By: Ryan Brock
The Orlando Magic have plenty of young talent as they head toward the future. "The Sixth Man Show" team have convened to create a consensus ranking of the Magic’s most important pieces as the first full season of the rebuild nears its conclusion. The results, based on an average ranking, are as follows.
All stats come from Cleaning The Glass, unless stated otherwise.
8. Tie - RJ Hampton (21 Years Old) (right) and Moe Wagner (24 Years Old) (left)
In somewhat of a surprise, Moe Wagner and RJ Hampton tied with two votes each for being the eighth most important player of Orlando’s future (Mo Bamba also garnered one vote). Hampton came into the season with a lot of hype, as many fixated on his alleged two inch growth spurt that listed him at 6’6 before the season began. Magic fans hoped that he would build off the momentum he gained after being selected Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month to end last season, but Hampton has largely struggled in his sophomore campaign, cooling down a lot of the pre-season excitement.
On one hand, Hampton has shown that the work he’s put in with former Magic player Mike MIller in the offseason is paying dividends, as he’s shooting the three at 35%, up from 31% in his rookie season. On the other hand, the positives pretty much end there. Hampton plays at 100mph, but can’t seem to figure out how to leverage that speed to keep his defenders off balance and is out of control far too often.
Despite his blink-of-an-eye quickness, Hampton struggles in transition and hasn’t yet figured out how to finish, ranking in only the 16th percentile for combo guards at 50% shooting at the rim. Hampton certainly has the physical tools to climb this list in future years and still has plenty of time to develop, as he’s still only 21 years old, but he hasn’t shown the handle or playmaking to become a primary ball handler and he’s probably best suited in a 3-and-D role moving forward.
Moe Wagner cracked this list because he brings to the court what every NBA team needs, energy and toughness. Nobody will argue that the older Wagner brother will become a star, but Moe won’t back down from anyone, takes pleasure in antagonizing the other team's best player, will dunk on your head, talk trash, hit threes, hype the crowd, and play harder than anyone on the floor. If Wagner ends up re-signing with the Magic, as his contract is set to expire at the end of next season, he could become a valuable role player for the Magic as they build towards the future.
7. Chuma Okeke (23 Years Old)
The man Magic fans were coining “Baby Kawhi” last season has taken a while to find his footing this year, but Chuma Okeke has the tools and ability to become an apex role player in this league for years to come. Sure, his 3P% doesn’t look great at 31% for the season, but Okeke has improved that to 35% since the new year and has all the makings of a quality NBA shooter. Playing with guys like Markelle Fultz and Jalen Suggs, Okeke will make a living off of spot-up threes, especially in the corner, where he’s shooting 38% since January 1st. He also possesses great size at 6’8, can switch across all five positions on defense, shows some juice off the dribble, plays within the offense, and has a high basketball IQ. As the Magic continue to add talent to their roster, Okeke could thrive in a complementary role on this team for years to come.
6. Cole Anthony (21 Years Old)
In direct contrast to Okeke, Cole Anthony started his 2021-2022 season looking like a potential future All-Star. In his first 20 games, Anthony shot 48% on two-point attempts, 37% from three, and 58% at the rim. In the 40 games he’s played since then, he’s shooting 41%, 33%, and 53% on those same splits, respectively. If Anthony wants to turn himself into a starting caliber guard, he’s going to have to take steps toward improving his efficiency, and much of that will come from shot selection. Anthony tends to emulate the long-range prowess of NBA peers like Damian Lillard and Steph Curry, except Anthony’s shots don’t go in nearly as often. When that happens consistently, they’re just bad shots, and Anthony needs to do a better job at refining that part of his game moving forward.
However, the former top recruit in the country still brings plenty to the table. With his flashy handle, nasty step-backs, and high-flying dunks, Anthony is a leader in the locker room and brings plenty of energy to the city of Orlando. His most probable outcome is a high quality scoring guard off the bench, à la Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams, but his physical gifts and innate talent still leaves a path for him to turn into a quality NBA starting point guard.
5. Jonathan Isaac (24 Years Old)
The enigma that is Jonathan Isaac. Some may argue that the former 6th overall pick should be atop this list, others may say he shouldn’t be on it all. In the end, he sits somewhere in the middle for us, with his injury history certainly baked into our ranking. The talent of Isaac remains tantalizing, a 6’10, 230 pound forward with a 7’ foot wingspan who has defensive player of the year potential. That player still lingers somewhere, and Magic fans, along with the front office, just want to see him bring that potential to the court. Isaac has missed the last two seasons after suffering a torn ACL in the bubble during the 2020 season, and recently just had “minor’ surgery to repair a hamstring injury during rehabilitation.
Nobody can predict if Jonathan Isaac will ever be able to stay healthy, most are just eager to see him play basketball again, but one thing remains the same, Isaac’s defensive potential is a game changer. If he can find a little luck along the way, he could find himself sitting at the top of this list in a very short amount of time and change the short-term trajectory of this team.
4. Jalen Suggs (20 Years Old)
It hasn’t been the ideal debut season in the league for Jalen Suggs, but his struggles this season shouldn’t deter your excitement for his future. The former Gonzaga product has had difficulty adjusting to the speed of the NBA game, but he’s certainly flashed the potential that made him the 5th overall pick in last year's draft. Suggs brings a ton to the table when talking about winning basketball, including being a high level passer, elite speed and athleticism, a high basketball IQ, and desire to become a tough-nosed, ferocious on-ball defender. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he’s regularly competing for All-Defense teams at some point in his career.
Undeniably, Suggs must improve his shooting if he wants to live up to his pre-draft hype, as he’s shooting just 36% from the field and an abysmal 22% from three on the season. However, a free-throw percentage of 77%, one of the best indicators for an improvement in three point shooting, and fluid shot mechanics provide optimism for a major leap in his sophomore season. Suggs possesses the physical traits to become an elite guard in this league, but he must live in the gym in the off-season and return with a jump shot.
3. Markelle Fultz (23 Years Old)
After spending over a year rehabbing from a torn ACL, Markelle Fultz finally made his return to the court post All-Star break, picking up right where he left off before his injury. Magic fans will tell you that Fultz is unquestionably the best playmaker on the team, and despite the hardships he’s endured over his young career, he continues to display the talent that made him the top overall draft pick in the league back in 2017. The thoracic outlet syndrome injury that haunted his days with the Sixers has clearly impacted his three-point range, but virtually everything else that Fultz showcased in college at the University of Washington remains intact, and the future remains extremely bright for the young point guard.
Fultz brings so much to a young Magic team that desperately needs someone to run the show. With his physicality, creativity, and ability to get downhill in transition, Fultz effortlessly glides down the court with incredible change of pace, enabling him to manipulate defenses as he looks for teammates or finds opportunities to finish at the rim, where he’s shooting 68% since his return. As long as he stays healthy, Fultz should mesh well with high IQ players like Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr, Jalen Suggs, and Chuma Okeke as they continue to gain continuity.
Fultz may never regain the shot making that he had at Washington, including his ability to pull up on a dime from three, but at only 23 years old, there’s a realistic chance that he still makes an All-Star team in his career, and his overall impact on the Magic cannot be overstated.
2. Wendell Carter Jr. (22 Years Old)
Arguably the most positive development to come out of this tumultuous season has been the significant leap that Wendell Carter Jr. has taken. In his fourth NBA season, Carter Jr. seems to be finally living up to the potential he showed while at Duke, setting career highs in minutes played (29.2), points (15.0), rebounds (10.4), assists (2.7), and games played (61). Since the All-Star break, things look even better, as he’s shooting 44% on threes, 53% on mid-range shots, while posting an eFG% of 65%. If he continues on this trajectory, Carter Jr. will find himself in the upper echelon of NBA Centers, and after signing a 4 year, $50 million extension last off-season, the Magic could have themselves one of the biggest bargain contracts in the league.
Carter Jr. brings a multitude of skills to the court. He’s tough in the paint, a solid rebounder, plays with a high motor, and has a deep offensive repertoire. He’s displayed an improved face-up game, routinely using a Fultz-esque hang dribble to get his defenders off balance while pulling up from the mid-range. Carter Jr. also possesses one of the deadliest pump fakes in the league, frequently using it to blow by his defenders when they commit to a close-out behind the arc. There’s no reason Carter Jr. shouldn’t continue to improve, as he’s still only 22 years old. If he can stay healthy and even slightly increase his three-point percentage, Carter Jr. could flourish into one of the most dangerous two-way bigs in the league.
1. Franz Wagner (20 Years Old)
It’s safe to say that Franz Wagner has far exceeded his draft day expectations in his rookie season. Right from the jump, Wagner has been a staple of consistency for this young Magic team, and the 8th overall pick in last year's draft is looking like a foundational piece for Orlando moving forward. Whether you were in the Amway Center on draft night, or watched The Sixth Man Show’s reaction video, you know that the excitement level for the Wagner pick was somewhat muted, to put it kindly. On the heels of the Jalen Suggs selection at five and the pandemonium that ensued, most Magic fans were hoping for a player like James Bouknight, Moses Moody, or Jonathan Kuminga. The 6’10, 220 pound German didn’t really move the needle much for the fanbase, even as draft critics championed the Magic’s selections in subsequent days. Fast Forward eight months later, and the former Michigan Wolverine has been one of the most productive rookies in the league, averaging 15.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game while posting a true shooting percentage of 55.9%.
Wagner was heralded as someone who can become a star in his role, but thus far, he’s shown that his role might be as the star player. Coming into the draft, experts questioned his ability to score and create his own shot, but in just 70 plus games, Wagner has put many of those concerns to bed. At just 20 years old, he already owns one of the league’s best euro-steps, a move he continuously utilizes but other teams can’t seem to stop. Franz does need to improve as a finisher, as he’s only converting 58% of his shots at the rim, which ranks him in only the 23rd percentile for forwards, but he can get there with ease, and the finishing should improve with more experience. At 36%, his three-point shot is already above average, coming as somewhat of a surprise after shooting 33% from behind the arc in college. He’s also converting corner threes at 44% for the season, ranking in the 77th percentile for forwards.
Playing in every game this season, Wagner is looking like a player the Magic could potentially build around, and Orlando would be wise to expand his role next season to see how much he can actually handle. HIs usage should continue to increase, and he’s already proven that he can be a secondary ball handler. As long as the Magic provide opportunities for him to grow, he could be a 20 ppg scorer, and the man they call the Franzchise could blossom into the All-Star the Magic are desperately looking for.
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