With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
With a thrilling win over Utah sandwiched between an uninspiring loss to the Spurs and a beatdown at the hands of the Nets, it’s difficult to point to any player on Orlando’s roster who killed it across the week just done. And with Cole Anthony pretty much entrenching himself as the team’s best player at the moment, his scoring outburst against the Jazz feels more like an expectation being met than something worth getting too excited about.
Instead, it’s the recent play of Wendell Carter Jr. that’s worth acknowledging. The recently extended fourth-year big has extended the parameters of his own game, essentially reinventing himself on the fly as a play-making, floor-stretching power forward. This newly discovered combination of a passing game paired with a predilection for three-point attempts was on full display against the Jazz, with WCJ racking up 22 points, 15 rebounds and 6 assists on 9-14 shooting, including a striking 4-7 from deep. Before this season he had never even attempted four shots from beyond the arc in a single game, let alone convert that many. Likewise, his 6 helpers tied a career-high that he set way back in the ninth game of his rookie campaign, speaking to the increased responsibility he’s starting to assume with the ball in hand.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: vs Wizards (Sat); at Hawks (Mon); at Knicks (Wed)
It’s not that long ago that this particular triumvirate would have felt like a very winnable stretch of games for the Magic. All three of their upcoming Eastern Conference foes have a recent history of playing pretty crappy basketball, but unfortunately for Orlando the last twelve months have signalled a shift in that regard. The Knicks and Hawks are both incumbent playoff teams, while the Wizards sorted their way out of their Westbrook dilemma and appear to have become all the better for it. Although it’s unlikely that any of the trio has a place among the league’s true heavyweights, each of these sides are significant strides ahead of where the Magic currently stand.
And yet, upon comparison it’s probably Orlando who has the most impressive win on their recent resume. In toppling the visiting Jazz the Magic demonstrated that on a good night they’re capable of going toe-to-toe with even the most fancied of opponents, a fact which means it’s suddenly much easier to talk oneself into believing that victory is possible in each of these contests. Particularly when one looks at the schedule of the suddenly spiralling Hawks and notes that the tilt against the Magic is the tail end of a back-to-back that features the reigning-champs from Milwaukee up first. ‘Why not us? Why not now?’, indeed.
Still, it’s a bet probably only for the most pinstriped of hearts. Orlando will rarely be favourites this season, and unless a major star is unexpectedly absent that figures to again be the case this coming week. For the first time since this exercise began it could be a week of donuts.
The crystal ball says …
A winless week for the Magic that figures to presage a lengthy losing streak to come.
The next week is an important one for …
Jalen Suggs. It looked like an absolute blessing when the talented guard fell to the Magic at five in the most recent draft, a circumstance which may still very well be the case. However, it’s hard not to notice the actual All-Star buzz starting to ferment for Scottie Barnes up North and wonder if Orlando might have missed out on something. It’s the type of concern that would be all too soon — his career is only eleven games old, plus he’s already looked very good in certain moments! — but the collective Magic fandom has a tendency to expect the worst.
If Suggs can find a way to get the ball to go through the hoop with a little more regularity this week, it will put to rest a lot of this unease. Remember, he’s yet to shoot even 50% from the field in any game, while his three-point stroke has entirely abandoned him across the last six games (a ghastly 3-27). A triumvirate of opposing backcourts not known for lockdown defense could be just the tonic needed to help get the rookie’s radar right.
A figure for thought
1.31 — the number of points Cole Anthony is currently scoring per-isolation possession, the fifth-best mark in the league.