While the 2019/20 NBA season might be complete amidst the COVID-19 outbreak that’s plaguing the entire world, we were still able to learn some things about the Orlando Magic that can show some of the direction of the franchise moving forward.
Through 65 games, the Magic sit with a record of 30-35, good enough for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference currently. Should the season resume at some point in the late spring or into the summer, the Magic will be positioned to make a push for their second consecutive playoff birth.
It wasn’t always pretty for the Magic, who before winning nine of their last 13 contests before the sudden break, had lost nine of 11 games, and seemed to be losing a grip on their season. They’ve battled a slew of injuries this season, most notably to forwards Jonathan Issac and Al-Farouq Aminu, and struggled to put together consistent play on both ends of the floor.
Still, despite that, we’ve been able to learn some important things about the team, and what we can expect moving forward.
Jonathan Isaac could be really good
Before going down with, at the time, what would likely be a season-ending knee injury, Jonathan Issac was showing off all the tools that made the Magic take him with the sixth overall pick in the 2017 draft.
The lanky forward from Florida state wrecked havoc on the defensive end, and was garnering national attention for his work on that end of the floor. If he had stayed healthy, there’s a reason chance Isaac could’ve made one of the leagues All-Defensive teams because of his strong play.
Teammates raved about how Isaac was changing the game with his defense before his injury.
“He’s an unbelievable defender,” said Markelle Fultz. “I think he’s one of the best defenders in this league. He’s still young, he’s still learning, but it’s all about effort. Defense is all about effort, and he gives tremendous effort. That gives us a boost when you have someone you know is going to help come and block shots and pickup for the team.”
Isaac, who was a good team defender in his second year in the league, made a big step forward as an individual defender this season, something he credited to getting stronger.
“When it comes to one-on-one defense, I think it’s my body,” said Issac when I asked him about his improvements as an individual defender in Janaury. “Being able to bump with guys, and beat guys to spots. Not be able to be knocked off spots so easily.”
While he still has some work to do to become a more consistent offensive player, the impact Isaac makes on the defensive end already is contagious. His consistent energy plays, and being in the right spots helps his team when they need it.
As he becomes more consistent and finds his spots on the offensive end of the floor, Isaac could become a real big two-way threat for the Magic.
If Isaac can do that and improve on that end of the floor, the Magic might have the star they’ve so desperately been searching for in this prolonged rebuild.
Markelle Fultz flashes brilliance
It hasn’t always been easy for Markelle Fultz this season, or in any season of his short NBA career. From battling injuries with the Philadelphia 76ers, to having to rebuild his jump shot and find comfort with it in Orlando, it’s been a tumultuous road for the former number one pick.
Despite that, Fultz has shown exactly why he was that number one pick, and why the Magic took a flyer on him at the 2019 trade deadline.
Fultz has played with pace when it’s needed, and has been smart about picking and choosing his sports on offense. He’s been able to get guys open looks, and has dazzled with his passing ability, and body strength and control getting to, and finishing at the rim. While he’s still shown inconsistency with the jump shot, he’s been willing to take it when it’s the right time, which with continued game reps, will become more consistent.
He’s also flashed some brilliance on the defensive end of the court, giving the Magic hope they could have a one-two punch in Fultz and Isaac on that end for many years to come.
Fultz has also given the Magic the bumps that they’ve needed throughout the season energy wise. Going back to opening night, Fultz was able to change the dynamic of the game with his monster one-handed throwdown between multiple Cleveland Cavalier defenders.
If he’s able to continue on the upward trajectory he’s on. Fultz could be that co-star for Isaac that the Magic will desperately want and need.
Evan Fournier’s importance
As a potential free agent this summer, Evan Fournier has put together the best season of his career.
After a tumultuous 2018/19 season where he struggled shooting the ball, Fournier has bounced back in a big way, putting up career highs in points, and field goal percentage, and coming up just shy of his career-high in three-point field goal percentage. The bounce back from Fournier has been huge, and one the Magic desperately needed.
With their lack of shooting across the roster, having Fournier putting up the numbers he has has been a needed boost for the Magic. It’s helped open up space for the likes of Fultz and Aaron Gordon to be able to attack the basket, and find open shooters, and added a dimension to the offense every team needs.
While he’s struggled some defensively, Fournier works hard on that end, and has been willing to take on tough assignments whenever he’s needed to.
Holding a player-option on his contract for next season, and a relatively weak free agent class upcoming, it’s likely Fournier will opt out of his contract in hopes of signing another big deal. Should that happen, the Magic should be one of the teams lined up to sign the Frenchman, as his importance to the team is continuing to grow by the year.