With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
It has to be Jalen Suggs, right? He started the week with a bang against LeBron and the Lakers, stuffing the stat sheet with 22 points (6-16 from the field, 9-10 from the line), 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. He followed that up with 15, 7 and 5 against the Bulls, with another 3 ‘stocks’ for good measure and 8 more free-throw attempts (hitting 7). He then capped the week by playing with a head of steam against the Clippers, aggressively going downhill on his way to 14 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists. The tilt against the Bulls was also notable in that he successfully curbed his turnovers in that one, coughing the ball up just once and at least temporarily reversing a trend that has been a feature of his rookie campaign. That it came during a dominant Magic victory only speaks to the importance of addressing this aspect of his game moving forward.
Perhaps most importantly, there’s a genuine swagger starting to emanate from the rookie guard. It can be subtly seen on the court in both the physicality of his defense and the manner in which he hunts out contact when going downhill – each speaks of a burgeoning confidence and a growing level of comfort with the professional game. However, nowhere was this more pronounced than in his deserved chest-beating against the Bulls, a pulsating performance which he used to stake a claim to his belonging in the league, his status as an emerging leader on the team, and the city of Orlando as whole.
From the perspective of a Magic fan it was both refreshing and energizing, a tantalizing flash of the type of passion and intensity that has seemingly been missing from this team for quite some time. If Suggs can maintain this momentum moving forward it suggests that a brighter future for Orlando isn’t all that far away.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: vs Pistons (tonight); vs Mavericks (Sun); at Bulls (Tue); at Pacers (Wed)
It’s a busy week for the Magic, who will split a pair of home and road dates as they cram four games into six nights. There’s a duality also evident in a quick glance at the quality of opponent, with showdowns against standings heavyweights from Chicago and Dallas sandwiched between games against the two teams directly above them in the Eastern Conference. It’s certainly a more welcoming slate than some weeks from recent memory!
If we pop the rosiest of lenses into our glasses it’s possible to talk oneself into a three-win week for the Magic. The Pistons may have toppled Orlando twice already this season, but both games were close and the general quality of the two teams suggests that any matchup should basically be a coin flip. The Bulls, as we know, are currently a long way from full strength, a fact which makes them vulnerable even before we consider that there’s a genuine discrepancy between their current occupancy of the Conference’s second seed and their seventh-ranked point differential. And then there’s the Pacers, a massively underachieving unit sporting just a 3-7 record across their last ten games.
The crystal ball says …
Okay, deep breath … Could this be the first time all season that the Magic manage to put together a winning week? Despite the sniff of possibility it still feels like too much of an ask of this young team, but a perfectly respectable 2-2 outcome isn’t entirely far-fetched – let’s go ahead and pick Orlando to claim a pair of victories.
The next week is an important one for …
Mo Bamba. The big man exploded against Embiid and the Sixers, putting together an absurd performance that basically served as a realized microcosm of the potential that has defined his career to this point. He was a revelation for the Magic at both ends of the court, and it felt like a moment that had the capacity to serve as a turning point.
Instead, since that night Bamba has reverted to maddening inconsistency. It stands in contrast to the more metronomic contributions that the side’s other fourth-year center, Wendell Carter Jr., dependably punches out. It also happens to be the same lack of reliability that will almost certainly seal Bamba’s exit from Orlando, likely as soon as the looming trade deadline. He hasn’t met the expectations that come with the billing of a sixth-overall selection, a fact which will force the Magic’s front office to try and recoup some value before he almost certainly departs in July’s free agency.
To be clear, the upcoming stretch isn’t an important one for Bamba because there’s a chance he finally realizes his tremendous potential. Nor is he going to string together a series of performances that vault him to the top of every trade target board across the league. Instead, he just needs to showcase the sort of play that will convince a rival front office that he can handle back-up minutes in meaningful games, or that will remind some team that they liked him as a prospect back in 2018 as well.
For the rebuilding Magic, it’s important that they continue to extract value where they can – a Bamba trade, which could be buoyed ever so slightly by improvement in the games to come, is one step towards that.
A figure for thought
65.2 – the percentage that Magic opponents are held to when shooting within three feet of the hoop, the fourth-stingiest mark league-wide.