The road portion of the Magic’s preseason schedule is complete.
With two games in the books, and two more to go, the Magic’s performance so far probably has raised more questions than it has answered. But that is to be expected of a rebuilding team with a new coach who is trying to piece his players together like a puzzle.
That brings us to our first point as we dive into a few things we learned about the Orlando Magic this week....
Jamahl Mosley is a mad scientist
The new Magic coach made it clear that the preseason was going to be an extension of training camp and he has kept his promise with plenty of experimentation. In two games, the 43-year-old Mosley has used two entirely different starting lineups that nobody could have predicted prior to being announced.
In the preseason opener, he went with a three-guard set of Jalen Suggs, Gary Harris and Terrence Ross and a frontcourt of Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr. All but Harris started the following game on the bench, replaced by Cole Anthony, E’Twuan Moore, Moe Wagner and Mo Bamba.
He’s used some unorthodox combinations in game, like Carter alongside Bamba or Robin Lopez against the Pelicans, as the Magic continue to embrace positionless basketball. Expect his experimentation to continue in the Magic’s upcoming game against San Antonio on Sunday before giving the official starting unit some time together in the preseason finale.
Cole Anthony could lead the team in scoring by default
The Magic are a young team without a true go-to scorer.
That role in the early going could fall on Terrence Ross, but how long the Magic keep veterans like the 30-year-old Ross and free-agent-to-be Gary Harris around while in need of minutes for their young core is something of a mystery.
That makes the Magic one of the few teams in the league who’s scoring leader for the season is a challenge to predict. The betting favorite is probably No. 5 overall pick Jalen Suggs, but a lot will be asked of the first-year point guard and offensively he has looked every part the rookie he is over too far-too-early-to-read-into preseason games.
Which of these young, healthy players is more likely to lead the Magic in scoring this season?— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) October 8, 2021
Anthony, the team’s leading scorer through two preseason games at 14 per, is coming off a rookie season in which his true shooting percentage and usage (slight usage dip in January gradually increased each month of the first season. That culminated with nine games in the month of May where he averaged 16.3 points and shot 41 percent from deep for a shorthanded Magic team.
Anthony, at this stage, probably is the better pure scorer of the two, plus he’s shown that he is fully motivated and not afraid of the big moment. If he can overcome some inconsistency issues, and successfully play off the ball alongside Suggs and eventually Markelle Fultz, Anthony could put up 17 or 18 points per game, which could be enough to be team leader in Orlando.
Wendell Carter Jr. is becoming a three-point shooter
The Magic know first-hand what a center developing a three-point shot can do having lived through the Nikola Vucevic Experience.
Wendell Carter Jr. is entering the season looking to expand his range and has not been trigger-shy in the first two preseason games. In fact, following Wednesday’s loss to the Pelicans, he said he took too many threes after going 2-for-5 from deep in 22 minutes.
“I don’t want to be known as a 3-point shooter, but whenever I’m open I want to be a threat,” Carter said after the game.
Through just 43 preseason minutes over two games, Carter has launched seven threes. This from a player who has never attempted more than 32 in a season.
“I put a lot of work into it,” Carter said during training camp. “Just to get them up in the game, make or miss, it feels good to get them up. It feels good leaving my hands. As long as I am confident taking those shots when I’m open, I’m going to make more and just help my team space the floor. At the end of the day, defenders are going to have to respect it.”
Patience will be needed with Franz Wagner
Don’t panic. Don’t worry about what James Bouknight or Trey Murphy or any other rookie picked after him are doing just yet. Don’t compare him to Mario Hezonja.
Yes, the numbers for the No. 8 overall pick have been downright ugly through two preseason games:
vs. Pelicans: 0-for-4, 0-for-2 from three, 0 points in 21 minutes
vs. Celtics: 1-for-5, 1-for-4 from three, 3 points in 20 minutes
But the 20-year-old’s instincts, anticipation, rotations and overall basketball IQ mostly have been decent. The numbers will come eventually. But it may take some patience.
The Magic are being extra cautious with Jonathan Isaac
The Magic being cautious, tight-lipped and timetable-free with injuries is nothing new. And that’s been the case with Jonathan Isaac.
Isaac had surgery in early-August of 2020 to repair a torn ACL suffered in the NBA bubble. That was 14 months ago and still his projected return date has not been announced publicly. Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said at Magic Media Day last week that Isaac and Markelle Fultz, who is also recovering from a torn ACL, have “not only cleared every hurdle from a timeline perspective, but they’ve improved.”
But still no official word on whether or not Isaac will be on the court opening night. When Isaac appeared on The Will Cain Podcast earlier this week and was asked if he’d be ready to play at the start of the regular season, Isaac said, “If it was up to me, yes.”
Knowing what we know from the outside looking in after Isaac’s 14-month rehab, with no word of setbacks or other rehab concerns from the organization, and with Isaac saying he is ready to play, it sounds as if the team is being a little overcautious. And we’ll go through the same process again soon with Fultz.