The Magic season of 2021-22 has been a long, hard slog. There have been disappointments and frustrations but there are many positives to take as we move into the next stage of the rebuild.
To move forward and grow you have to be willing to look back and honestly evaluate what went well and what requires improvement.
A LOSING SEASON IN REVIEW
Going into the Magic season of 2021-22 there was little expectation other than a lot of losing, with wins being a pleasant bonus. As the new season approached Magic fans were realistic about the prospects we faced, reflecting honestly on what Orlando had. A rookie coach, a team packed with players having limited experience, the schedule was tough and injury still present to key players. But there was excitement too, an opportunity to see what we had with this new, youthful squad and coaching team.
June, July, August and September 2021 had set up the team for the rebuild to begin in earnest.
Then Head Coach; Steve Clifford left by mutual consent in June. New Head Coach; Jamahl Mosley joined in July taking up his first head coaching position. Dwayne Bacon, James Ennis III and Otto Porter Jr had all exited the squad. In the NBA Draft Orlando had picks number 5 and 7, taking Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner. The team also brought in veterans Robin Lopez and E’Twaun Moore, along with resigning Moe Wagner.
The Magic Season Of 2021-22 Begins
The season started in San Antonio on the 20th October with a loss to the Spurs, which was quickly followed by a home loss to the Knicks. Game Day 3 on the 24th saw Orlando stun the Knicks in the Garden with a 110-104. That performance was born of “heart and hustle”. Cole Anthony gave a performance that got him national attention, whilst Terrence Ross hit 22 points in the final quarter. By the close of October Orlando had fought hard but held a losing 1-6 record.
However, Orlando’s starting unit ranked with the league’s best. Wendell Carter Jr and Mo Bamba had formed a solid pairing in the front court. Franz Wagner had shown his potential, whilst Cole Anthony carried the offensive burden and Jalen Suggs showed sparks during a baptism of fire. Chuma Okeke had finally returned to the lineup and the team had signed Mychal Mulder.
November And December
The losses grew but games were close with some high points. The revelation of Franz Wagner’s ability continued. Cole Anthony showed his desire to carry the team forward. November started with a 115-97 fight back victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Soon after the Magic fired itself to a first home court win of the season, by 100-107 over the Utah Jazz. Cole Anthony hit 33 points to chants of “MVP”. A fourth win of the season ensued, again in New York over the Knicks by 104-98 as Orlando won as a team. In Milwaukee on November 20th a 23 point Magic comeback had the Bucks fighting to take an eventual win.
By the end of November Orlando were increasingly short handed, culminating in Jalen Suggs suffering a broken thumb in the loss at Philadelphia. December became a tale of injury and illness hardship. Players came and went on 10 Day Contracts as COVID swept through the team. On court it saw no difference in the battling spirit shown, the Magic rarely rolling over for any opponent. The highlights all came from Franz Wagner, seeing him named December’s Rookie of the Month as he continued a double figure scoring run.
The Bleak Midwinter
January and February, up until All-Star Weekend were a tale of hardship for a team struggling. The Magic suffered a mauling or two, at times collapsing and throwing away big leads. In all that there remained a sense of positivity. That came from seeing the chemistry and enthusiasm on court of every player called upon to play.
2022 had started on a losing streak, finally broken in Charlotte as both Franz and Moe Wagner had a night. It was also the night that saw Jalen Suggs return to the team after missing 20 games with he broken thumb. January saw Orlando as a top 10 rated defensive team. The month was closed with a tight home win over the Dallas Mavericks. Chuma Okeke led the team in scoring, coming off the bench for 19 points from 7-of-10 shooting. Chuma shone defensively and made 3 steals, including one from Luka Doncic getting the Amway Center fired up as he slammed the basket home.
In the midst of February sat the trade dealine. On a quiet trade deadline for the Magic the final haul was the 22 year old centre Bol Bol. Soon after the trade was made Orlando also announced that the team were waiving both E’twaun Moore and Michael Carter-Williams.
Beyond All-Star Weekend
The final weeks of the Magic season of 2021-22 saw 9 wins in 23 games played. Coming out of the All-Star festivities in Ohio the Magic hit the ground running.
We have to first talk Markelle Fultz. His return to the court on February 28th could not have gone any better as Orlando outpaced Indiana in the Amway Center to take a 103-119 victory. With a shade under 4 minutes to play of the first quarter the return was made. His first action saw Fultz with ball in hand, driving into the paint off of a Wendell Carter Jr screen, finding a cutting Franz Wagner to lay the ball home. His impact on the team was present in every minute of every game to the season end, continuing to be managed carefully by the team.
A highlight win came on March 11th as Orlando beat Minnesota by 110-118, overcoming an 18 point first half deficit. The Timberwolves as the NBA’s highest scoring team had threatened to break away. The comeback saw every Magic player locked in defensively. In the final quarter Orlando held the T-Wolves to just 7-of-26 shooting overall and 0-of-15 from three-point land! Mo Bamba produced a complete game, with a double-double of 27 points and 12 rebounds. Wendell Carter Jr with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists also had impact. For Wendell that game was his 30th double-double of the season, achieving 3 more before injury shut him down for the run in.
The Magic Season Of 2021-22 – An Honest Evaluation
The season had been accepted as one of development without expectation even before a ball had been bounced. That realism had allowed the young team to play without pressure and to develop. If mistakes were made they could be used as a learning experience.
There can be no pretence here, it was an abject season as far as results and offence were concerned. Orlando’s record for the season ended at 22 wins and 60 losses. The home record was a sad 12 wins and on the road an even sadder 10 wins. Points per game saw the Magic scoring 104.2 (29th of 30 teams in the NBA), whilst conceding 112.2. The record saw Orlando finish last in the Eastern Conference.
There were many areas that needed to be better. Rebounding on the offensive end ranked last in the NBA. As already highlighted the team often threw away double digit leads, predominately by going cold shooting. Too often promising offensive possessions were marred by live-ball turnovers. Shooting from distance was erratic at best. The three-point-shooting ranked 28th in the League, as the Magic made just 33% of shots attempted.
Now, stay with me on this one; the officiating and our reactions to it. There have been some terrible calls this season and we have been on the wrong end of more than our share. However, players have to accept that the game does not get called evenly, and never will. No Magic player at this point is going to get the same calls given for his benefit that certain members of say the Heat, Lakers, 76ers or Mavericks get. No one on the Magic team is on that superstar level. Therefore, they need to earn the officials respect and accept how the call is being called nightly. Picking up early on how each official calls a game is imperative so as to cut out those areas of focus. Reacting angrily (even be it understandably) earns technical fouls, those points conceded hurt the team in close games.
Two names perhaps epitomise every frustration felt by Magic fans; Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz. By now as fans we should know not to believe any rumour about our team, this front office being notoriously tight-lipped. That was most certainly the case with the status of their injury rehabilitation. The frustration at a lack of tangible information was that with Kelle and JI it led to regular false dawns as to their returns. There was the over optimistic return for season start, then Thanksgiving and Christmas. All came and went without any clear update from the team. As it was Isaac never featured (write your own narrative as to why) and Markelle hit the court with as February ended with great impact.
No team dealt with more injury issues than our own Magic. The Orlando Magic (449 games missed by injured players) and Indiana Pacers (401) were the most injured teams in the NBA. With such a young squad those disruptions were huge. It consistently saw key player absences, requiring more responsibility and shouldering of the team from the likes of Suggs, Anthony and Franz than it is fair to expect. From this many of the mistakes and losses were born.
Defensively the team had a disappointing season, but at times they were amongst the league best. The lapses were horrible to watch, the locked in periods made you wonder how good they can be?
Forget the record and look at what we saw game in and game out. Spirit, dare I say we saw “Heart and Hustle”. Yes, it did not translate to wins but no one got an easy night against us. Our opponents knew they had to play against a team that most often would not lay down or give up.
It is worth remembering that prior to injury breaking our starting unit it rated with the best in the NBA for the plus/minus. Cole, Jalen, Franz, Wendell and Mo (a pair of rookies, a second year player and two entering their fourth NBA season) were the youngest starting lineup used in the past 50 years in the NBA.
Deliberately individual players are not included here, that follows below but the squad in general is a positive. There remain weaknesses that have to be addressed. However, the unity, fight and self belief possessed stands the team in a strong position to move forward.
The Magic Season Of 2021-22 – The Stars And Surprises
The Most Valuable And Most Improved
Franz Wagner was a revelation to the entire NBA. Playing and starting in 79 games (78 consecutively) Franz averaged per game 15.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He nightly faced our opponents best defender, such was his threat. He also stepped into the breach to cover at the point guard position as player after player went down. His footwork, positional intelligence, work rate and defensive ability had every Magic fan believing he should have been a bigger part of the conversation for Rookie of the Year. What he did get was the accolade of being voted into the Kia NBA All-Rookie First Team.
Wendell Carter Jr improved to become I believe one of the best big-men in the NBA. His versatility saw him score reliably with jumpers, floaters, layups, from the post and dunks. The screens he sets are second-to-none, something to be excited for next season as the time with Markelle increases. Wendell saw his assists increase, particularly through the partnership with Mo Bamba. And finally, there is his defensive IQ, his effectiveness guarding the league’s best centres was a sight to behold all season.
The Backcourt Core Players
Cole Anthony may have struggled with his shooting efficiency after the All-Star break but do not forget how effective he was as the team’s leading offensive player throughout the early part of the season. By the season close Cole still led the team in scoring at 16.5 points per game. He played in and started 65 games, increasing his per game contributions for assists, steals, defensive and total rebounds.
Markelle Fultz staked his claim to be the starting point game and primary ball handler for the team next season. His return was simply a revelation and a reminder of what the team had missed all season. He took to the court with a smile on his face to go along with strength, energy, self belief and enthusiasm. Those 18 games saw Kelle come from the bench in 15 and playing limited minutes (his season averaged exactly 20 minutes per game). He scored 10.8 points per game, whilst dropping 5.5 assists and making those around him better.
Jalen Suggs played transition offence with aplomb, displaying his speed and explosiveness to lead the team in fast break points. These buckets were regularly after the rookie came up with a steal, arising from Jalen’s exceptional defensive quickness. That defensive IQ saw James Harden, Cade Cunningham, LaMelo Ball, D’Angelo Russell and Darius Garland all have below par games against him.
The Surprise Packages
Mo Bamba has always had promise. There have always been flashes of what could be. This season, a contract year saw Mo take some big steps. Firstly, being available and relatively injury free he featured in 71 games. He played increased minutes, took and made more shots. Mo recorded career bests per game for every category of rebounding, assists, blocks and steals. He spaced the floor well in a new partnership with Wendell Carter Jr. Bamba became a three point threat, making 38% from beyond the arc. Career highs came in assists, points, blocks rebounds and more
Moritz Wagner started the season as an end of the bench guy, re-signed to be there for his rookie brother Franz. What we got was a competitive scorer from the bench. The advanced metric statistics love Moe. What is beyond doubt is that every minute he played he contributed. That contribution could be scoring, it could be riling an opponent or firing up his teammates or Magic fans. Whatever it was he did it with a smile and 100% commitment.
The Magic Season Of 2021-22 – The Future
The Magic season of 2021-22 is in the past. The playoffs are deep into the final run and all eyes are firmly to our future. Every fan who endured the season of 2021-22 knows that the future has been glimpsed with the energy, enthusiasm and determination shown by the team through these 82 games.