With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
Across a tough week of results for the Magic it’s difficult to find anyone in pinstripes who stood out a great deal. An inexperienced and shorthanded team got even more so on both counts after further injuries, leaving the on court product an even more disjointed mess than it already had been. It’s tricky for anyone to shine amidst such carnage!
Still, even with the dispiriting losses piling up, the play of Wendell Carter Jr. remains a reasonably reliable ray of optimism for fans from Orlando. His individual stat lines made for an interesting collection this week, with each contest showcasing at least one element of his game that suggests there’s better still to come from the big man as he continues his steady growth as a player.
A two-point outing might seem like a clunker, but WCJ somehow managed to be the best player on the floor for Orlando when he did just that against the Clippers. What he lacked in scoring he made up for with his playmaking and defense, locking down the glass with 14 rebounds and operating as the team’s high post hub in dropping a career-best 7 assists. Against the Lakers he clocked a well-rounded 16, 8 and 3, with two more makes from distance to continue his rebirth as a stretch big. Finally, against the Hawks he had 9 points, 15 rebounds and 3 assists, another stat line that speaks to the two-way impact he’s starting to make routine.
Any time a team is 5-24 and sporting the league’s second-worst winning percentage it’s going to result in fans looking for silver linings. Thankfully for the Magic, they appear to have found a steady one in WCJ.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: vs Heat (tonight); at Nets (Sat); at Raptors (Mon); at Hawks (Wed); vs Pelicans (Thurs)
After a long and exhausting trip out west, the Magic would have been hoping to return to Central Florida to enjoy the benefits of some much needed home cooking. Instead they find themselves smack bang in the middle of a stretch of six games in nine nights, including another three-game road swing that takes in Brooklyn, Toronto and Atlanta. It has been – and remains – a challenging slate.
Still, Orlando will like their chances of emerging from this week with at least one win. They’ve picked up a couple of notable home victories already this season – thank you, Utah and Denver! – and a showdown with the Zion-less Pelicans on Thursday feels like a chance to finally nab one against an easier opponent. Meanwhile, both the Hawks and Raptors have been up and down so far this season, which means the Magic are in with a chance of stealing one of those from an unsuspecting opponent.
Plus, you know, the law of averages, as every loss drags the side a little closer to their next win. For a team mired in a 1-13 slump and currently riding a six-game skid, the rays of the rising sun of victory will eventually be felt again. Why not this week?
The crystal ball says …
I like the team’s chances of either stealing one on the road or taking care of business at home against another straggler like the Pelicans. Achieving both seems overly optimistic, so let’s say 1-4 and call it a week.
The next week is an important one for …
Markelle Fultz. Although it’s not yet entirely clear when the point guard will be back on the floor for the Magic, the general sentiment is that it will be sooner rather than later. Fultz is already practicing with the team as a full participant, even going so far as to fly out to be with the team in Los Angeles towards the end of the recent road trip. Such a circumstance is part of a careful and thorough rehabilitation process, sure, but it also seems like a clear indication of confidence in a looming return.
Fultz will rejoin a side that currently stands in stark contrast to the one he departed from last season. What was once a veteran outfit expecting to fight for a playoff spot is now one in the earliest stages of a full-scale rebuild, with a number of backcourt pieces with whom Fultz has barely, if ever, shared the court. Still, his presence should be a stabilising force of sorts, in the early stages of his comeback adding some measure of poise, composure and genuine playmaking to units that are in desperate need of it.
When he does eventually return, no one is expecting Fultz to begin working miracles for what is one of the worst teams in the league; he’s not going to turn the Magic into a winner through his sheer presence. But he should make the basketball product more palatable, while his own individual development remains a compelling story to follow for fans of the franchise. Whether he sees court time this week or in the games still to come, the next seven days are important in establishing a direction for both the player and team moving forward.
A figure for thought
718 (and counting) — the number of days since Jonathan Isaac last played on Orlando’s home court.