With the Opening night tip off almost upon us for 2021/22 Orlando Magic, it’s time to once again put our (figurative) money where our (digital) mouths are and make some bold predictions regarding how we see this season shaking out. Wins, losses, stats, awards, one-way tickets out of town … let’s consider it all! Things got a little bleak last time as we pondered how effective the team would be in the business of winning, so today we’ll turn our attention to some brighter considerations. Let’s dive in!
Something genuinely miraculous would have to happen for the Magic to get a player within sniffing distance of the MVP race or the All-Star game this season, but there are some awards for which they figure to be in with a chance. Could someone snag some individual recognition to soften the blow of a losing campaign?
While the annual Draft Lottery was unkind to the Magic back in June, the Draft itself seemed to offer a stroke of luck. Frequently scouted as a class with four elite talents, most among the Orlando faithful were shocked on the night to find one of the aforementioned quartet, Jalen Suggs, fall to the team with the fifth selection. It wasn’t a major tumble down the draft boards for the highly regarded guard, but it was enough of one to stoke belief in the prospect of a third Rookie of the Year award winner out of Central Florida.
Suggs has a couple of things going for him in the race for individual rookie honors, namely the position he plays and the opportunity that this roster presents. As a ball handling guard he figures to be a prominent part of Orlando’s play when he’s on the court, whether it’s as the lead playmaker or off-ball as a secondary threat. He also figures to see plenty of chances once the games are underway, with the incumbent Markelle Fultz still out and a largely inexperienced rotation remaining. Additionally, the Magic figure to lean into three guard lineups frequently, another avenue towards minutes for the rookie.
This combination of factors almost guarantees that Suggs will put up solid counting stats over the course of the season, something that has traditionally carried weight with those who cast votes. Expect the young guard to take a number of lumps as he learns the ropes — we can probably pencil the inefficient offensive numbers in now — but it’s still feasible that the exciting rookie does more than enough to elevate himself into the top three once the votes are counted.
Although such an outcome would require basically everything to break favorably, it feels like Orlando’s only other realistic avenue towards individual recognition this season is wrapped up in the development of Mo Bamba. Coming to the end of his rookie contract and without an extension sewn up, the fourth-year big has everything to play for this year. He’s teased us with glimpses of potential crystallised before, the preseason just completed another example of just such — Bamba paced the entire league in blocks, put up attention-grabbing counting stats, and competed with an energy rarely seen to this point. He frequently looked … genuinely good.
Even with Wendell Carter Jr. on the roster Bamba figures to have a path to almost as many minutes as he can handle. The pair will likely operate as a platoon for the center position, while also playing stretches alongside each other in a jumbo-sized frontcourt configuration. If that’s a look that proves it can stick once the competition ramps up, it wouldn’t be ridiculous to pencil Bamba in for 30 minutes each night. Once you hit that mark, it’s possible to talk yourself into a plump double-double average, punctuated with a defense-warping three-point threat and league-leading block numbers. Considering his track record to this point, that’s the type of development that elevates a guy into the thick of the Most Improved debate.
One other wrinkle: the Magic have basically dominated the Most Improved Player award since entering the league. They’re currently tied with Indiana with a total of five previous winners each, arriving at that figure despite slightly less opportunity than their Hoosier counterparts. On average someone from Orlando takes home this silverware approximately every six years, which makes the current nine season drought the longest on record. In that context the franchise is once again due.
Faith in Bamba is not something that has paid off during his first three seasons in the league, whether that’s from the perspective of the coaching staff or the fanbase. He hasn’t yet met the expectations of someone selected sixth overall, and we’re now entering a campaign where the seemingly justifiable excuses have dried up. Realistically, predicting a huge jump in performance is more about maintaining the previously tested faith and initial projections than it is about careful reasoning and sound hypothesizing. Still, that’s what we’re here to do: this is a column about bold predictions, not tepid guesses! As such, I’m telling you to lock it in now; Bamba will haul in enough votes to finish either … *gulp* … first or second in the race for the NBA’s most improved player.
Prediction: Jalen Suggs makes first team All-Rookie and finishes third in the Rookie of the Year voting; Mo Bamba finishes either first or second in voting for the Most Improved Player award
It’s almost certainly going to be nothing like last season’s trade deadline teardown, but it’s probably pretty safe to assume that the Magic roster as currently constituted won’t look the same come game 82. This is a team that still has much to figure out regarding the depth chart, with some positional overlap that needs untangling, too many young players to extend them all, and a handful of dependable veterans who are more valuable as trade chips than long term fixtures. As such, expect the team to be active before the mid-season trade buzzer sounds.
Terrence Ross and Gary Harris feel like the most likely names to change addresses, with both theoretically possessed of skills that are attractive to would-be contenders. If either — or potentially even both — could be moved for reasonable draft equity or an intriguing young asset of the distressed variety, expect the team to pull the trigger. It’s also difficult to envision a future in which Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony, RJ Hampton and Suggs are all still playing in pinstripes a couple of years from now, a fact which could encourage the team to find a deal now if the return feels right. It’s an unlikely outcome for 2021/22, but something that should still remain on the radar.
The seismic shift that the Vooch, AG and Fournier deals represented last time won’t be felt again in Orlando this season. However, the imperfect roster construction and the sheer volume of young players looking to eventually get paid will almost certainly necessitate the side shifting some of the deckchairs in the search for a better fit both now and into the future. As such, expect to bid adieu to one or two of the veterans (Ross, Harris, Michael Carter-Williams, E’Twaun Moore or Robin Lopez), as well as one player still on a rookie contract.
Prediction: In making multiple mid-season deals the Magic ultimately ship out Ross and MCW, while there’s a sneaky chance that a deal requiring Hampton also gets done.
Let’s whip through some quick ones and see what sticks!
- Cole Anthony leads the team in scoring.
- The Magic don’t make use of the trade exception generated by Evan Fournier’s exit.
- Jamahl Mosley finishes the season with a sky-high approval rating.
- Neither JI or Fultz play in game number 82 … but they do feature in the season’s final two weeks.
- Orlando gets one regular season win over a team that eventually makes the Finals.
- Robin Lopez and Stuff feature in at least one meme that Wob sends viral on NBA Twitter
There we have it! A handful of final predictions as the clock ticks down to Orlando’s opening tip. Be sure to chime in below to let us know if you agree or disagree and, of course, to share your own.