The Orlando Model

by Jeff Fogle 14. January 2011 01:09

If you spend a lot of time playing around with numbers, things invariably jump out at you. With the Orlando Magic the past few seasons, it's two very obvious things that have jumped out:

*The offense shoots a zillion treys
*The defense is excellent

Nothing earth shattering there. Except, it's a relatively rare combination. Typically:

*Teams who shoot a zillion treys have very bad defenses...with those teams needing to shoot treys to make up for what they're allowing on the othe side. Or, it's just part of a coach's preference to focus on offense rather than defense (variations of what you could call the Phoenix or Golden State model).

*Teams who have excellent defenses tend to focus more on inside the arc basketball, playing what you might call an "old school" game. The "defense and rebounding wins championships" model, with the big guys who defend then being the go-to guys in a halfcourt offense.

Orlando was the first team to break through with this approach to such an extreme degree. You can see when they committed to it:

Made Treys per Game
2005-06: 3.6
2006-07: 4.2
2007-08: 9.8
2008-09: 10.0
2009-10: 10.3
2010-11: 9.2 so far

Others teams are focusing on those two elements in tandem to some degree. Here's a full listing of teams from last season who finished in the top 13 in both made treys per game and defensive efficiency:

Last Season's Final Rankings
Orlando: 1st in treys, 1st on defense
Milwaukee: 5th in treys, 3rd on defense
Cleveland: 8th in treys, 7th on defense
Dallas: 10th in treys, 12th on defense
San Antonio: 10th in treys, 9th on defense (tied with Dallas)
LA Lakers: 13th in treys, 5th in defense

In case last year's playoff seedings aren't on the tip of your tongue, that list of six teams includes the top two seeds in the East (Cleveland with LeBron James and Orlando), the top two seeds in the West (LA Lakers and Dallas), the well-documented "Fear the Deer" rampage of Milwaukee, and the continuing Spurs dynasty.

So, this is a potent combo!

Quick digression...have you heard anyone talking about Milwaukee's loss of trey production this year? They've fallen from 7.9 per game to 5.5 per game. That's obviously a BIG deal in terms of scoreboard success. It's basically the only difference between this year's disappointment and last year's drama.

Milwaukee's Defensive Efficiency:
Last Year: 100.9
This Year: 100.1

Milwaukee's Offensive Efficiency:
Last Year: 102.0
This Year: 97.2

Milwaukee's Raw Scoring:
Last Year: 97.7 points per game
This Year: 91.3 points per game

Six fewer points per game, 2.4 fewer made treys per game. Not a perfect match...but you can see why they've gone from being a winner to a loser. They were +1.1 in efficiency differential last year, -2.9 in efficiency differential this year. I'm not sure how many pundits would answer "Well, they're just not making as many treys this year" if asked to explain what happened to the Bucks.

Anyway, saw that while playing around with the data and wanted to point it out. Trey production and great defense is a potent combo if you can pull it off. But, it's worth noting that the extremes of Orlando haven't lead to a championship. In fact, they led to a bitter disappointment last year once the Magic ran into a smart defense with guys who could defend the arc. Look at how made treys told the story of Orlando's sprint through the first two rounds before their demise vs. Boston.

Made Treys by Game
Orlando 13, Charlotte 3
Orlando 10, Charlotte 6
Orlando 9, Charlote 5
Orlando 13, Charlotte 5

That's a minimum of nine per game for the Magic in the first round. Charlotte was averaging near five per game. How are you going to make up that many points when you have to score inside against ORLANDO'S great defense! That's why this can be such a powerful combination against lesser teams. Few workable options for them.

Orlando 9, Atlanta 2
Orlando 9, Atlanta 6
Orlando 10, Atlanta 4
Orlando 16, Atlanta 3

Again, Orlando made nine or more in every game...and just stomped on a team that had no way to keep up with them. Through the first two rounds, the Magic were 8-0...and had many talking of a potential championship because they were on such a roll.

Then came Boston...

Orlando 5, Boston 6
Orlando 7, Boston 5
Orlando 8, Boston 6
Orlando 10, Boston 5 (a Magic win)
Orlando 13, Boston 7 (a Magic win)
Orlando 6, Boston 10

Orlando stopped hitting nine per night (though they did win the only two games where they crossed the threshold). They were virtually neutralized behind the arc in their losses, and were then defeated inside the arc by the Eastern champs.

So, we have key characteristics of important teams in play here. But, it takes more than just treys and great defense to win a championship. You're likely to run into somebody who can neutralize your treys eventually once the trophy is on the line.

Of last year's six qualifying teams, Orlando, San Antonio, Dallas, and the Lakers are still ranking well in those same categories. Cleveland fell off the map of course after losing LeBron. Milwaukee's long range shooters may have blinded by headlights...

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1/14/2011 2:32:53 PM #


The Mavericks were the first team to make 8+ 3 pointers per game in 1995-6. they had a defensive efficiency ranking of 25th though.

In the 1996-7 season Rudy T. got the Rockets to have both 8+ 3 pointers and a defensive efficiency ranking of 10th so I guess they get the award for being first with the combo to that level.  

The Rockets also almost did it 1994-95 (when they got their second title) but missed by a little on both. The first title winning 1993-94 Rockets were the first to go over 5 3 pointer made and they had the 2nd best defensive efficiency.

The 1995-96 Sonics were the first to have 7 3 pointers per game and a top 10 defensive efficiency ranking, in fact they were 2nd. The 1995-96 Magic were close with 7.6  3 pointers per game and a defensive efficiency ranking of 12th. Cavs were close too.

Sort out "first" as you will. The Houston Rockets- Hakeem, the team they put around him and Rudy T. should get a lot of credit.

Crow United States

1/14/2011 4:19:56 PM #

Jeff Fogle

Great stuff Crow! Fine with me if we come up with a different name than "Orlando model" for this. They're just the most extreme right now...and a leap up to 10 for two years in a row (making a run at three) is fairly dramatic. But, they're definitely following an evolutionary wave that one could argue started in the mid 90's. Any ideas for a more standardized name for the model? Then we could just say Orlando is the most extreme of that evolutionary branch.

Went back and looked at Houston's treys in the playoffs in that 96-97 season you referenced...since 8 seems like kind of a breakthrough number for the time (and is still rare, as you suggest, Houston was the Orlando of that time or vice versa). Similar flow to Orlando's issues last year.

*Houston went 6-1 in their first seven playoff games that year, nailing 11-9-15-15-9-7-14 in that order.

*Houston went 3-6 after that (fading but surviving in the second round vs. Seattle after taking three of the first four--then losing to Utah), with a sequence of 5-6-6-7-5-12-6-7-8 made treys

9 or more in six of the first seven (median 11)
8 or less in eight of the next nine (median 6)

Spent my high school years listening to Rockets radio announcer Gene Peterson yelling "Rudy T......TWO!!!!!!!"

For some reason, "Bubba, BINGO!" sticks in my head for Kevin Kunnert too. Anyone remember Kevin Kunnert? Can't remember where I put my car keys, but I remember that...

Jeff Fogle United States

1/14/2011 11:27:10 PM #


Thanks for the compliment and writing on this topic. I certainly don't object to calling it the Orlando model just trying to add on to what you did. Phoenix was the first to hit 10 made 3 pointers in 2005-6 so they probably should be mentioned too. Orlando along with NY  also had 10 made 3 pointers in 2008-9 and they did it again last season to be the first repeater.

Voluminous 3 point shooting and defense can be made even more powerful with strong offensive rebounding. Make and get back and step up that defense or  miss and hopefully rebound for another shot, perhaps another 3 pointer. It seems like a pretty big core piece of a good design (not the only good one but a good one) if you have or can get the guys to do it well.

Crow United States

1/14/2011 11:39:41 PM #


Dallas and Cleveland have extra "analytic" resources / consutlants. They found this strategy.

Houston either found it in their analytic work or their past or both, though they are struggling with the defense component now.

Boston was 8th on 3 point makes in the 2007-8 title season but sit in 21st place now. The numbers probably should be pace adjusted but this seems like a significant change to me. 19th in 2008-9 and 16th last season.

San Antonio might have / use analytic consultants. Regardless what they have there, they have definitely converted to the "3 point shooting and defense" model over just relying on defense.

Crow United States

1/14/2011 11:45:24 PM #


Orlando adopting "the model" was probably due to Otis Smith and / or Van Gundy, perhaps looking around at some of the other good teams. They have some analytic resources and have added to them but not sure how much this strategy came from them.  

Might be worth looking further at teams who are clearly not following this model in practice and assess their alternate strategies and chances too.

Crow United States

1/14/2011 11:49:59 PM #


The vintage Houston game by game data in that championship season you cited was interesting and suggests that it could be worthwhile to extend that and look more generally at # of 3s made in conference final games and NBA finals for the last few years for all involved teams and see how strongly the correlations are for a certain of 3 point makes and winning or maybe even makes more than opponent. If you were interested...

Crow United States

1/15/2011 1:51:56 AM #

Jeff Fogle

Thanks for adding so much context to the article crow. Will definitely be interesting to monitor developments here and through the playoffs. Hopefully time will permit a look back to prior years at some point. I seem to remember a correlation between Ray Allen's trey success in given games with their scoreboard success the past few seasons. But that may be selective memory. So many ideas, so little time!

Jeff Fogle United States

2/3/2014 1:31:58 AM #


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