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Winners and losers, Part IV: Chuma Okeke, Wendell Carter Jr., and a dash of positivity

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Let’s close out this look back on the disastrous 2020-2021 Magic season with some positivity

NBA: Orlando Magic at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Originally envisioned as a classic three-parter, the decision has been made to blow this out to a fourth and final entry. How come? Well, we didn’t want to wrap things up with a sour, Bacon-inspired taste left in the mouths of the collective Magic fandom. Instead, let’s cleanse the palate with a few final sprinkles of positivity that could still be found in what was ultimately an over-cooked season. Dig in!


Winner: Chuma Okeke

Los Angeles Lakers v Orlando Magic Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

If Mo Bamba had the type of season that the underlying individual numbers appreciated more than the eye test of a locked-in viewer, then Chuma Okeke’s campaign was the exact opposite. Although the 22-year old rookie posted generally inefficient and inconspicuous statistical totals, the fluidity and feel for the game that he demonstrated during his court time bodes well for his future in the league.

Averages of 7.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists and a combined 1.6 stocks (steals and blocks) don’t exactly leap from the boxscore, but they’re still solid numbers for a young forward operating largely as a fourth or fifth option (a usage rate of just 14.5%). He predictably struggled with his shooting inside of the arc, particularly in the mid-range, the expected result of a wing trying to figure out the professional game. Still, his three-point stroke looked clean and confident all season long, with Okeke cashing in 34.8% of his 3.1 attempts each night. There’s an obvious statistical platform from which he can now build.

Okeke appears to already possess a well-developed feel for the game, particularly on offense. He’s frequently able to read the defense in front of him, knowing when and where to throw the next pass. His own shot attempts rarely feel rushed or forced, while his handles seem reasonable for a wing at this stage of his career. Defensively he’s also getting better (don’t believe me? Compare his first matchup with Carmelo to the second), with a frame that allows him to play with some degree of both physicality and switchability as the circumstances dictate. Like any young player he still has a long way to go at that end of the floor, but the signs are already positive.

In 45 rookie appearances Okeke already flashed enough to suggest that he’s going to be a glue guy in this league for years to come. For a Magic team in the earliest stages of a rebuild, to have such a dependable presence on a rookie contract is a real win.


Winner: Wendell Carter Jr.

Orlando Magic v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Magic tore it down at the trade deadline, the acquisition of Wendell Carter Jr. ranked somewhere closer to the bottom in terms of the valuation of returned assets. Not much was necessarily expected of the big man. The Magic already had the sixth pick in his draft class tagged for the starting center slot. His Windy City teammate, Otto Porter Jr., seemingly filled a position of greater need. Another new addition, Gary Harris, theoretically offered the type of shooting that the team so desperately craved. Plus, the firesale was all about the draft picks, anyway.

Instead, WCJ came into town and caught the attention of Orlando’s fan base.

Carter Jr. scored 11 or more in twelve of his first fifteen games in pinstripes, racking up six double-doubles during that same stretch — one less than he totaled in more than twice as many Bulls games this season. Only once did he commit more than 2 turnovers in a contest, proving himself a reliable offensive option for a team that had a sizable hole to fill at the center position. He also had a handful of performances where he was easily the Magic’s best player in the contest, establishing himself as the undisputed starter after just a trio of appearances off the bench.

By and large the numbers Carter Jr. posted in Orlando were roughly in line with his career averages. However, that he arrived at them in a more confident and central role is a circumstance that kindles expectations. For a player who had seen his stock in Chicago internally plummet, the trade presented a chance for both rejuvenation and redemption. At least in these early stages, it would appear that WCJ is well on his way to making this possibility a reality.


Winner: OPP and the Magic faithful

Orlando Magic v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

What would a season like this most recent one be without a place to call our (online) home? For a team that is again embarking on a multi-year rebuild — with nothing more than a couple of Game One upsets to show for the trouble of the last one — the fact that we still have an active, engaged and enthusiastic fan base here at Orlando Pinstriped Post is testament to how much this franchise means to each and every one of us.

I still believe that better days are coming for the Magicto keep my sanity I have to! — and I look forward to sharing that journey with the crew and community here at OPP in the seasons to come.