Orlando Magic Season Recap

Orlando Magic Season Recap

by June 18, 2021 1 comment

The Orlando Magic made the playoffs in the 2019-20 season and were hoping to continue their upward trajectory this season. After a promising 6-2 start to the season, injuries put a halt to their progress. Starting point guard Markelle Fultz suffered a season-ending ACL injury. The team was already shorthanded coming into the season after defensive stud Jonathan Isaac tore his ACL during last season’s bubble. Playing without two of their five best players proved to be too much for the team to overcome. The losses piled up and the team had to make a decision; either stick with the roster they had or make moves at the trade deadline and rebuild from the ground up. The Magic chose to hit the rebuild button.

On March 25, the franchise decided to blow the roster up by trading core players Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, and Evan Fournier. The team received several young prospects and multiple first-round picks in these trades. None of the three had shown the potential to be a franchise player, so building for the future was the best decision for the Magic. The team finished with a 21-51 record but several of their young players showed promise. Cole Anthony, R.J. Hampton, Chuma Okeke, Wendell Carter, and Mohamed Bamba flashed at times. Having five young players dripping with potential is a scenario that any rebuilding team would like to be in.

Make sure to check out all of our other NBA Team Season Recaps.

Team Performance

Injuries derailed the Magic’s season. Fournier and Gordon were on the roster for 44 games before being traded, missing a combined 37 games with the Magic. Isaac missed the entire season. Fultz missed 64 contest, and Anthony missed 25 games due to a rib fracture. Terrence Ross was unavailable for 26 games dealing with both knee and back injuries, and Bamba was absent for 26 affairs due to multiple injures.

In short, the Magic did not have a chance this season. They looked like a quality team for the first eight games of the season, but it went downhill after that. The Fultz injury left the team with no natural playmakers on the roster. Anthony was forced into the starting role as a rookie and struggled to adjust to the speed of the game. Vucevic was a double-double machine but his numbers did not translate to wins.

Orlando had a completely new look after the trade deadline. With Gordon, Vucevic and Fournier all gone, their young players had the opportunity to showcase their talent. The results were not always pretty (as is expected with a team this young), but the future looks good. The team played at a faster pace once they went with the youth movement. Hampton gave the team a different element with his athleticism. He got to the rim at will and pushed the ball in transition whenever he had a chance.

After missing all of his rookie season with an injury, Okeke showed flashes in limited playing time. At 6-foot-6, Okeke can play both forward positions and he showed promise as a floor-stretcher. Bamba was a good defender and he showed more growth shooting the ball this year. Anthony showed the most growth throughout the season. He had a tough time adjusting to the speed of the NBA but once he returned from his injury, he played with more poise. The Magic had the fourth-worst record in the NBA, but the team should be excited about how their young players performed.

Team Award Winners

MVP – Cole Anthony

The team MVP award came down to two players; Anthony and Ross. Anthony’s all-around impact was enough for him to edge Ross out. After the injury to Fultz, Anthony was forced into the starting rotation. He ended his rookie season with averages of 12.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. Those numbers are pretty good considering there was no summer league. Anthony’s a fiery competitor who does not shy away from taking big shots, nailing buzzer-beaters against both the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Memphis Grizzlies. Anthony’s consistency in the final two months of the season is when started to put it all together.

In April, he averaged 14.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game and he averaged 16.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists during the month of May. Even at just 6-foot-2, Anthony is a strong rebounder. A testament to his competitive nature, the guard has an unlimited motor and he crashes the boards with reckless abandon. As the season progressed, Anthony looked more comfortable in a scoring role. A streaky player who can score in bunches when he gets hot, during the season finale he had a career-high 37 points. He will never average 37 points per game, but that performance showed the potential that he has. Fultz will miss the first month or two of the 2021-22 season so Anthony’s strong play to close the season out is a sign of encouragement for the Magic.

Defensive Player of the Year – Mohamed Bamba

Bamba battled multiple injuries this season and ended up missing a total of 26 games. In the 46 that he played in, Bamba’s shot-blocking and rim-protecting ability were evident. The Texas Longhorns center led Orlando in both blocks per game (1.3) and block percentage (7). Vucevic took the majority of the minutes at center for the first two-and-a-half months of the season, but he was traded in March, leading to more playing time for the Harlem, NY native. Bamba played 15 games combined in April and May and he averaged 1.8 blocks in those games. Once given the chance, his potential to be a dominant rim protector was evident. He struggled at times when defending players in the paint and he bit too often on pump-fakes. Although he had his troubles, Bamba was the best defensive player for the Magic this season.

Sixth Man of the Year – Terrence Ross

Ross was one of the best sixth men in the NBA for the third consecutive season. He averaged a career-high in both points (15.6) and assists (2.3), taking strides in his game during his ninth NBA season. He did not hover around the three-point line as much, either, attempting 5.7 threes per game after taking at least seven per game in each of the previous two years. Ross attacked the basket more often and shot more mid-range jumpers. He played in 46 games and scored at least 15 points on 24 occasions. Ross was having a career year up until the All-Star break. He missed 25 games after the break due to multiple injuries. With the roster going through so many changes during the season, Ross was a consistent contributor.

Biggest Surprise – R.J. Hampton

The Magic acquired Hampton from the Denver Nuggets in the Aaron Gordon trade. Hampton did not get many chances to play while in Denver so this was a good move for him. He showcased a wide array of skills once given the opportunity to play in Orlando. Hampton possesses rare athleticism and it was on full display with his new team. He was lethal in transition, averaging 3.4 transition points per game. Hampton attacked the rim relentlessly and used his long wingspan to finish over defenders.

Hampton had his fair share of rookie struggles but the game to game improvement he displayed was promising. He cemented himself as part of the Magic’s future with his play. At 6-foot-5, 185 pounds, he can serve as a combo guard playing both positions in the backcourt. In 25 games with the Magic, the former New Zealand Breaker played 25.2 minutes per game and averaged 11.2 points, 5 rebounds, and 2.8 assists. Decent numbers for a rookie, but Hampton’s play over the team’s final eight games of the season is what has Magic fans excited.

That performance in the final eight games earned him the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month Honor for May. He recorded three double-doubles and filled the stat sheet with averages of 16 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game. He showed two-way ability and excelled as a playmaker. Hampton’s team-leading assist numbers during this stretch showed his potential to effectively run the offense. His biggest question mark was his shooting but he showed promise as a three-point shooter; shooting 43.5 percent from three for the month.

Even with only a 25-game sample size, Hampton looked like the Magic’s most promising young player. He has skills and physical traits that no one else on the roster possesses. He is the only player who impacted the game in every single facet. Scoring, playmaking, rebounding, defense, Hampton did it all for the Magic. Fine-tuning his jump shot will be key in the offseason. He shot 31.9 percent from three and 65.7 percent from the free-throw line. Becoming a consistent jump-shooter will work wonders. Hampton finished the season on a strong note and he’ll look to carry that into the 2021-22 season.

Biggest Disappointment – Markelle Fultz

Injuries have been the story of Fultz’s NBA career up to this point. After two injury-riddled campaigns starting out, he finally began to show his potential in the 2019-20 NBA season. Fultz was expected to build on that progress this season but he only played in eight games due to injury. In those games, he averaged 12.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game. His scoring and assists numbers were up from the previous season but his efficiency was down. He shot only 39.4 percent from the field and 25 percent from three. Fultz would have had more than enough time to improve on those numbers if not for the injury.

Although his efficiency was down, the Magic offense was much better with him in the lineup. Fultz’s ability to put his teammates in scoring position gives the offense a more consistent flow. The disappointment stems from the fact that Fultz will now enter another offseason rehabbing an injury. He missed another season of development. Young players need to get as many reps as possible at this stage in their career. After his injury this season, Fultz has now missed out on pivotal reps in three of his first four seasons. If Fultz is healthy by the time the 2021-22 season starts, he will have more competition in the backcourt with both Anthony and Hampton playing well in his absence.

What’s Next?

The first thing on the offseason list for the Magic is finding a new coach. They decided to part ways with coach Steve Clifford with one year remaining on his deal. Clifford is a respectable coach but with a roster full of young prospects, the Magic are looking for someone who specializes in player development. The first task for the new coach will be figuring out what to do at the point guard position. Anthony, Fultz, and Hampton will be three of the Magic’s best players going into next season. Identifying the proper role for each guard will be the most important task for the team.

Anthony looks like more of a scoring guard, Hampton is a combo guard and Fultz has the most natural point guard skills. A starting backcourt of Fultz and Hampton would give the Magic a lot of defense but can they mesh together offensively? Both are limited shooters. It’s impossible to play winning basketball in today’s NBA if your starting backcourt cannot shoot. The Magic could choose to start veteran Gary Harris at shooting guard who is an above-average defender and shooter. There are a few possible backcourt combinations for the team. Anthony is a streaky scorer who could be utilized more effectively in a sixth man role where he would get to handle the ball more. All three players are 23 years old or younger and are in the developmental phases of their careers.

Having a successful draft is the key to the rebuild. In the 2021 NBA Draft, the Magic have a 52.1 percent chance of picking in the top four. They are tied with the Houston Rockets and Detroit Pistons at 14 percent for the best odds at choosing first overall. Three of the top five prospects in the upcoming draft are guards (Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, and Jalen Suggs), so the Magic could end up adding another one to their roster. Orlando received a 2021 first-round pick from the Chicago Bulls in the Vucevic trade. Chicago’s pick will go to the Magic if it lands outside of the top-four. There’s only a 20.3 percent chance that the Bulls land in the top-four. With a chance at two first-round picks in the top ten, the Magic could change the fortune of their franchise.

The Magic struggled in nearly every area as a team but their inability to shoot the three was a glaring weakness. They ranked 26th in three-pointers made per game and 27th in three-point percentage. When looking at teams ranked 21-30 in three-point percentage, only two made the playoffs; the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Wizards. Making the three an area of strength will instantly make the Magic a better team. Without much cap space, the Magic will have to add shooting via the draft and improvements from players like Anthony, Hampton, Bamba, Fultz, and Okeke. The team could choose to re-sign veteran James Ennis who shot a team-best 43.3 percent from three. The Magic must become a better shooting team next season.

Isaac is the Magic’s best player and with him returning next season, they’ll be much improved defensively. He is one of the better wing defenders in the NBA. Isaac averaged 1.6 steals and 2.3 blocks in the 2019-20 season, making a strong case for the Defensive Player of the Year before a stretch of injuries caused him to miss time. Improvements from Isaac on the offensive side of the ball will be something to keep an eye on. Becoming a consistent threat on offense will greatly increase the potential of the Magic. Isaac, Bamba, Carter Jr., and Okeke give the team a lot of flexibility in the frontcourt. The Magic have a plethora of talented young options in both the frontcourt and backcourt, hiring the right coach to guide them will determine their future.

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Main Image Credit: via My Family Trip

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