Vogel’s Vengeance

On May 12, 2016, the Orlando Magic were thrown for a huge loop: their first year head coach, Scott Skiles, suddenly resigned.  It was especially odd, considering that Skiles had just guided the Magic to a 35-47 record, a 10 win improvement from the previous season.  Now what were the Magic to do?  Luckily for them, the Pacers had decided not to renew longtime coach Frank Vogel’s contract for next season.  And the Magic quickly set their sights on him.

On May 20, 2016, a mere eight days after Scott Skiles stepped down as head coach, the Magic had reeled in Frank Vogel.

It seems like quite a coup for the Magic as Vogel brings instant credibility and a strong winning pedigree to a franchise that has been mired in mediocrity since the days of Dwight Howard. Most importantly, Vogel’s presence will help the Magic forge a strong defensive identity, especially with all of the bigs the Magic now possess.

Vogel also carries his sterling reputation to Orlando, something that should endear him with his players.

The hire does not come without its flaws.  At the forefront is Vogel’s inability to create a dynamic offensive system.  Granted, in Indiana, Vogel had Paul George, and he could call his number to create offense.  But Frank Vogel’s contract wasn’t renewed for a reason.  Pacers president Larry Bird expressed great disappointment in the Pacers lack of offensive production from other players.  Bird’s greatest quibble was with the Pacers absurdly slow pace, which contributed to some offensive bottlenecks.

These problems could rear their head even more so in Orlando because the Magic don’t have a true star, and they have far too many big men who can’t spread the floor.  This could lead to an even more bogged down offense, which will not fly in today’s NBA.

The Magic’s roster, with its too many big men, may present difficulty to Vogel.  Who will he run his offense through? There’s no elite wing in Orlando for him to rely so heavily on.

So will a roster not particularly conducive to today’s NBA drag down all of the positives Vogel brings to the table?

Let’s start with the positives of the Frank Vogel hire.  First and foremost, Vogel brings a winning identity to a franchise that has lacked one the past several seasons.  In his stint with the Pacers, Vogel compiled a record of 250-181, and sported a winning record four out of his five full seasons with the team, including an Eastern Conference high 56 wins in 2013-2014.  The one year he didn’t win was the year Paul George missed nearly the entire season recovering from his severe leg injury.  What’s more, Vogel has experienced tremendous postseason success during his coaching career.

Vogel guided the Pacers to back to back Eastern Conference Finals appearances in 2013 and 2014 before falling to the Miami Heat both times.   Vogel will ingrain this winning culture into his players, and hopefully it will translate into more success for the Magic next year.

Second, Frank Vogel is a brilliant defensive mind, and will help the Magic become a defensive juggernaut, especially with their personnel.  In his time in Indiana, Vogel built a defensive stalwart, with the Pacers finishing in the top three in defensive rating during three out of Vogel’s four full seasons, including number one twice.   Vogel’s defensive strategy centers around playing lock down defense on the perimeter, and funneling everything to the rim.  During the Pacers peak, they had the perfect personnel to run this, with Paul George locking down other wings, and Roy Hibbert and David West providing elite rim protection.  Vogel can replicate this with the Magic’s personnel.  While the Magic don’t have an elite wing like the Pacers had in Paul George, the overall roster might make Vogel’s defense that much stingier.

The Magic have Elfrid Payton and Evan Fournier both of whom can provide excellent ball denial and stunt guards on the perimeter.  At the three, the Magic can deploy Aaron Gordon, who possesses tremendous versatility with his length to guard on the perimeter and down in the paint. Or they could be more traditional and play Jeff Green at that spot, a very capable defender.   And most important to Vogel’s defensive strategy, the Magic have two terrific rim protectors in Serge Ibaka and Nic Vucevic.  Not to mention, the Magic have Bismack Biyombo coming off the pine, and we all saw how brilliantly he defended the rim against the Cavs in this year’s ECF.  For opposing teams this year, playing the Magic is going to be a chore.

Lastly, Frank Vogel is absolutely beloved by his players. This wasn’t always the case, however.  When Vogel first took over as the Pacers coach, he did not receive the ultimate respect of the players.  Since he wasn’t a former player, he had to earn it.  But that all changed for Vogel when he brought Brian Shaw aboard to serve as his top assistant.  Vogel observed that the players gravitated towards Shaw because he had played the game, and he had done so with success, being a 3 time NBA champion.  Shaw helped show Vogel that the game isn’t merely about X’s and O’s—it’s also about relating to players. This resonated with Vogel, and as a result, the players grew to respect and love him.  This is no more evident than in Paul George’s  Instagram post he composed after Vogel was let go by the Pacers.  Part of the post read, “To one of the most influential men in my life! Our relationship and love doesn’t end here…..You talk I listen.”  The Magic are truly getting a man that understands players and can forge bonds that are greater than the game itself.

Even though Vogel carries many positives with him to the Magic, he certainly has his warts.  The most glaring is his ineptitude on the offensive end. Vogel isn’t an offensive dim wit, but he’s no genius either.  In particular, Vogel has struggled to generate a high offensive pace, much to the dismay of team president Larry Bird.  In his five full seasons as Pacers coach, only once did the Pacers finish in the top ten in pace.  In a league that has been dominated by free-flowing offensive teams the past several seasons, Vogel’s muck-it-up, grind-you-out offensive style is not a recipe for success.

Further, Vogel’s penchant to play bigger players who serve as the backbone for his stifling defense often compromise his teams on offense.  In a league where teams are deploying smaller and smaller lineups, and doing so which great success, Vogel needs to get with the times.  The bigger bodies Vogel deploys often clog up too much space, and limit driving lanes for other players.  This contributes to the slower pace and lack of fluidity on the offensive end.

Unfortunately, the Magic’s current roster construction may yield many of the same problems that plagued Vogel with the Pacers.  With four very gifted big players—Gordon, Vucevic, Ibaka, Biyombo—and not an elite wing or guard player, how will the Magic’s offense function in the modern day NBA?

The wildcard could be Ibaka because he has expanded his game out to the three point arc in recent years.  Nevertheless, this has been a detriment for Ibaka, as he has gone away from his excellent midrange shot and post game.

Also, how will Vogel run his offense without a top-tier wing to bail him out so many times?  This current roster raises many of the same red flag offensive struggles that Vogel’s roster with the Pacers did.

Let’s be clear: hiring Frank Vogel is a terrific choice by the Magic.  He brings a great basketball pedigree, winning culture, and an infectious personality to the Magic.  However, his greatest pitfall in Orlando might not even be his own doing—that is the team’s roster composition.  With a plethora of big men, and the absence of a skilled wing man, the Magic might be set up to struggle tremendously on offense.  Maybe Vogel can get the most out of this collection of young Orlando players, and lead the Magic back to the postseason.

Don’t put anything past Vogel, especially not a challenge.


photo via llananba