Some statistics can be twisted.
The Orlando Magic ranked 25th in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season, allowing opponents to score 106.7 points per 100 possessions. Those numbers — perhaps more than any others — explain why the Magic finished with the league's worst record.
Improving the defense was the team's top priority during its first practices this week, players said.
"The focal point has been defense and getting stops and technique and learning positions and where to be," forward Tobias Harris said. "I think the offense will play out for itself, but just to get everybody riled up for defense and getting stops is the key for us. So that's what we're trying to do in training camp."
There's so much that needs improvement that it's almost difficult to figure out where the Magic should begin.
"It starts with being able to keep the ball in front of you," coach Jacque Vaughn said. "At the end of the day, that's where problems occur. Every team wants to create an advantage, whether that advantage is setting screens or in the pick-and-roll. So, our ability to keep the ball in front of us allows us to protect the rim, allows us to have better pick-and-roll coverage. So, that's the start of every defense, including ours."
According to big man Kyle O'Quinn, "trust and communication" need to improve, especially from the team's legion of youngsters.
Those youngsters often looked lost last season, especially when opposing offenses ran pick-and-rolls.
"If you look at the great teams that play good 'D,' they're just talking the whole time," O'Quinn said. "They're active, and they're just yelling, and it kind of rattles the offense. The offense wants to get into a rhythm, and the defense is there to stop it."
Injuries and a midseason trade worsened the problems.
Through the first 25 games, the Magic's defense ranked sixth in the league in defensive efficiency, limiting opponents to 98.8 points per 100 possessions.
Orlando won 12 of those games.
The turning point arrived in the final moments of the 25th game. Power forward Glen Davis, the team's best low-post defender and most physical player, dislocated his left shoulder.
From that point on, the Magic ranked last in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing 110.2 points per 100 possessions.
On Feb. 21, the team traded away J.J. Redick.
At the end of the season, key veterans Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo missed extensive time because of injuries.
Without those veterans, the team's young nucleus received more playing time, and teams exploited their inexperience, especially in pick-and-roll situations.
The addition of rookie Victor Oladipo should help on the perimeter. Scouts and Magic officials think Oladipo can become an elite NBA defender, perhaps even early in his career. But Oladipo almost certainly will begin the season in a backup role.
"I think he's got great feet," Vaughn said. "He's got great strength and athleticism and all that adds [up] to keeping the ball in front of you."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun