2021-22 record: 22-60
Key addition: Paolo Banchero (2022 draft)
Key subtractions: None
Last season: In a two-month winter stretch, the Magic won a total of four games, which sealed their fate as a basement-dwelling, rebuilding team. It didn’t help that Rookie Jalen Suggs missed 34 games and started slowly, while Veterans Terrence Ross (19), Markelle Fultz (64) and Jonathan Issac (all 82) also missed significant time. Despite some reassuring play by rookie forward Franz Wagner and second-year guard Cole Anthony, the Magic found themselves back in the Draft lottery. This time, they were blessed with the No. 1 overall pick. (Stop if you’ve heard this one before.)
Summer summary: In their history of collecting No. 1 overall picks, the Magic have done pretty well. Previous drafts resulted in Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway (after a Draft-day trade for Chris Webber) and Dwight Howard. In their own distinct way, all three were franchise-changers and helped the Magic reach the NBA Finals before two of them (O’Neal, Howard) left in a huff. So you might say their latest No. 1 has big high Tops to fill.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) September 20, 2022
Unlike O’Neal and Howard, Banchero wasn’t a consensus choice; if so, Orlando would’ve confirmed as much at the Draft Lottery when the order was determined. Instead, the Magic weighed the merits of Chet Holmgren (No. 2 overall in 2022) and Jabari Smith Jr. (No. 3) and toyed with the idea of trading down as they did with Hardaway in 1993 … before finally following their gut and taking Banchero on draft night.
Like many hot prospects over the last few decades, Banchero played only one year in college. Scouting them is trickier than ever and, often, teams must place a reasonable amount of weight on a player’s high school and AAU years. At least in that regard, Banchero Aced all those levels as he was considered an NBA-level prospect as a high school sophomore.
It’s easy to see why. He’s 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds with the skills of a smaller player. His handle is solid, his shooting range decent and he sees the floor. He’s flexible enough to fit at multiple positions, a Talent that’s highly valued in the league.
Will he be the best in his Draft class four or five seasons from now? Maybe, maybe not. As long as he’s in line for a Rookie max by then — and doesn’t leave in a huff — the Magic chose wisely.
Orlando had more decisions to make this summer: Keep the roster intact, or make wholesale changes? Based on what transpired during free agency, the Magic’s Philosophy was very clear — stick with youth, build a foundation and forego, for now anyway, Chasing A-list free agents.
With that in mind, the Magic re-signed Gary Harris, Mo Bamba and Bol Bol when they could’ve declined to bring back all three, and will essentially run it back with last season’s team (the only rotation player to leave the fold was Robin Lopez).
The Magic gave Harris two years and $26 million, somewhat rich given that Harris’ career has flatlined since he signed a fat contract in Denver, where he spent his first six seasons. The Magic did see positive signs last season, especially on defense, and were encouraged by his improved 3-point shooting.
Bamba was an even trickier decision. He’s a former top-10 pick (No. 6 overall in 2018) who never gained much traction, mainly because his thin body prevents him from being a post presence and therefore forced him to become a 7-foot 3-point shooter. He also lost the center position to Wendell Carter Jr. and shifted to power forward. He’s a decent floor-spreader (38.1% on 3-pointers last season) but doesn’t project as a volume shooter. He left a solid impression later in the season and delivered 10.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, all career highs. But, it will be curious to see where he gets minutes with Banchero in the fold and big man Jonathan Isaac returning.
As if the Magic didn’t have enough skinny post players, they decided to give Bol a longer look. As with Bamba, the team’s investment in money and years is small enough to make sense.
With the exception of Harris (27) and Ross (31), every other player on the team is 24 and younger. That lack of veteran presence probably won’t mean much to a team that surely needs more development and looks to return to the Lottery again (unless Banchero shows the kind of promise O’Neal and Howard did). In NBA history, only truly special Rookies change their club’s fortunes overnight — remember, even LeBron James couldn’t take the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Playoffs as a rookie.
By refusing to swing for the fence in free agency and trades, the Magic are focusing on player development. You might say, in a way, they already won big even before the season begins by getting another No. 1 overall pick in the fold.
Those tend to work in Orlando’s favor.
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his Archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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