Yes, it’s only summer league.
But in just two games played during the month of July, Magic fans have been given a long-awaited reason to be excited. For an organization and a fanbase who since 2012 have had little reason to believe better days were ahead, that says and means a lot.
This has nothing to do with the fact that the Magic beat the Grizzlies by 30 points on Sunday night. It has nothing to do with the fact that Orlando is 2-0. It has nothing to do with the fact that the Magic are considered one of the favorites to win the summer league championship.
The games, whether won or lost, mean very little. The individual performances, showing development and potential, mean plenty.
And that is where the excitement sets in.
Jonathan Isaac, showing an unexpected leap in his development after an injury-riddled rookie season, is doing things on the court that we simply didn’t see from him last season. Mo Bamba, displaying a wide array of skills in his limited minutes, is providing a sense of hope that the central building block has finally been firmly put in place for the Orlando Magic.
I mean, how can you possibly watch this highlight and not get excited?
The future in Orlando is bright with wingspan... https://t.co/xOKWcNwXAL— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) July 9, 2018
The future is bright, and the wingspan plentiful, after Jeff Weltman and John Hammond prioritized length and constructed a roster of long-armed defenders that will make opponents think twice about driving the lane. Pretty damn sure Jaren Jackson Jr. learned that on Sunday after being blocked by two players on one shot.
“It’s crazy, man,” Jackson told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel after the game. “They’re great players. They’re dynamic. They’re long. Their God-given length and all that makes it difficult at times.”
The rest of the league will soon learn this, as well.
“I don’t think that it even scratches the surface in terms of where Mo is going to be in a year or two years, where I’m going to be in a year or two years -- physically, mentally, game-wise,” Isaac said after the game on Sunday. “You throw in A.G. and all those guys that we have on our team now, and I think we will be a defensive nightmare for a lot of teams.”
BL CK PARTY hosted by @jisaac_01 at #NBASummerLeague pic.twitter.com/gibGW4ZR54— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) July 9, 2018
And it’s not just defensive potential and wingspan that is generating excitement in Orlando. It’s seeing Isaac more aggressive, more assertive and more comfortable on the offensive end. Whether the shots are falling or not, and regardless of the fact that it isn’t yet against NBA defenses, just showing that confidence and development is promising. His five blocked shots on Sunday only add to it.
It’s seeing Bamba roam the court in a manner that reminds Magic fans of a young and lanky Shaquille O’Neal, while also showing the personality and eloquence that give him star potential. Not to mention the range and athleticism Bamba has shown despite playing a combined 34 minutes in two games…
In the words of @TFlight31, "Mo Mo Gadget!" pic.twitter.com/gpkmwDA6eD— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) July 9, 2018
It’s seeing Wes Iwundu be an agitator on defense by closing off passing lanes with his ability to read and deflect passes. It’s seeing Khem Birch deny a foolish youngster looking to put him on a poster in summer league play. It’s seeing players like Isaiah Briscoe and Troy Caupain fighting to prove (and making a strong case) that they belong in Orlando when the season begins.
And when the season does begin, and Bamba and Isaac are united with Aaron Gordon to officially kick off the B.I.G. era in Orlando, we get to see if this excitement carries over to when the games actually count.
“We’re taking about three kids under the age of 22,” Weltman said during the ESPN Broadcast on Sunday. “They’re all really hard workers, they’re good people, they’re very bright. And we feel they will grow us the right way and eventually even maybe develop into the leaders of the locker room and kind of be what we want to be about.”
What the Magic “want to be about” is a winning culture that breeds progress, player development and excitement for the future.
Based on two games, even though they were played in July, the Magic are starting to do just that.
“In the summer league,” Bamba said after Sunday’s game, “we’re starting to bridge that potential into production with the small things we do.”