The 2022-23 season has and remains about looking forward for Orlando. The season is one of learning, growing and being ready for the next.
After the trade deadline the Orlando Magic looked a little different. Both moves made were classy in respect of looking after the future of those players involved.
The Mo Bamba experiment came to a close. His promise as the 5th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft was never realised in Orlando. He had opportunities but failed to push himself beyond being a back-up to Nikola Vucevic and Wendell Carter Jr. Bamba also struggled to be the back-up of choice ahead of Khem Birch, Moritz Wagner, Robin Lopez and Bol Bol.
The only other move was to waive Terrence Ross, allowing the Human Torch to sign as a free agent with the Phoenix Suns. This was a classy move by the Magic front office as a mark of respect to a dedicated and loyal servant of the team.
Those two moves left the Magic roster looking like this.
The team has youth and depth across all positions. There is good competition for minutes. However; the argument that veteran leadership and effective shooting options for floor spacing are lacking still remains.
There is an obvious place to start this section, that is with Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. Orlando’s rookie and sophomore have both had outstanding seasons so far. These two guys are getting media attention and plaudits. Teams are planning for facing them.
Banchero is the favourite to become Rookie Of The Year. He became only the third No. 1 overall pick in NBA history to score 20-plus points in his first six games. A ready source of scoring, Paolo has scored 20-plus-point so far 29 times this season, four times reaching the 30-point mark. He is averaging 19.9 points (shooting 41.9%), 6.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.
The 8th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Franz Wagner is averaging 18.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists this season. He is shooting 48.4% from the field and 36.6% from 3-point range. An undervalued increase in his contribution is the amount of times he is getting to the free throw line this season, up by 1.6 free throws per game.
The return of Jonathan Isaac showed how impactful he can be in the NBA. In limited but growing minutes JI has contributed effectively but it is the intangibles that get forgotten or overlooked. His presence and effort from the bench lifts the team. His defensive ability makes an opponent work harder to be an effective attacker.
Jalen Suggs’ defensive contributions are huge but it is perhaps on the offensive end the team is beginning to see benefits. Showing better shot selection he takes 4 less shots per game but with an improving success rate.
Markelle Fultz improved the Magic upon his return. Our leader in assists but at 5.5 per game he has potential to improve. Fultz is proving effective in forcing turnovers, stealing the ball 1.5 times per game. Whilst Fultz may not be seen by many as the team’s long term point guard he is proving to be an effective piece and provides a great dynamic in the team. 13 points per game is a valuable asset to a team that relies on the many and not the individual for scoring.
Cole Anthony has become the Sixth Man of the team. There remains an argument for him starting but this role is seeing Cole have a career year in percentage terms for field goal, 2 point field goal, free throw percentage and blocks whilst having a reduced number of turnovers. Anthony leads the bench, being instrumental in seeing it be competitive.
Mentions also have to go to both Wendell Carter Jr and Gary Harris. Wendell has made the centre position his, this season providing 15.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Harris has rediscovered his shooting, providing the veteran presence for the team.
Looking Forward For Orlando – The Season Run In
Orlando have 23 games remaining of the 2022-23 NBA Regular Season. Having had a disastrous 5-20 start to the season the Magic have improved to become one of the better form teams in the league.
Orlando sit 13th in the East with a 24-35 record. The 10th seed and final play-in position is held by the Toronto Raptors (28-31). Orlando are far from out of the race but the loss to Toronto going into the All-Star break hurt.
So what of the season now?
For me the playoffs this year are not an essential. It would be a nice distraction for a brief period but the 2022-23 season has always been about patience, development and evaluation.
The season run in sees the above mentioned evaluation come into full focus as a now fully fit squad comes together on the court. The run in is all about growth and gaining valuable experience. The team have to learn how to hold onto leads and to grind out results. Those recent losses to the Miami Heat (twice), New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors are examples of those types of games. In each instance the Magic had a lead and were in the game. On each occasion they let it slip. Lock in more effectively on defence and looking after the ball and at least two of those defeats do not happen.
We know the team has heart and fight, but now they need to execute their game better. Winning is the ultimate goal for and to get there the Magic (players and coaches) still have learning to do. That learning includes reducing turnovers, having control over emotions and a relentless defensive focus. Those particular standards have to improve.
Looking Forward For Orlando To The Future
Orlando has a mass of draft capital. The Magic own their own first round pick for all future drafts at this point. They also own Chicago’s first rounder for the 2023 Draft and Denver’s in 2025.
This allows Orlando an opportunity to further build through the Draft or to package some of this capital into a trade package.
Below is a graphic taken from RealGM.com showing the draft capital Orlando hold currently.
A Trade And Free Agent Destination
The Magic will be underneath the projected $134 million salary cap next in the summer and by some distance. With many team friendly and relatively cheap contracts Orlando can feasibly create themselves greater room. Love or loathe them the Magic’s front office have built itself flexibility for the offseason.
Aside from money the team is becoming ever more attractive to players. As already discussed the moves with both T-Ross and Bamba were classy, seeking a good destination for both players. Further highlighted above is that both the squad and team record is becoming increasingly competitive.
With that in mind it is reasonable to assume that the Magic will move for a major free agent this offseason.That leads to the question who?
I’m no good at playing with trade machines so will leave that to others. As fans we all hold our own opinions on what the team needs. For me it is a shooter, someone who increases our chances and helps in floor spacing. Some veteran experience and hopefully a defensive ability would be nice also.
It may not be the best summer (2024 is considered much stronger) however there are some big names coming into free agency, including:
- Kyrie Irving
- Khris Middleton
- D’Angelo Russell
- James Harden
- Draymond Green
- Harrison Barnes
- Russell Westbrook
- Kristaps Porzingis
- Kyle Kuzma
- Dylan Brooks
Not every name will hit the open market. There are some I wouldn’t touch, others don’t fit our needs and those who would not glance twice at Orlando. There are a couple of names worth discussing further as they have been the focus of speculation recently.
Fred VanVleet brings defensive ability, coupled with an ability to often lead a team in scoring. FVV can shoot the 3 ball effectively and efficiently. A negative perhaps is that he does turn 29 this month and most notably will command a whole lot of money.
Gary Trent Jr is a good (not elite) knock-down shooter. Hitting 36.9% from deep this year, which is a slight dip in his career average of 38.4%. Trent shoots at least 7 attempts from deep per game, a figure that no one on the current Magic roster gets near. He also should not cost any team pursuing him as much money as other free agents potentially available.
Others worth casting an eye over include for 3-and-D Caris LeVert and Bruce Brown, whilst shooters further include Bogdan Bogdanovic and Seth Curry.
And Finally In Looking Forward For Orlando
It is clear why steadily the Magic are getting more buzz around them. They have a strong young team that other players, coaches and executives are taking note of being a tough match-up. Paolo Banchero is showing he has an opportunity to be dominant, partnered by Franz Wagner who was criminally underrated in his rookie season. The team has draft capital and financial resources available.
By looking forward for Orlando it becomes clear that the rebuild undertaken since March 2021 is beginning to bear fruit. Hold your patience Magic fans as we could be on the cusp of something good.