While the Orlando Magic are most likely bound for the NBA Draft lottery for a third consecutive year, the outline of a promising team is slowly beginning to form in Central Florida.
Leading NBA Rookie of the Year candidate Paolo Banchero is at the center of it all as the 6’10 forward is proving to be a viable franchise cornerstone so far after initial doubts in the wake of Orlando’s decision to pick him first overall in last June’s NBA Draft.
Banchero is averaging 20.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and one steal per game in 40 appearances this season and already has four 30-point games to his name. He has shown the talent to be an all-around scorer, though he will eventually have to improve his shooting efficiency. The rookie currently has shooting splits of 44/32/76 and his ability to bump up these numbers may ultimately decide his ceiling in the NBA.
Aside from Banchero, sophomore forward Franz Wagner has also turned heads this season for the Magic. The 21-year-old has bumped up his scoring average from 15.2 points per game as a rookie to 20.4 this year on an efficient 49.3% field goal shooting. He is also averaging 1.7 three-pointers, four rebounds, and 3.5 assists.
The capacity of Banchero and Wagner to coexist as two ball-dominant players will be interesting to watch over these next few years. One potential blueprint that can guide them in their integration period with one another is the Boston Celtics’ All-Star duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Orlando recently met the league-leading Celtics earlier this week and pulled off an upset 113-98 win. Tatum and Brown scored 26 points apiece, but they were thwarted by Banchero and Wagner who both hit seven-of-13 field goal attempts. Banchero finished with 23 points, five rebounds, and two assists while Wagner added 15 points, seven rebounds, six assists, a steal, and only one turnover.
The Magic carried over the momentum from the Boston victory to their most recent outing where they beat the Indiana Pacers by six points, 126-120. Banchero and Wagner were once again at the forefront for Orlando as the former scored 23 points while the latter had 13 points and seven assists.
One crucial area that could help this team hit their ceiling is the playmaking ability of Wagner which is still underutilized at the moment. If he can increase his assist average from 3.5 up to the five to six range, it should open things up for the Magic.
Beyond these two players, a few others have also made a case for their inclusion in this franchise’s long term plans. One notable piece is fifth-year center Wendell Carter Jr. who has blossomed since arriving from the Chicago Bulls in March 2021. The 6’10 Carter’s improved three-point shooting, now up to 36.8% this season on 3.4 attempts, allows him to be a capable floor-spacer alongside Banchero and Wagner.
The returning Jonathan Isaac, who has finally suited up for the first time since he tore his ACL in August 2020, also figures to be a key piece moving forward. Isaac’s defensive versatility as a 6’11 forward makes him an intriguing and valuable piece in this league that continues to grow more position agnostic by the day.
The lanky seven-foot duo of Bol Bol and Mo Bamba have also teased their upside although they still need to show more consistency before earning a place in this team’s long term plans.
Orlando could potentially roll out a line-up where the 6’9 Wagner is their smallest player on the court and functions as their primary ball handler. This would be a match-up nightmare for most of the league and if they can find a way to make things work, they should be back in the playoff mix sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, their 19-29 win-loss record is the fifth worst in the NBA at the moment which bodes well for their chances in the upcoming Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. The thought of adding the 7’2 Frenchman to this towering roster is tantalizing and would instantly turn them into one of the most compelling teams moving forward.
With or without Wembanyama though, the Magic have a good thing going on and the hope is that their latest first overall pick Banchero can replicate or even exceed the success that his predecessors reached with this team.