Photo by: Gregory Shamus
Missing the playoffs the last 2 years netted the Magic Paolo Banchero, their fourth number one overall pick in franchise history after Shaq in ’92, C-Webb in ’93 (traded to GS for Penny), and Dwight Howard in ’04. After trading away the aforementioned Howard a little over 10 years ago, the Magic toiled in mediocrity for 7-8 years before they eventually traded their best players at the time in Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic.
They still have Gary Harris, RJ Hampton (and a 1st rd. pick from Denver), and Wendell Carter Jr. (plus a pair of protected 1st rd. picks from Chicago) from those trades but what the Magic really wanted was to give their young bucks a ton of experience and while acquiring a lot of assets by not winning a lot of games; and they got all that with the drafting of Banchero as the culmination of everything.
Even after only winning an average of 21 games in the last 2 seasons, the Magic has turned into one of the most exciting and enigmatic teams in the league. They have yet to play together, but there’s reason for optimism that this team as presently constructed is going to have a similar trajectory to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The East is very top heavy and if all the teams stave off any major injuries, the Bucks, Celtics, 76ers and Heat in no particular order will occupy the top of the standings. The bottom 6 spots (including the play-ins) are up for grabs and the Magic might just sneak up on teams like Cleveland and Toronto.
The Magic has zero All-Star on the team (for now) but from a talent perspective, there aren’t too many major holes anymore.
Let’s start with their backcourt. Jalen Suggs, last year’s 5th overall pick might have had an inefficient rookie year but with Fultz missing most of last year to an injury, he had more opportunities to learn on the job and briefly struggled to adjust to the NBA game. He got better towards the latter part of the year with his decision making, was more aggressive, and looked more like what he was in college. With a year under his belt, and better players around him, he is poised to make a significant jump in his sophomore year.
Markelle Fultz, came back and played 18 games last year from a torn ACL he sustained early in 2021 and looked good averaging 10.8 ppg, 5.5 apg, and 1.1 spg at only 20 minutes a game. Both Suggs and Fultz’s three-point shooting won’t scare any team but their ability to create and get to wherever they want to more than makes up for their deficiencies.
Terrence Ross, Cole Anthony, Gary Harris and RJ Hampton are all better shooters and defenders and can spell both of them without a significant drop-off in production. Outside Anthony, the Magic’s size in the backcourt allows them to defend, switch and take advantage of smaller teams.
Speaking of size, that is something they have in spades in the frontcourt, and it all starts with Paolo Banchero. A 6-10 dynamo that can do practically anything on the offensive end. His vision, playmaking ability and unselfishness make him the best player and primary option for this team. His shooting and defense still need some work but frontcourt mates Mo Bamba (at 38% 3pt shooting) and Franz Wagner (35% 3pt shooting) will see more open shots with him on the floor which will make up for the backcourt’s mediocre clip.
Last years (and most likely this years) starting center Wendell Carter Jr. and the returning Jonathan Isaac will also be in tow. All five players stand north of 6’9, can score, defend, and are on the right side of 25. With a little luck health wise, this team might just coalesce earlier than expected and sneak into the top 6 in the east at best and become one of the most exciting team in the league at worst.