The landmark of All-Star Weekend has passed and the Magic returned to action with a 119-111 over the Houston Rockets. With the play-in tournament looking almost impossible, there are a number of storylines for Magic fans to follow as we eye the final 21 games of the season.
After over a year missing, Magic fans got a much needed injury boost when Markelle Fultz joined the Pod Squad. Fultz’s announcement of a return to action against the Indiana Pacers was welcomed throughout the Magic community.
The image of Fultz clutching his knee on January 6th 2021 halted a promising start to that campaign by both the Magic and the former number 1 pick. As Fultz went down, the trajectory of the team changed and the Magic went from a hot-start to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Fultz will likely be used from the bench initially the cautious Magic and rightly so. Whilst not expecting Fultz to pick up where he left off, it will be great fun to see Fultz’s gazelle like stride, bag of tricks and court vision on display for the Magic.
Keep an eye on what a full flow Fultz can do for Franz Wagner and his cuts to the basket in the final 21 games of the regular season.
Keep on Mo Bamba.
Former Magic great, Shaquille O’Neal, implored Magic guard Cole Anthony to keep on Mo Bamba during a TV interview over All-Star weekend.
Shaq Diesel essentially see’s untapped talent in Bamba but just like everyone else, this has not been consistently displayed.
At his best, Bamba is a unicorn. The ability to put up a double-double with ease, 3-point range and being one of the best shot blocking big men in the league should make Bamba a crown jewel for any franchise.
However, Bamba has struggled to do this consistently. Questions still remain over his motor and how plays like Montrezl Harrell have seemingly had their way with Mo.
Magic fans (and the Front Office) have a decision to make on Bamba this summer. The talent is undoubtedly there but in a draft loaded with big men, could inconsistency mark the end of Mo’s time in Orlando or will the final 21 see Bamba finally hit the potential we all know he is capable of?
A shining light for the 2020-21 season was the emergence of Chuma Okeke. As the injury crisis heightened, Big Chum saw his minutes increase and produced towards the end of the season. So much so, ‘Baby Kawhi’ whispers floated around some of the Magic community.
However, injuries have caused a stop-start year for the popular Magic number 3. With time to rest over the All Star weekend and minutes under his belt, Chuma looked back to his stat-stuffing best against Houston.
Posting 26 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and a block, Okeke was arguably the star player for the Magic against the Rockets.
A return to form for Okeke would be a welcome sight for Magic fans as we close out the final 21 games of a tough year.
A part of the Aaron Gordon trade during 2021 trade deadline, R.J. Hampton had an excellent close to the 2020-21 season. Those of you with strong memories will remember Cole Anthony thanking Denver for the trade and Hampton was the reason behind this.
However, like Chuma Okeke, R.J. has had a stop-start season and has sometimes struggled for form, health and consistent minutes in an increasingly crowded Magic backcourt.
With this said, Hampton is a tantalising prospect. Standing 6’6, Hampton could play either backcourt spot and is so fast, he probably needs to slow down his game. Hampton has the range to threaten teams from beyond the arc, whilst his size and speed make him a possible future defensive stalwart.
With Chuma Okeke, Hampton made a big impact off the bench and sparked the Magic back into the game after a slow start. Eyes will be on Hampton given both his potential and the spread of minutes in the Magic backcourt as we close the season.
Currently sitting at a 14 wins and 47 losses record, at the time of writing, the Magic are bottom in both the Eastern Conference and the league overall. Even the most optimistic Magic fan is starting to cast an eye towards the upcoming draft.
Should the Magic finish with the worst record, as is currently the case, a top 5 pick would be guaranteed. Names to keep an eye on are the Duke pair of Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, a friend of Jalen Suggs who seemingly endorses his highlights regularly, Purdue combo-guard Jaden Ivey and Auburn’s Jabari Smith, who has drawn comparisons from Jason Tatum to Rashard Lewis in recent weeks.
Whatever your preference, odds would heavily lean towards the Magic going with one of these names if selecting in the top 5 in the summer.
Image credit – Orlando Sentinel.