The sample size for James Borrego as an NBA head coach isn’t large: the last 30 games of the Orlando Magic’s 2014-15 season.
Borrego was interim coach after Jacque Vaughn was fired. The Magic’s record was 10-20 in that span, about the same winning percentage as Vaughn’s over the previous 52 games.
But there was a difference with Borrego, the Charlotte Hornets’ pick to be their next coach: The Magic was typically more competitive in that span, the most measurable improvement being on defense.
The standard measure for efficiency in the NBA, whether offensive or defensive, is points scored or allowed per 100 possessions. With Vaughn coaching that season, the Magic allowed 106.1 points per 100 possessions. On Borrego’s watch, the Magic allowed 103.7 points per 100 possessions.
The offensive difference was negligible: The Magic averaged two-tenths of a point more per 100 possessions (99.7 points, versus 99.5) with Borrego than with Vaughn.
The net effect was significant: The Magic’s negative margin over 100 possessions dropped from 6.5 per game to 0.4 per game.
Borrego didn’t get the job beyond that season. The Magic instead hired Scott Skiles, who had previously coached the Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks. But Borrego drew praise from Magic management, which wanted him to stay on Skiles’ staff (he instead returned to the San Antonio Spurs, where he got his NBA start).
“He’s really holding us accountable, telling us what he expects of us, wanting more from us,” then-Magic guard Victor Oladipo told the Orlando Sentinel during Borrego’s tenure. “He’s doing a great job right now.”
Looking at specifics of how the Magic performed on Borrego’s watch:
▪ The offensive rebounding improved dramatically, from nine per game to 11.2 per game.
▪ Blocked shots jumped from 3.5 per game to 4.4 per game.
▪ Three-point percentage slipped, from 36.2 percent when Vaughn coached to 32.1 percent with Borrego coaching.
▪ Steals were up (8.7 per game, versus 7.4) and fouls were down slightly (20.3, versus 21.3).
The Magic fired Vaughn on Feb. 5 that season after 2 ½ seasons on the job (he was also a former Spurs assistant, who hired Borrego as his top assistant). The Magic was on a 10-game losing streak when Vaughn was fired.
Borrego got a fast start as interim coach, beating the Los Angeles Lakers in Orlando in overtime. He won three of his next five games.
Borrego’s first significant change in the rotation was moving 6-foot-11 Channing Frye into the starting lineup (initially over guard-forward Evan Fournier). That made the starting unit longer and more experienced.
Noteworthy to the coaching change: Before Borrego replaced Vaughn, Magic opponents scored 100 or more points in 14 consecutive games. The Magic allowed fewer than 100 points in Borrego’s first nine games, and fewer than 85 twice in that span.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell