By: Tim Jones
Despite being at the bottom of the standings at 4-18, there have still been a few bright spots for the Orlando Magic. The team is young and can be pretty exciting to watch at times, and though they haven't translated to many wins thus far, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful about the future of the Magic.
Cole Anthony’s leap
Cole Anthony’s jump has been huge for the Magic and gives them another talented young piece to be confident in for the team’s long-term future. Anthony has been one of the most improved players in the league in his sophomore season. Currently, Anthony is dealing with an ankle injury that has kept him out of the last six games, but as of now, he is averaging just under 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and is shooting 37% from the three-point line in 16 games. After being a projected top-five pick by most coming into his freshman season, Anthony was selected by the Magic just outside the lottery at No. 15 in 2020 following a rough one-and-done year at North Carolina. In his second year in the league, he is beginning to look like the prospect many thought he could be when he was ranked as the No. 2 player in the country coming out of high school in 2019.
Even with Anthony’s leap, perhaps the most intriguing story for the Magic has been the rookie, Franz Wagner. Wagner has been one of the NBA’s best first-year players up to this point. Wagner has been impressive in so many ways for the Magic, functioning as an effective cutter, three-point shooter, and even pick-and-roll ball handler/offense initiator. As a guy who many (including myself) thought was a high-floor, low-ceiling type of prospect high-end role player upside, Wagner looks like he could be much more than that down the line and could potentially develop into a star wing in this league. At 6-10 with a near 7-foot wingspan, the 20-year-old possesses all the tools defensively to become an elite two-way player someday.
The Magic’s top pick in the 2021 draft is another player for Magic fans to be excited about. Jalen Suggs has shown flashes of why scouts raved about him last year at Gonzaga and why he was a top-five pick, but has failed to be consistent up to this point. Suggs has struggled to consistently knock down shots and take care of the ball. However, Suggs was starting to make strides in the right direction before fracturing his thumb on Monday in a 17 point, 5 assist effort in the loss to the 76ers. The missed shots and turnovers are not something I am worried about with Suggs, especially considering the trajectory of rookie guards on bad teams. Suggs is a proven winner and clearly wants to continue improving. When the game slows down for him and the shots start falling, I am confident in him becoming the special player that we all saw in college a year ago.
After signing an extension before the season, Wendell Carter Jr. is proving that he was worth the money. He has been one of, if not the most consistent player for the Magic so far in the season. Playing in 21 out of 22 games, WCJ is averaging 13.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, which are both career-highs. His frontcourt partner, Mo Bamba, is also having his best season yet, putting up nearly 11 points and nine rebounds in almost 30 minutes of action per game. WCJ and Bamba have complemented each other fairly well in the starting lineup together and it will be interesting to see what Coach Mosley decides to do with the two big men down the line when the team is at full strength.
Fultz eyes return
The Magic also expect to (hopefully) get Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac back sometime in the near future. The two were foundational pieces for the Magic before they both suffered torn ACLs. Fultz is undoubtedly their best playmaker and Isaac was on his way to being an all-league defender before the injury. Fultz hasn’t played since January and Isaac has been out since the bubble back in August 2020.
Despite suffering his injury almost five months later, Fultz seems like he is much closer to returning than Isaac. Fultz spoke with the media last week and gave encouraging signs that a return could be on the way soon.
“It’s been amazing. I’ve been feeling really good. No setbacks, no pain, nothing like that. Just following the protocol for every day, coming in and checking my boxes,” Fultz told the media. “I’m just trying to come in every day and work as hard as I can. But right now, I’m really enjoying it. I'm getting closer and closer to getting back on the court, so of course my excitement is just very high, but I want to also be smart and just listen to my body, listen to our medical staff and the doctors.”
Fultz says he often talks with Coach Mosley about where he envisions him in the lineup and is eager to return to play to help the Magic in as many ways as possible.
“I don't even think most of these guys understand how easy it's going to be for them when I come back, just with my playmaking ability, [and] my way to control the pace.” Fultz also said that the way the guys can space the floor and move without the ball will be of benefit to him as well.
Whenever he returns, Fultz’s ability to get into the paint and make plays around the rim as well as create for others is something the Magic could desperately utilize. Though he is still only 23-years-old, Fultz provides the Magic with leadership and experience, as he already has a playoff series as the starting point guard under his belt.
Many fans question what a fully healthy lineup will look like for the Magic. My guess is Fultz-Anthony-Franz-Isaac-WCJ, with Suggs, Bamba, and Chuma Okeke playing key roles off the bench. When will we see this lineup? Who knows. The Magic have been one of the most injury riddled teams in the league over the last couple of years. With Fultz and Isaac still recovering from torn ACLs, Anthony missing games due to an ankle sprain, and Suggs expected to be out for an extended period of time with a fractured thumb, it could be months, or even longer, before we see this team at one hundred percent. Whenever the Magic are able to get their core together on the court at the same time, they look to have a solid young group with loads of potential.
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