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Orlando Magic Weekly Observations: Franz Wagner continues to establish himself

Some rapid-fire Orlando Magic observations as we head to the weekend

NBA: Orlando Magic at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.

Who won the week that was?

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Swooping through the lane to claim this week’s nod is none other than Franz Wagner. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the smooth rookie has already established himself as one of the most important players in Orlando’s rotation, with a well-developed offensive game that involves a clean looking jumper, a nouse for being in the right spot at the right time, and emerging playmaking skills from a valuable position on the floor. He has emerged as not just the strongest performing rookie decked out in pinstripes, but as one of the best from the entire ‘21 draft class.

Last week Wagner averaged 17.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists for a depleted Magic side that desperately needed an injection of offense. He lined up for frequent stretches as the side’s nominal point guard, flashing a proclivity for pick-and-roll sequences both when generating his own shot in the newly created space and when setting up teammates for favorable looks. As a wing, it’s the type of offensive juice that suggests a higher than expected ceiling for the first year forward. If he can knock down open jumpers, create his own high percentage shot attempts, and generate opportunities for those around him, well, the sky’s the limit.

Wagner’s future in this league is far from determined. Already, however, it’s looking brighter than even the most optimistic of projections might have initially teased. Last week just solidified that.

The upcoming slate

This week’s schedule: vs Rockets (tonight); at Warriors (Mon); at Kings (Wed)

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On the road, we go! Tonight’s tilt against the Rockets represents the first of a five-game road trip, and the start of a pre-Christmas stretch that sees the Magic play eight of ten games away from their home court. If you thought that things were tough already, well … hold on.

At the very least, this week’s slate presents a couple of chances that should instill the side with some confidence. Houston are in the midst of a four-game winning streak that has included a couple of scalps against decent Eastern Conference teams, but they also lost fifteen consecutive games before that and still have fewer victories than any team bar one. Likewise, the Kings have been a trainwreck after a reasonable start, losing eight of nine during one stretch and ultimately also losing their head coach along the way. Each of these opponents represents a legitimate chance for the Magic to add another tally to their win total.

The Warriors? Well … if the Magic catch a break and Golden State decides to rest their starting unit and some of their reserves they could well be in with a shot. Otherwise, let’s just hope that Steph doesn’t drop 50 in a blowout.

The crystal ball says …

Orlando manages to channel the positive momentum and good vibes they earned after toppling Denver, stopping the suddenly surging Rockets and claiming their first consecutive wins of the season. A 1-2 outcome on the week ultimately proves a brief respite before the next losing streak.

The next week is an important one for …

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Cole Anthony. The dynamic point guard has already done a heap to help the Magic this season, showcasing all manner of refinements to his offensive game and carrying a team that has been absolutely crushed by the impact of injury and the inexperience of their own youth. He hasn’t even played 82 career games yet, but Anthony is already a veteran-like presence for the team and an indispensable component when it comes to the intention to win.

If his recent injury-enforced absence resulted in anyone forgetting just how important he is to the Magic’s chances in a given contest, his comeback against the Nuggets certainly served as a timely reminder. 24 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and a clutch performance late helped to ensure Orlando toppled their highly fancied opponents, with Anthony’s post-game interview serving as the cherry on top of what was already a delightfully rich return.

Six straight losses without the dynamic guard makes for a stark contrast with Wednesday night’s feel-good win with him back in the lineup. If the Magic are going to steal any victories during the incredibly difficult stretch they have looming, they’ll need Anthony to both remain healthy and to continue to deliver the goods like he has all season long.

A figure for thought

14 — the number of games in which Mo Bamba has not attempted a free throw.