The Orlando Magic once again head into the offseason with changes needing to be made. Should that including letting head coach Frank Vogel go?
Back when the Orlando Magic signed current head coach Frank Vogel to a four-year deal in 2016, it was seen by many as the turning point for the franchise. In the midst of what even then looked to be a prolonged rebuild, Vogel was the kind of name that evoked confidence that he could change the team’s fortunes on the court.
He came from the Indiana Pacers with a reputation as being a coach who got the best out of his players defensively. Given that the Magic didn’t know what their young pieces would amount to at that time, it was hoped they would at least play hard defensively on most nights.
The addition of Vogel was a strong one, providing the front office and fans alike with a head coach that inspired confidence. This wasn’t always true when names like Scott Skiles, Jacque Vaughn and James Borrego were in charge.
Nearly two years down this road, however, is it fair to say Vogel hasn’t moved the needle like he was supposed to?
Worse still, if signs of stagnation exist, not to mentioned dreaded regression in certain areas, should his time with the organization come to an end this summer?
There’s a running joke the media likes to use with the England soccer team, that inheriting the head coach’s job for the nation is like drinking from the “poisoned chalice.”
The sentiment is that the kind of success the country and the media expects is unrealistic given the talent at their disposal, especially when compared to other countries in the world.
Vogel isn’t in quite the same situation, but he did come to the Magic at a time when former general manager Rob Hennigan was fumbling his way through each offseason.
Vogel can only work with what he’s been given, so for that reason he deserves a pass in areas such as roster building and the drafting of players who were on the team before he joined.
What Vogel can be held accountable for, however, is the way the team plays, as well as how it stacks up defensively.
The Magic have many deficiencies, but in theory players like Biyombo, Jonathon Simmons and even Isaac have the talents to ensure the team is at least average defensively.
Sadly this has not been the case, with the team currently ranking 23rd in defensive rating this season (108.5).
Worryingly, the team finished 24th in the same category last season (108), despite this being Vogel’s calling card.
You could argue that the team’s defensive woes are magnified because of the time of year that it is. Tanking is the name of the game now and the games they play are ultimately meaningless.
But if we go back to November of this season, the Magic started that month with a win over the Memphis Grizzlies to take them to 6-2. We didn’t know it then, but this would be as good as the season got.
The Magic entered that month with a defensive rating of 100.5, good for 10th in the league. By the end of November, however, the Magic ranked dead last (111.2), as their defensive effort fell off a cliff.
We know then that the team is capable of playing well defensively as a team, and combined with its white-hot start offensively, Orlando was top of the pile there for a minute.
So why did that stop then? It is fair to once more point to injuries, but guys like Biyombo, Simmons and Elfrid Payton were still available to the team on a nightly basis.
In his six seasons with the Indiana Pacers, Vogel’s teams never ranked lower than 12th defensively. Two years running they had the best defense in the league.
Vogel did have players like Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West at his disposal, and when they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals on the two occasions, they were the best defensive outfit in the NBA.
But since he joined the Magic, the team has gone through its worst two-year stretch defensively since their rebuild began.
- 2012-13: 106.7 (25th)
- 2013-14: 104.8 (18th)
- 2014-15: 105.2 (25th)
- 2015-16: 104.6 (17th)
- 2016-17: 108.0 (24th)
- 2017-18: 108.5 (23rd)
Really think about that for a second. Despite some of the below-average players and head coaches this team has had in the past, the Magic allow more points now than during that dark period.
If that is not reason for Vogel to feel the heat, what is? This was the key reason he was brought in, to teach this young team to play well defensively, yet they have regressed in this area.
Unsurprising, the individual numbers for many Magic players are bad as well. Most are posting the worst defensive numbers of their careers when they’re on the court.
The following numbers all represent a career low for each player mentioned. Obviously each has a different degree of defensive ability, but it is absolutely worth noting:
- Bismack Biyombo: 110.1
- Aaron Gordon: 108.8
- Elfrid Payton: 114.1
- Jonathon Simmons: 110.9
- Nikola Vucevic: 108.6
- Evan Fournier: 109.3
This represents six of the team’s top seven guys, and to see them all get worse in this category has to be the fault of Vogel to some extent.
Interestingly, Isaac, who doesn’t qualify for the above list as a rookie, has a rating of 102.5. Had he been more healthy (he’s only played in 25 games) it is likely the team would’ve been better defensively.
But looking at it from another angle, if Isaac were available more often, would his personal numbers have suffered as well while playing in Vogel’s system? Looking at the rest of the roster, it seems likely.
It just can’t be coincidence that players like Simmons, Biyombo and Payton (before leaving) were having the worst seasons of their careers on this end of the floor, all at the same time. The finger is going to be pointed at Frank Vogel for this, and for not improving players on this end like everyone felt was a given when he joined.
Never mind that has has won only 50 games to date and the Magic have been out of playoff contention by Christmas two years running.
The lack of development of the Orlando Magic’s players on the defensive end is the strongest case you can make that the team should start over with a new head coach this summer.