With 82 games now behind us the Orlando Magic 2022-23 season is over and it is time to look back objectively at what “levelling up” brought. What was achieved, what were the highlights and the lows? Who excelled and who could have done more? Welcome to our take on this campaign.
The Orlando Magic 2022-23 Season Focus
Ahead of the season tipping-off the Magic had said the year was about “levelling up”.
But what did that mean?
Coming off a 22 win season it was not just about getting better and wins, though this obviously had to increase. The Coach saw it also as learning the details, not making the same mistakes again and again. He wanted the team to learn to stay focused to perform at the highest levels. This also included greater individual accountability and challenging each other to be better. Simply put, the team individually and collectively sought consistency.
A measure of this consistency would be increased wins, reducing blowouts, holding onto leads and playing meaningful basketball for as long as possible.
The 5-20 Start
There is zero chance of hiding from the fact that the disappointing start to the season cost Orlando any realistic hopes of getting into the postseason.
Even though there were a few blowout losses the team were competing. Franz Wagner was showing growth in his second season. Paolo Banchero had come in and shown why he was the number 1 pick in the Draft.
There were plenty of opportunities present for it to be better opening. The home opener against Boston could easily have been a win with the momentum built in a fourth quarter comeback. Who can forget the DeAaron Fox buzzer beating, game winning three in overtime from the logo against the Kings. A Rockets team on a 6 game losing skid came to Orlando and rained three’s but the Magic closed a big deficit to just 3 points before running out of steam late in the fourth.
But truth be told winnable games were lost. Defeats to Detroit, Houston, Oklahoma, Atlanta, Charlotte and Indiana in the period all hurt. Leads were thrown away or the Magic allowed too large of a lead by the opposition to be attained.
This start came with an all to familiar story of injury concerns. Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris, Moe Wagner and Jonathan Isaac were all lengthy absentees at the opening. Paolo Banchero, Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Wendell Carter Jr and Chuma Okeke all went down at some point for extended periods.
December 7th To All-Star
Welcome to the renaissance!
The visit of the LA Clippers on December 7th saw a 9 game losing streak snapped in a 111-116 overtime win. For the Magic something clicked with the Clippers game as they rallied to come back from 18 down. It was the first of 6 consecutive wins, and 8 in 9 games. Confidence could be seen to flourish, resulting in a 19-15 record in this stretch.
It certainly did not hurt Orlando that both Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz had returned to action. Fultz on limited minutes was becoming more impactful as his match fitness grew. Anthony was proving his worth as a sixth man to the team and as a finisher.
There were some impressive results including the season sweep of Golden State and taking Boston down three times (more of that later). Even in defeat Orlando were giving fancied teams hard fought games. The period also saw action of a different kind in Detroit, resulting in multiple suspensions.
By All-Star Orlando had achieved two more wins than throughout the entire previous season.
From what had seemed a most unlikely proposition after the season start resuming the season saw Orlando somewhat adrift but within distance still of the play-in tournament. Picking up where the team had left off pre-All-Star Orlando resumed on a sequence of win-one-lose-one.
Sadly, too many disappointing reversals against beatable team ultimately saw Orlando battling impossible odds for reaching the postseason. Defeats in San Antonio and at the Lakers were two pivotal games.
Improvements in the team’s mental strength could be seen. Both games in the Amway Center against Miami this season went to overtime. The Magic impressed in winning the second one on March 11. Mental strength showed in the extra period as the Magic made their first six shots, going 7-of-8 in total to stun the Heat.
To this point post All-Star the Magic had a 10-9 record. To reach the play-in tournament with 4 games of the season remaining Orlando needed to win every game, whilst Chicago failed to win. Ultimately the Magic were the final team eliminated in the Eastern Conference from the postseason by a narrow defeat to Cleveland. That loss saw the Magic sit many players during the final three games.
Did The Orlando Magic 2022-23 Season Level Up?
The Orlando Magic 2022-23 season closed with a 34-48 record; remember that is after starting the season with only 5 wins in the opening 25 games. The win increase of 12 games on the previous season was the largest in the Eastern Conference. Across the league only Sacramento and Oklahoma saw bigger wins gains.
The win column aside the results had seen less blowout defeats. Games had been hard fought as the Magic showed mental fortitude to recover from some huge in game deficits.
Players took responsibility individually and collectively, publicly refusing to accept available excuses for some reversals.
It is also true that Orlando had successfully set themselves up for the summer as a potential candidate for players. They go into the summer with improved results from a strong and exciting young squad, boasting draft assets and cap space. The team facilities and treatment of departing players such as RJ Hampton, Mo Bamba and Terrence Ross only enhanced this.
The Magic added maturity and resiliency to the “heart and hustle” we knew they already possessed.
Some Player Grades For The Orlando Magic 2022-23 Season
Before we hit the grades one thing has to be reiterated.
Remember those few games where the Magic had no one on the injury report? It felt like dreamland for us fans after enduring the impact of so much bad fortune over recent seasons. It is most certainly true to say that while the Magic were healthier this season those we suffered were implicit in the team not making the playoffs.
Jonathan Isaac returned in January then went down after an 11 game cameo. Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz as already said both had extensive injury absences early in the season but were tied at 4th for most appearances in the season at 60 games played. Only Franz Wagner (80), Paolo Banchero (72) and Bol Bol (70) had a better availability.
Now for our completely unbiased and objective assessment of some of the guys.
- Markelle Fultz (A): A toe injury meant Markelle wasn’t able to suit up for the first part of the season. However upon his return the Magic got a shot in the arm that really kick started the season. Fultz’s growth in particular as a defender, a leader on the court, coupled with his on court vision and his ability to get into his ‘kill spots’ was a real bright spot. The teams success since the 5-20 start has really proved that Markelle has a very bright future at the point for the Magic!
- Jalen Suggs (B+): Jalen had a very good sophomore season after struggling in his rookie year! We had highs such as the game winner in Chicago as we saw Jalen improve his shooting numbers massively. He excelled on defense and made it his calling card whilst on the floor. Given his growth we look to see Suggs have a larger role next season and continue on his strong season into 2023/24.
- Caleb Houstan (B): Caleb has had a solid rookie season and has taken his opportunities in 51 games played on limited minutes. 3-and-D was the role given and Houstan largely did it well. His shooting was a bright spot, getting more confident as the season went on whilst showing the ability to get involved closer to the basket.
- Goga Bitazde (C+): Joining as a free agent after the Magic moved players around at the trade deadline. There was a real need for a big man following the departure of Mo Bamba. Goga has shown solid flashes, setting good screens, active on the glass and some good offensive outputs. He will need a good pre-season if the Magic bring him back in order to get minutes next season.
- Cole Anthony (A): I was always going to go here. Judging him as a Sixth Man, Cole has to be an A grade. We talked about him in this context at the end of the season, his efficiency was up, he’s still the highlight reel and obviously a leader. Cole has a big role in what the Magic do going forward. As Jeff Turner might say, he just knows how to get the ball in the hoop.
- Paolo Banchero (A+): An easy one, he’s Rookie of the Year and it isn’t even close. His dip was still better than other rookies and that was playing injured. He’s the focal point for double and triple teams. He doesn’t play talk or look like a rookie and he doesn’t act like a rookie. But he’s 20. The love from Detroit’s Coach Casey really said it all. He’s the 20ppg we have needed. If that 3 point shot falls consistently…it’s over.
- Admiral Schofield (B): This might raise eyebrows but again, what was his role? Come in and give good minutes, play hard and always be ready. He’s a team guy and he’s never let the Magic down when called on. Teams need tough players with great attitudes who will do what Admiral does. Hope to see him again next year.
- Franz Wagner (A+): Look at the 4th quarter production and you have your answer. He’s been a revelation in Orlando and has exceeded every expectation put on his young shoulders. Franz is that cautionary tale of how much to trust pre-draft analysis. We all bought it (me included) but Wagner, at 8, may be the best player in his draft class; and that was some draft class. The fact this is debated shows the impact of Franz.
- Wendell Carter Jr (A): Wendell has quietly gone about his business throughout the season, becoming an underrated big man. He relishes the challenge of facing the best in the league. His three point shot is starting to become something opponents have to be aware of. It helped see his scoring per game grow again. Injury impacted his involvement, allowing just 57 appearances.
- Moritz Wagner (B-): A true Mr Reliable, doing whatever the team require of him. Playing as a starter or coming off the bench Moe gives it his all. He is still that guy who relishes the getting under an opponent’s skin and trash talking. That can go too far (Detroit) and he must remain in control that side of his game because his impact continually benefits the team, even if that is not reflected in the plus/minus numbers. Here again injury impacted his involvement, being inactive for 20 games (then throw in the suspension) restricting him to just 57 games played..
- Gary Harris (B-): Unfortunately injury really disrupted Harris throughout the season, playing just 48 games. His three-point-percentage at 43.1% leads the team. His defence has at times been as good as we expected on his arrival from Denver. At times he failed to impact the scoring, shots and points per game were down but his efficiency was impressive. His 43% shooting from deep ranked 6th in the NBA.
- Kevon Harris (B-): Perhaps a surprising grade for a two-way role player but Kevon has that dog in him. He came in and gave effort, fighting over possessions as he racked up the “bell ringing” plays. His defensive effort and acumen were supported by a field goal percentage of almost 44%, scoring 4.1 points in his 13 minutes per game.
Our Personal Highlights Of The Orlando Magic 2022-23 Season
- It’s that dunk on opening night from Paolo. If the Summer League wasn’t enough to let anyone know we have a real one, then the dunk in Detroit was the type of play which gets played over and over again in career highlight packages like you see with the likes of Lebron. We knew then…
- Boston. Nobody loves a meltdown more than me and the meltdown from Eddie House was just something else. Firstly it was the meltdown, then it was our players and then it was the fanbase. The fact we did that to arguably the best team in the NBA should not be lost either.
- Selfishly, but it was our trip. Opening night was special and the pre-game against the Hornets…something else. Everyone in the Magic organisation who enabled that…that’s lifetime memories right there. It was awesome to connect with people in real life at the games, the bars (Angus, I’m talking about you) and in the hotel…what a guy Gari is. Getting to hang with the Orlando UK crew in person and of course, getting to see Cortez and Shalissa again.
- The season highlights has to include the 3 wins I was part of whilst in Orlando in January. It was great to be able to take my family and to have my children experience it. The highlight was easily beating the Celtics and their obnoxious fans. As I’m sure you’ve heard in the past from the guys the Boston fans come to the Amway in their droves. So to see the Magic rebuff the Celtics onslaught for a 113-98 win with Paolo Banchero scoring an impressive 23 points.
- Other highlight wins through the season include Jalen Suggs game winner in Chicago, a road win against the Warriors in San Francisco and a 119-109 road win against the Philadelphia 76ers.
- In terms of players performances I was mightily impressed with Paolo’s rookie season, Franz’s composure in clutch situations and growth in his second year. And shock horror (for me) the Markelle Fultz growth and consistency in what was a great season, as he got back to playing regular basketball after his injuries.
I apologise here in advance for a little repetition.
- Boston! Going 3-1 against the Celtics and all the talent they possess. Throw in Eddie House, the Magic players tweeting that GIF. It could have been a 4-0 sweep had Cole made the late open dunk in the home opener after a huge comeback and had all the momentum.
- I was tempted to go with the Dec 7th to 18th period (the OT win over the Clippers, taking down Toronto and Boston twice). However I’m going for the March 11th home win over Miami, a big win in terms of showing improved maturity and resilience. The first home game against Miami had gone to OT and we got bullied by Jimmy Butler. The March 11th game saw the Magic let a lead go again and we went to an extra period after a Jimmy Butler 3-pointer buzzer-beater. The difference in the Magic’s overtime performance saw Orlando get the victory, making shot after shot.
- I also have to include our trip as part of the Orlando Magic U.K. meet-up, seeing two wins and two losses. So many incredible memories for which we are indebted. The people met, going centre court with other UK fans to be introduced to the home crowd, being Honourary Team Captain of the Game and appearing on a Moment With Dante. Game wise it was the dramatic 129-130 win over the defending-champion Warriors in the Amway. Witnessing Steph Curry and Klay Thompson play was a treat. Jalen Suggs showed why he’d been such a high pick, great D and a pair of clutch 3-pointers, giving Orlando a lead in the final seconds.
As we wave goodbye on the Orlando Magic 2022-23 season it should be with a sense of both satisfaction at what was and excitement at what we all believe is to come.
We will look ahead to the summer and the Draft at a later point.However, for now it is safe to say that few teams are set up as well for the future as the Magic and a lot of that is down to the great steps taken since we first tipped off the season in Detroit on October 19th.