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On a Wingspan and a Prayer: The Magic added some freakishly long arms

With the selections of Bamba, Frazier and Jackson, the Magic front office prioritized length

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Nashville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

At number six they picked up 7’10” worth of it.

When they hit the clock at 35 they added another 7’2”.

They then finished up by flipping the 7’1” they originally nabbed at 41 for 7’3” worth in a trade for 43.

When the dust settled the additions totaled 22 feet and 3 inches.

You may have already heard, but on Thursday night the Magic went for wingspan.

Winging it

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Nashville
Mo Bamba and his wingspan
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Wingspan isn’t exactly a new term for draft aficionados, but it is a buzzword that has grown in significance in recent years. In a league that values length, versatility and fleetness of foot, this has become one of the key measurements used when attempting to figure out which rookies-to-be project as being able to survive in the modern NBA. The longer the limbs, the higher up the draft boards a prospect becomes likely to land.

Theoretically, freakishly long arms provide a greater defensive presence relative to a player’s height. By packing that into a more compact frame you then increase foot speed and general maneuverability. These characteristics combine to create a player with real defensive switchability: a deterrent at the rim who is also capable of toggling assignments on the perimeter when pressed into duty.

Wingspan creates the 3 and D wings that the league craves. Wingspan creates the bullish guard that can bulldoze the lane and pummel mismatches in the post. Add a touch of outside shooting to your center and wingspan creates unicorns.


Prayers for the future

NCAA Basketball: Tulane at Temple
Melvin Frazier has a 7’2” wingspan
Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The pre-draft buzz indicated that the Magic would be aggressive in looking to address their well known backcourt deficiencies. Trae Young had long been linked with the team, and reports about a desire to move into the upper echelons of the lottery for a shot at Luka Doncic didn’t come as a surprise. However, when Atlanta eventually settled on Dallas as their dance partner it forced the Magic to pivot towards familiarity.

John Hammond and Jeff Weltman certainly have a type, and on Thursday night they indulged those preferences. In adding the 7-foot Mo Bamba, 6-foot-6 Melvin Frazier, and 6-foot-8 Justin Jackson the front office confirmed their desire to prioritize length and defensive instincts. This continues the trend established last year with the selections of Jonathan Isaac and Wes Iwundu, and when added to the inevitably imminent re-signing of Aaron Gordon it speaks volumes about the type of roster they’re steadily constructing.

That which was promised

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Orlando Magic
Jonathan Isaac using his length to alter a shot
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando have leaned heavily into the defensive side of the basketball equation, compiling a frontcourt filled with wingspan and athleticism. The combination of Bamba, Isaac and Gordon is nightmare inducing for the opposition, as each possesses the individual traits one looks for when projecting defensive capability.

The trio should be able to record blocks and steals at a prodigious rate, switch everything in sight, and lock down the defensive boards once Bamba and Isaac have filled out their currently slender frames. They’ll be both a brick wall and a blur, frustrating opposing offenses and ensuring that the six-season long stretch of putrid team defense in Central Florida comes crashing to a halt. They’ll be the backbone of the one of the league’s best defensive units.


Because at this stage what the Magic possess is potential. The potential for Bamba to develop into a frightening defensive presence capable of serving as the team’s dependable anchor. The potential for Isaac to endure the physical rigours of the NBA season and emerge as one of the league’s premier ballhawks. The potential for Gordon to finally convert his undeniable physical talents into tangible on-court results as a two-way menace. The potential that all three learn to coexist and eventually thrive in the lineup together.

There’s a future in which everything outlined above comes to pass, but it’s far from a certainty. Instead, at this point we have only the whispered promise of potential that wingspan evokes. It’s a statistical measurement that provides little in way of basketball certainty but plenty in terms of projections that encourage one to dream big. The Magic have bet heavily on the projected talent contained in this space between outstretched fingertips.

Now it really boils down to just one question for Orlando basketball fans: to what extent do you believe in the accumulated potential of this team?