By: Ryan Brock
If you were to survey Magic fans on who will be the breakout player of the upcoming season, it’s realistic you could hear six or seven different answers bidding for the top spot. Sure, there are some obvious choices, but it’s hard to remember a team with so many players, so early in their careers, who seem poised to take the next step in their basketball journeys. Unique circumstances over the last few years forced the Magic’s hand to pivot toward a rebuild, and in just a year and half since the deadline fire sale, Orlando has constructed a roster brimming with young talent.
Landing the first overall pick and drafting Paolo Banchero was so exciting because the Magic have long been starved for a star. Someone that commands double-teams, gets to the foul line, and the opposing team actually has to gameplan for. With a roster full of promising young players, the mere presence of Paolo sets everything else in motion and could unlock a player's full potential.
With that being said, let’s take a look at which Magic players are ready for a “breakout.”.
If Eurobasket is any indication, Franz Wagner seems poised for a monster sophomore campaign. As the most consistent rookie over the course of last season in what could be one of the most loaded draft classes of all-time, Wagner showed improvements in his game and strung together some impressive performances during a deep run in the FIBA tournament. Wagner averaged 15.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game during his first season, earning NBA First Team All-Rookie and stealing the hearts of Magic fans all over the world. A 6’10 two-way wing who can do a little bit of everything on the court at a high level, Franz is the type of player that every team covets, even if he doesn’t yet get the recognition he deserves amongst the national media and NBA fans alike.
The beauty of Franz is that he can score in so many different ways. He can spread the floor and shoot it from three, run pick and roll, score in transition, and is elite at timely cuts to the rim. For a guy his size, he possesses a unique ability to slither past defenders with what is one of the league’s prettiest euro-steps.
Franz should only continue to get better as he takes on a bigger role in the offense this season. Aside from being a year older, simply sharing the court with better playmakers will benefit his game. Playing with Paolo and Fultz should find him a few easy buckets a game that weren’t consistently there during his rookie year. If he can finish a bit better at the rim and slightly improve his three point shooting, inching closer to 40% from beyond the arc, Franz could drop 20 a game, lead the Magic in scoring, and begin to gain the recognition he deserves.
Wendell Carter Jr.
Some could argue that WCJ already broke out last season. He proved to stay relatively healthy and started to really find his groove post all-star break. It culminated in what was one of the better performances from a Magic player last season versus Oklahoma City, where he scored 30 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and was bursting with confidence as he dominated the Thunder’s front court. Carter Jr. will now move to the full time starting center after playing at the four alongside Mo Bamba for much of last season. Like Wagner, he’ll have every opportunity to take another step forward. The potential of a WCJ pick and roll combination with virtually any of the other Magic starters is an exciting prospect. High level playmakers could help mature Carter Jr. into one of the best pick and pop centers in the league. He already finishes at the rim at an impressive rate, ranking in the 80th percentile among bigs at 75%, according to cleaning the glass.
He’s also quite mobile on the defensive end, can move his feet on the perimeter and holds his own against the best centers in the league. He has a nice face-up game and had his best shooting season from three at 33%. That percentage will likely need to improve for Carter Jr. to have a true breakout season, but the skillset is there. As long as health stays on his side, the stars could align for WCJ to nab an all-star appearance as a back-up center in the East.
If you want to define breakout by the player that will have the biggest impact on the team next season, look no further than Markelle Fultz. In his brief appearance last season, where he played in just 18 games, Fultz averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists in just 20 minutes a game. He also averaged a 45.2 assist percentage, ranking second in the league just behind Luka Doncic.
It’s those kinds of numbers that illustrate the innate ability Fultz has to make his teammates better. Even as a non-threat from the 3-point line after his shoulder injury, Markelle demands attention from the defense and consistently finds open looks for others. There’s a certain gravity to his game. Like Franz, he moves at his own speed and controls the pace of everyone else around him. They both use herky jerky movement to get to the rim and use unconventional finishes, a spot where Fultz is near the top of the league at his position. ranking in the 98 percentile for combo guards from shots within 4 feet of the rim, per cleaning the glass.
Many think Paolo will be given the keys to the offense, and that may be true toward the latter half of the season. But to start the season, Markelle should be running the show. Fultz will miss training camp after fracturing his toe in an off court accident, but the hope is he can be back fairly early in the season. If he can avoid the injury bug once he makes his return, the former first overall pick could have a career year and cement his status as the point guard of the future for this young Magic team.
Cole Anthony seems like the forgotten man. The Magic’s leading scorer from last year returns for his third NBA season, and expectations seem modest at best. Anthony remains a fan favorite, as his bravado and fun loving attitude make him one of the more popular Magic players in a long time. But the fact remains that many have conceded Anthony is the 3rd best guard in the rotation, destined for the sixth man role on this young Magic team. If there’s anything we’ve learned about Cole Anthony, it’s that he’s having none of that.
That’s not to say that Cole wouldn't accept his role if that’s what was asked of him. He certainly would. But Anthony will do everything it takes to become the starting point guard moving forward, and there is a path for him to get there. Anthony averaged 20 points a game for the first quarter of last season, earning some hype as an early breakout player and even getting mentioned in all-star discussions. Anthony seemed to return to his high school form, breaking down players in iso situations with his shifty handle and scoring at a more efficient rate. But upon return after sustaining an ankle injury that kept him out for some time, he cooled off and never quite rediscovered his early season magic.
If he can finally hit his three consistently and learns to finish at a higher clip, Anthony could be in store for a surprise breakout. One that could have been staring us in the face all along.
Suggs is a tough case. It is almost a certainty that he’ll have a better season than his rookie year, where he shot just 21% from 3 and held a turnover percentage of 17.4%. But after such a dismal offensive season, what will constitute a breakout?
Magic fans know what Jalen brings defensively. He has promise as one of the best defensive guards in the league. But to have a breakout year, the shooting must significantly improve. That’s obvious. Something that will help is that Suggs will be in a much better position to succeed than any situation he found himself in last season.
I expect Suggs to start, but he’ll be the 5th option in a projected starting line-up with Fultz, Franz, Paolo, and Carter Jr. He won’t have the pressure of being the lead ball handler and drawing the best defender on the other team. Suggs can feast off the ball on cuts and open looks from teammates. Teams will dare him to shoot, so it will be crucial for him to prove he can knock down an open three if he wants to gain valuable minutes down the stretch of games. If he can find positive regression to the mean with his 3-point shot, Suggs still possesses all the attributes of a breakout player.
Listen, I have no idea what to expect offensively from Jonathan Isaac. But if he’s healthy, I do know that he’ll be one of the best defensive players in basketball. A player that can guard the opposing team's best perimeter player, disrupt passing lanes, and block shots at the rim. He’s simply a terror on defense. I believe that will all return as long as JI is actually playing basketball. Offensively, I would anticipate some rust. You would hope that with so much time off, the shot looks good. But Isaac hasn’t played organized basketball since 2020, and expectations need to be managed. At this point, we’re just hoping to see him on the court. If he can get healthy and remain on the floor, all bets are off.
If you’re listening, there’s been whispers about how impressive Bol Bol is in scrimmages. Do I expect Bol Bol to crack the rotation and have a breakout season? No, I do not. But I’m intrigued, nonetheless. Admit it, so are you.
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