The Orlando Magic took a step back during the 2020-21 season after back-to-back playoff berths. It all started in “the bubble”, when Jonathan Isaac tore his meniscus, causing him to miss the entire season. Following that, Markelle Fultz tore his ACL just eight games in. The team was down two of their best players, and they did not have the depth to overcome it. Orlando decided that it would be best for them to blow up the roster. They traded away Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic during the season and went with a full rebuild.
As expected, the results were not pretty. The team finished 14th overall in the Eastern Conference with a record of 21-51. There were several bright spots, despite their final record. Wendell Carter Jr. played better with the change of scenery after coming over in the Vucevic trade. Rookie R.J. Hampton flashed his all-around skill set. Cole Anthony and Chuma Okeke both had moments of steady play and displayed their potential. The Magic are going into the 2021-22 season with a promising young roster.
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Other than signing Robin Lopez, Orlando did not make many roster moves this offseason. They moved on from coach Steve Clifford and hired Jamahl Mosley on a four-year deal. Mosley was an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks for the last five seasons. He is a defensive-minded coach who is not afraid to be hard on his players. Player development is an area Mosley specializes in, and that will be important with a roster this young.
Orlando landed two top-eight picks in the 2021 NBA draft. They used those picks on Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner. Suggs starred in Summer League and will contend for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. His confidence and defensive intensity are something the Magic have been lacking in recent years. Wagner did not play well in Summer League, but the upside is there.
The Starting Five
PG – Markelle Fultz
SG – Jalen Suggs
SF – Gary Harris
PF – Jonathan Isaac
C – Wendell Carter Jr.
Fultz and Isaac are both going to miss the beginning of the season while recovering from their injuries but once healthy, they will return to the starting lineup. Every starter is a capable defender. The backcourt of Suggs and Fultz gives the team two playmakers who can handle primary ball-handling duties. They can both apply defensive pressure on the perimeter but both will need to improve as shooters. Gary Harris is playing the 3 and D role in this lineup.
Isaac and Carter Jr. will man the frontcourt. Isaac was one of the NBA’s best defenders before his injury, the Magic just need his offense to come along. He has star potential if he can become a better shot creator. Carter and Mo Bamba will compete for the center spot. Carter played well last season in Orlando so he gets the nod here. This lineup does not contain a go-to scorer or a consistent shot creator, but they should be solid defensively.
Terrence Ross has been one of the NBA’s top sixth men, and that trend will continue this season. Ross is the team’s best shot creator and perimeter shooter. He is also one of the only veterans on the team so his experience will be much needed. A backcourt tandem with Anthony and Hampton will be fun to watch. Hampton can do a little bit of everything and will probably see some minutes at small forward too. He is the most athletic player on the team and will push the pace in transition.
This is a big season for Bamba. He has not lived up to expectations due to his inability to stay healthy. He could star with the second unit and eventually overtake Carter for the starting spot at center. Okeke will get the bulk of the minutes alongside Bamba with the second unit. Bamba and Franz Wagner will be key players in the rotation.
One Potential Move To Make
Trading Ross would be a good idea for the Magic. Ross is a good player who could help a contender right away. His shooting and shot creation off the bench could come up big in the postseason. The Magic are not close to being a competitive team right now, and they could use those minutes to develop one of their younger players. Ross is getting older and by the time the Magic are ready to compete, his best days could already be behind him. Maximizing his talent on a playoff team would be the best move for his career.
With a first-year head coach and the third-youngest roster in the NBA with an average age of 24.7 years old, this will be a season of development for Orlando. Things will be a major struggle early on without Fultz and Isaac. Fultz is the best playmaker on the team. Without him, the team lacks a true point guard who can read the defense and run the offense efficiently. Isaac is their best defender and best player overall. Okeke and Anthony are the leading candidates to start in their absence.
The Magic have a plethora of young, talented players. They will be a fun team to watch due to their youth and athleticism, but they will lose a lot of games. There is no true finisher on the roster, and that will cause the team to lose close matchups. Mosley’s first season as head coach should not be judged by the win/loss column. The growth of the team’s core players is what this season will be about.
Season Prediction: 27-55, Last Place in the Southeast Division
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