If you ask Frank Vogel, there’s nothing different about him these days. Sure, he’s rocking a beard, but this is the same defensive-minded coach that helped turn Paul George into a superstar. He’s also the same coach who came within one game of the NBA Finals. He keeps his players accountable, wants them to stay within themselves, and, yes, have some fun. He’s the same guy.
However, there’s just something different about Vogel now, and it has everything to do with what’s happening on the court. He’s only two years removed from his days coaching the Pacers, when his teams were known for slowing it down and grinding out wins with tough defense. Listening to him talk after a game now, his philosophies sound like they’re in a different universe.
“We always wanna play fast,” Vogel said. “The best way to seal the game is to attack and get layups. You always wanna explore that. … The space that we’re playing with. The understanding of good shot, bad shot, and working possessions to try and get layups and free throws or open threes. As opposed to the contested guarded shots that plagued us last season.”
Right now, Vogel’s offensive changes have led to an early-season renaissance for the Magic. At 4-1, the Magic handled the Heat, knocked off the spunky Nets, beat the pants off the Cavaliers, and dominated the Spurs from start to finish. They’ve done it with their offense. Orlando is top five in pace and scoring 112.8 points per 100 possessions. The only team scoring more are the Warriors. At this point, it’sis.
When Vogel arrived in Orlando he had a label as someone who couldn’t adapt his offense to the modern game. He had great defenses throughout his entire time in Indiana, but his teams were frequently in the bottom half of the NBA in both offense and pace. When he first arrived to the Magic, it felt like he was going to stick with that mantra. He started off last season saying the Magic would need to win some games scoring in the low 80’s, and that obviously failed.
However, after the trade deadline, something clicked in Orlando. The Magic started to play faster, shoot more 3-pointers and act a little more modern. The Magic quietly finished the season looking like a different team. For Vogel, that’s when everything really started to come together for him.
“I think that’s part of it. I think being familiar in the style of play,” Vogel said. “Shifting our style of play last year I really feel put the puzzle pieces in place for the way this group needs to play. Evan’s [Fournier] seen benefits from it. Vuc [Nikola Vucevic] has seen benefits from it. Aaron Gordon has seen benefits from it. We’ve just been able to modernize our team. These guys showed some life towards the end of last season adopting this style of play.”
Benefits is right. Not only are the Magic as a team showing massive improvements offensively, but their players individually are seeing some as well. The season just started, but both Vucevic and Gordon have had 40-point games. It seems like going modern has benefited everybody on the Magic. Vogel told CBS Sports that the change of the game has made his previous offense look obsolete in comparison.
“The game has changed so much in terms of the offensive system we’re using,” Vogel said. “It’s completely different. The first offense was a little bit of a dinosaur offense. Some teams can do it well if you got great post players like San Antonio does. We’re playing a different style here.”
D.J. Augustin, current Magic point guard and a former player of Vogel’s in Indiana, told CBS Sports that the NBA’s change as a whole has led to this Magic renaissance.
“Back then we had Roy Hibbert, David West, those big dominant guys on the inside so we ran a lot of stuff through those guys,” Augustin said. “Now with this team we’re more fast paced, get the rebound, go, call no plays, push it and try to pass the ball and move the ball as a team.
“Obviously you gotta adjust to the NBA game. The game has changed over the years. They’re playing a lot of small ball now so his coaching style has adjusted a little bit.”
It’s weird to hear players and coaches talk about a team from five years ago like it was a thing of the past, but the NBA really has gone through some major changes since then. The Warriors won two titles on 3-point shooting, pace and space. Last season saw teams put up the highest-scoring numbers ever. Traditional slow big men have become very situational and moved to bench roles. The exact type of players Vogel had in Indiana.
“We were a bigger and slower team so we always tried to maximize our speed but we weren’t a very good running team with West and Hibbert,” Vogel said. “We have more athleticism and youth on this team to get out and run.”
Running is something the Magic like to do. Gordon, in particular, has felt freed by it. After his 40-point game against Brooklyn, Gordon talked about how free he’s felt in this new offense.
“It’s huge. Coach Frank, he’s given me the confidence to basically when I get the rebound play point guard,” Gordon said. “That’s just a big, big plus. For me and my teammates. I can get everybody involved, we can push the pace. It invokes confidence in myself. The pace is great. Everybody who can handle the ball gets the ball and goes.”
Vucevic, a long-time back-to-the-basket big man, has even changed his game. He made his name in Orlando on rebounding and post ups. Now he’s brought out a 3-point shot that the Magic use for spacing. He made six 3-pointers in his 40-point performance, and has already attempted 19 of them through four games.
“It helps a lot,” Vucevic said. “The more shooters you have to space out the floor, especially with all the players [we have] that can make plays off the dribble. The more you can space the floor in today’s NBA the easier it is offensively.”
All of these changes go back to Vogel. The coach who for so long looked like he wouldn’t change. In reality, it feels like he was never given a situation to implement change. His first year in Orlando featured a roster full of bigs and slow-it-down players. He couldn’t implement the fast running style he has now until they cleared out the roster.
In Indiana, Vogel and the Pacers wanted to change in his final season. They wanted to become a modern team who used pace to their advantage. Everybody remembers the failed experiment putting George at power forward, but Vogel told CBS Sports that he was always on the same page with George.
“Paul and I were always aligned, and he was in favor of playing more up tempo,” Vogel said. “He just didn’t want to defend the four spot. He didn’t want to guard big guys. I didn’t really want him to guard big guys either. So we came to an easy resolution that he stayed guarding the wings but we still played small with C.J. Miles and Solomon Hill guarding the four man.
“We sped it up a lot. The last season we played a different style. That was the first year we didn’t have David West. We played most of the season without a true power forward. We had some offensive success, but it wasn’t enough I guess.”
Vogel understood the concerns of his star and tried to put him in a situation to succeed. He did what was asked of him and the Pacers ended the season as a top 10 team in pace. The issue was he didn’t have the personnel at the time to effectively modernize.
Now, in his second year in Orlando, Vogel is getting a chance to show what he can do with the right roster. It’s still early, but the Magic look like a completely different team and have a chance to be really exciting. They’re running, they’re shooting 3-pointers and they’re scoring a lot. They might regress, but they’re gonna be fun no matter what. Vogel definitely thinks so.
“Our fans are gonna love watching this team this year,” he said. “You can see us get out and run on the break to lob dunks and to inside out 3-pointers, and [Elfrid Payton] attacking. There’s a lot to be excited about with this team”.
There’s something different about Frank Vogel this year. It’s not just the beard. He’s finally getting a chance to coach a modern NBA team and the Magic are better for it.