NBA

Orlando Magic 2022-23 NBA preview: Watching Paolo Banchero & Co. develop will be fun to watch

Welcome to the honeymoon period in Orlando. The Magic have far better seasons ahead of them than what the 2022-23 campaign is likely to produce, but this group may never have a more fun year than the one they’re about to embark upon. The all-out tank is over. There’s a core in place that should be ready to win in a few years, but the fans understand that it’s going to take time. For the next 18 months or so, losing is acceptable. What matters are highlights, development and vibes.

This team should provide all three in spades. No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero leads the way as perhaps the most exciting offensive player Orlando has had since Tracy McGrady, but he’s far from the only young star in place. Franz Wagner is coming off of a stellar rookie run that flew under the radar only because of Scottie Barnes and Evan Mobley. Wendell Carter Jr. had a breakout season in place of Nikola Vucevic, and the Magic have likely settled on a front-court for the next half-decade with that trio.

Key Changes

  • Drafted Paolo Banchero No. 1 and Caleb Houstan No. 32.
  • Re-signed Mo Bamba to a two-year, $21 million deal.
  • Re-signed Gary Harris to a two-year, $26 million deal.

Roster

Player

Position

Age

Cole Anthony

Guard

22

Mo Bamba

Center

24

Paolo Banchero

Forward

19

Bol Bol

Center

22

Ignas Brazdeikis

Forward

23

Devin Cannady

Guard

26

Wendell Carter Jr.

Center

23

Markelle Fultz

Guard

24

R.J. Hampton

Guard

21

Kevon Harris 

Guard

25

Caleb Houstan 

Forward

19

Jonathan Isaac

Forward

24

Chuma Okeke

Forward

24

Terrence Ross

Guard

31

Admiral Schofield

Forward

25

Jalen Suggs

Guard

21

Gary Harris

Guard

28

Franz Wagner

Forward

21

Mortiz Wagner

Forward

25

Top of the key: How good is Paolo Banchero, really?

Orlando has most of the ancillary players a contender would need. Wagner fills their versatile wing requirement. Carter and Mo Bamba give them front-court diversity, and as we’ll get to in a moment, they have no shortage of guards. Their future will be as bright as Banchero allows it to be, and the early signs are extremely positive.

Banchero was the best prospect at summer league, displaying a rare combination of athleticism and touch in a brief stint in Vegas. We knew about the scoring. The playmaking was a bit of a surprise, and while he’s got a long way to go defensively, the tools were very much on display at the Summer League showcase. The Magic will likely allow Banchero to run their offense for large stretches of his rookie season. There are going to be kinks to work out, but at the very least, he should post numbers from Day One.

Next up: Who’s going to win the backcourt game of musical chairs?

We can safely assume that Terrence Ross, as the lone healthy veteran in the backcourt, is going to get some minutes. That leaves a limited number of minutes and touches to be split up among the following four young guards:

  • Markelle Fultz, who came back from a torn ACL late last season to play the best basketball of his career may regain that form once he gets over his fractured big left toe, and injury that the team disclosed on Monday. Fultz may not exactly be a 3-point threat, but he hit new career-highs in points, assists and steals per 36 minutes in his 18 games last season.
  • Jalen Suggs, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 Draft. Suggs was a disappointment offensively but was among the very best defensive guards in all of basketball, rookie or otherwise. Suggs was the offensive engine of a Gonzaga team that nearly went undefeated two years ago. He’s likely to improve quite a bit.
  • Cole Anthony, Orlando’s human heat check. Anthony averaged over 16 points per game a season ago, but has yet to reach 40 percent from the field in a single season. If Anthony is going to keep a major role, he’s going to have to score more efficiently.
  • R.J. Hampton, the forgotten youngster acquired in the Aaron Gordon trade. He stood out at the end of his rookie season, but took a step back last year with Suggs in place and Fultz returning. He’s the likeliest player in this group to lose minutes, but he’s as athletically gifted as any of them. He’s a lottery ticket for the Magic, one unlikely to pay out, but one that could yield a huge reward down the line.

Two of these guards will be starting by the end of the season, but with another lottery pick likely coming after the season, it’s possible that there’s only one starting job available afterward. These four aren’t just fighting for that job. They’re fighting for a place in Orlando’s future.

One more thing: What can Jonathan Isaac contribute?

Hey, remember Jonathan Isaac? When last we saw him, he was among the NBA‘s best defensive forwards. Of course, when last we saw him, Russell Westbrook played for the Rockets, the Suns were a plucky group of youngsters winning eight straight in the bubble and I’m pretty sure Harry Truman was still the president. 

Yes, it’s been two full seasons since Isaac stepped on an NBA court, and what that means for him moving forward is a question mark. His size and length are still very much intact, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to move as quickly laterally. Without a reliable 3-point shot, his value dips quickly if he isn’t an elite defender, and with Wagner and Banchero in place, minutes in the frontcourt are going to be hard to come by. If Isaac isn’t his old self quickly, he may not be with the Magic for much longer. 

Key Games

Oct. 19: Magic at Pistons: It’s Paolo Banchero’s debut. Need we say more?

Nov. 7: Rockets at Magic: For months, the basketball world expected the Magic to select Jabari Smith Jr. with the No. 1 overall pick. They went with Banchero, and we’ll get their first head-to-head clash early in the season.

Jan. 30: Magic at 76ers: Amazingly, despite getting traded all the way back in 2018, Fultz still hasn’t played a road game against his old team. In January, he’ll face Philadelphia fans for the first time since getting traded, and while there’s likely enough distance to avoid serious booing, it will surely be an emotional return overall.



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