The new NBA season is rapidly approaching and the Orlando Magic squad of 2022-23 is an exciting young team seeking to show growth. It is one that has the potential to surprise but is also causes debate. Here we look at some of the prospects and questions around the Orlando Magic squad of 2022-23.
Let’s start with the basic, who are the players that the Magic have?
At 10 and 8 years experience respectively Terrence Ross and Gary Harris are the veterans of the team. The next most experienced players both carry a massive caveat to that statement. Selected at 1 and 6 of the 2017 Draft both Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac are entering their sixth NBA season. JI has missed the last two completely through injury and Kelle has played only 26 times in the same period. They are followed by Wendell Carter Jr, Mo Bamba and Moritz Wagner, all beginning their fifth NBA season.
The above shows that this is a young squad. It has three rookies including the 2022 number 1 Draft pick Paolo Banchero. Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner both begin their second NBA seasons. Cole Anthony, Chuma Okeke and RJ Hampton are entering their third campaigns.
Add to that that whilst vastly experienced as an assistant, Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley is beginning only his second season in the coaching hot seat. He faces a schedule some love and others hate.
Who Are The Starting Five For The Orlando Magic Squad Of 2022-23
Here is the debate for many a Magic fan, who gets the start?
Probably the biggest discussion revolves arounds this pairing. Looking back to the close of the previous season Markelle Fultz was the starting point guard and primary ball handler. So, who plays alongside him though?
Firstly, Gary Harris is out following a torn meniscus to his left knee. He has undergone arthroscopic surgery to repair the injury. With his experience and shooting Harris was the choice of some for the starting shooting guard. Hopefully he is not absent too long but for now he is out of the running.
Cole Anthony is a vocal, high energy player. He is a scorer and willing to take the big shot. Whilst starting last season looking like an All-Star candidate his play dropped as he struggled to impact as the season progressed.
Jalen Suggs is a highly athletic player with positional intelligence and strength. His rookie campaign was for many a disappointing affair. Defensively excellent he does however have a point to prove offensively. Having missed the close of his rookie season through injury he is expected to be available.
Another fair assumption is that Jonathan Isaac is on a minutes restriction upon his eventual return and will be treated much as the Markelle Fultz return was. There are suggestions in the Magic media that JI could be ready for the season opener. That potential availability is also the case for Bol Bol. Moe Wagner is also a question being absent from the German Eurobasket squad, resting a foot injury.
The small and power forwards are locked in. Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero know they will carry much of the burden of expectation from the fans. Franz had an exceptional and underrated rookie campaign. Scoring, positional intelligence and sublime handling of the ball saw Franz become a focus for any opposing team’s defence.
Paolo is seen as the cornerstone of the Orlando rebuild, possessing an ability to score, an eye for a pass and size to be a monster on defence. It would be a controversial move not to start the number 1 pick, even if Jonathan Isaac was to be available.
Finally, at the centre there is Wendell Carter Jr. A career season saw him relish facing the best big men in the league and give most a hard time. He averaged 15 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 three-pointers on 52.5 percent shooting per game.
There is a question in some minds as to if Wendell is a centre or better suited as a power forward. Because of that there remain those who would prefer Mo Bamba to get the start.
Does Jonathan Isaac Return?
Ok we get it, this has been a question for what feels like far too long. Many people far more qualified than any of us have spoken about JI and his ability to return to the court. So here I am going to write simply as a fan.
Two things are true without any fear of contradiction. The first is that since his draft in 2017 JI has been injury prone. There was a lengthy absence in his rookie season. Then on January 1st 2020 a knee injury in Washington. That injury saw him out until the NBA resumed inside the Walt Disney World bubble. The return was short lived, resulting in this latest and lengthiest injury for an ACL tear and subsequent hamstring issue. The second is that following such a long absence for such a serious injury there are no guarantees that Isaac returns the same player.
The flip side to that second point is where the debate lies. What if he does or is improved through time away working on strength and other aspects of his game?
Can He Have An Impact?
Isaac in his return to the court in the NBA bubble showed what the team had missed. His play on defence was as always his greatest strength. There appeared to be some improvement in his offensive contributions as well. Go back further and simply put Judah was being spoken of as a future Defensive Player Of The Year nominee.
There are many questions that Jeff Weltman and John Hammond will have considered on JI and will continue to do so. The first is simply can Jonathan Isaac still play basketball at an NBA level? They clearly believe so or he would already be gone. By having shown faith in the player and the medical team they have to believe he has benefit to the squad.
This is a player who has played just 141 total NBA games, when including the playoffs. He has recorded game highs of 25 points, 6 blocks, 13 rebounds and 5 assists. He can shoot the three, on one occasion making 5 of 7 attempts.
Personally, I am not yet ready to give up on Isaac. I want to see him make a return to the team and see what he can do on the court. For many fans he was in his second season seen as a cornerstone of the team’s future. He was an automatic inclusion in the starting five. By giving him another opportunity we are losing nothing.
Is There Sufficient Flexibility?
One thing the Magic are blessed with are players who can play in multiple positions. That will allow Coach Mosley to use a lot of different rotations. For opposing coaching staff this multi-dimensional squad could be a nightmare to scout and predict what they will face. So lets play with some rotations.
The Potential Starting Five
Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, Wendell Carter Jr
If this is the opening night starting unit then it is an exciting team. Packed full of potential, pace, athleticism, intelligence, exceptional defensive prowess and with elite ball handling. It is a line up that could be one of the best passing units in the league. Transition offence will be at an electric pace. There will remain a question on the reliability of shooting from the three, much responsibility resting on both Franz and Paolo.
The Second Unit
Cole Anthony, Terrence Ross, Chuma Okeke, Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba
Cole Anthony assumes the point guard role, joined by Terrence Ross at the two position (in the absence of Gary Harris). Together they pose an attacking threat, though shooting can be streaky. This pairing is joined by forwards Chuma Okeke and Jonathan Isaac, whilst Mo Bamba plays centre. Together Okeke, Isaac and Bamba offer a defensive wall. Offensively this five offers some floor nice spacing and opportunities for points off of the second chance.
Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, Jonathan Isaac, Wendell Carter Jr, Mo Bamba
Just for fun let’s put Franz Wagner at the point guard with Paolo Banchero at the other guard position. At the small and power forward sit Jonathan Isaac and Wendell Carter Jr. Mo Bamba plays at centre. Good luck scoring against that unit! Franz and Paolo provide the ball handling and creation, whilst carrying a scoring threat. Franz did get some experience in adversity at the point in the previous campaign, doing an ok job. Wendell and Mo showed last season that they can play the 4 and 5 positions together. Whilst Carter does not possess a strong outside shooting game JI has hit from range at a league average rate, whilst Bamba is a legitimate threat from deep.
Floor Spacing And Fast Paced Transition
Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris, Chuma Okeke, Paolo Banchero, Mo Bamba
Put the ball in Fultz’s hand and let him run the floor! Built on strong defence this line up offers the opportunity to play in transition. Harris, Okeke and Bamba have all shown an ability to shoot the three. Bamba is excellent at trailing the play, whilst Banchero looks to possess a quality of getting his own shot.
The Defensive Shut Out
Jalen Suggs, Gary Harris, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr, Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac, Chuma Okeke
Before anyone points it out, yes there are 7 not 5 players listed above. However it is deliberate on just this one section to show the strength in depth this team have to play on D. It is easy to move JI to the 3 or 4, Wendell to the 5. Chuma, JI and Franz can all play the 3, whilst Franz also offers cover at the 2.
A backcourt of Suggs and Harris is something that few guards would relish going against. Both hold their own against the best on this end of the court. Chuma Okeke has an incredible ability to deflect and steal the ball. Mo Bamba offers rim protection bettered by only a few.
Devin Cannady and Caleb Houstan are not mentioned in any of the above rotations. If you were to look at providing additional shooting then their threat is a nice option to have in your arsenal.
In need of someone to disrupt the opposition, really get under their skin whilst impacting the offence with energy, then introduce Moe Wagner.
Can This Squad Make The Playoffs?
Last season saw Orlando take just 22 wins in 84 games played. In the Eastern Conference the 10th spot and final play-in berth was secured by the Charlotte Hornets with 43 wins. Chicago took the final automatic post season spot with a total of 46 wins. From that statistic it is clear to see that to reach the playoffs for Orlando would require a huge jump in wins with effectively the same squad.
But wait for one moment and think what the Magic have done this summer. They brought in Paolo Banchero as the number 1 pick. He brings with him excitement and expectations because of his evident talents. The team brought back veteran guard Gary Harris with his defensive ability and threat from the corner three. They resigned Mo Bamba an elite rim protector with an ability to trail the play and space the floor from deep. Further more veteran and “Human Torch” Terrence Ross remains in the squad. In the need for bench depth Bol Bol and Admiral Schofield penned new contracts, Caleb Houstan was drafted and Kevon Harris acquired on the team’s second two-way contract.
Whilst not being moves the team should also see the return of Cole Anthony, Wendell Carter Jr and Jalen Suggs who all missed lengthy stretches at the season end. Markelle Fultz has had a full and healthy summer of preparation. Franz Wagner has been playing (and continues to do so) competitive international basketball with Germany. Then there is the anticipation that surrounds Jonathan Isaac, likely to be available to the team for the first time in two years!
So yes, it is asking a lot to increase wins by twenty-plus across a single campaign but there are reasons why it is possible.
A Final Thought On The Orlando Magic Squad Of 2022-23
There are no guarantees for the season. The Eastern Conference has seen every team attempting to get stronger. Some have made big moves, such as Cleveland’s trade for securing the services of Donovan Mitchell. Others have concentrated on securing what they have, such as Brooklyn with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
This is a second season of the team seeing what we have and what works together. It is another season of little pressure for a team seen as canon fodder by many. It allows Coach Mosley the luxury of experimentation.
If what we have works together then that is a huge bonus. If not the team go back to a lottery seen as having two future stars within it and loaded with a whole lot of potential cap space to swing big.