The 2022-23 NBA season is just around the corner, with that comes detailed examinations of all 30 teams.
In the case of the Orlando Magic, there is a lot to unpack, but also plenty to look forward to.
Following a 22-60 finish to last year’s regular season, the Magic revamped their roster the best way they could: adding Paolo Banchero, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Not only that, Orlando selected Michigan wing Caleb Houstan in the second round, resigned veterans Mo Bamba and Gary Harris and took a shot on the mystifying figure that is Bol Bol, giving him a two-year deal.
The continuity in central Florida could play a big role in the Magic’s success this season, as the team brought back essentially every player from last year’s rotation.
Looking ahead, the biggest key for the Magic this season will be avoiding the injury bug. Last year, Orlando ranked first in the league in games missed due to injury or health and safety protocols; by a wide margin too.
NBA season-end top 5, most games missed by injured players and health protocols— Man Games Lost NBA (@ManGamesLostNBA) April 17, 2022
Following Orlando’s preseason win over the Memphis Grizzlies this past Tuesday, Wendell Carter Jr. addressed this topic during his postgame interview.
“If we can just take care of our bodies a lot better...we’re one year in as a group so I feel like guys kind of understand what they need to do in order for an 82-game season” Carter Jr. said.
The returns of Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris and Jonathan Isaac will prove vital to Orlando’s success this year. And on top of that, the recovery of second-year guard Jalen Suggs, who recently suffered a knee injury in Orlando’s preseason game against the Dallas Mavericks. Although there is optimism he will not miss much time once the regular season rolls around.
If all those players can return to Orlando’s lineup, that would bolster the team’s defense considerably. Even among a rollercoaster season last year, Orlando ranked 17th in defensive rating (112.5). A fully healthy Magic squad could be one of the best defensive teams in the NBA.
Cole Anthony, who was stellar for the Magic last year before injuries derailed his season, also spoke on his efforts to stay healthy.
“I think the biggest thing I worked on this summer was changing my diet. I got a personal chef now, I don’t want to have any more ticky-tacky injuries, I want to play 82 games” Anthony said.
Once the Magic reintegrate their entire roster into the fold, we will then have a more clear picture of what the team can accomplish. In the meantime, the Magic will need their budding stars to step up in their teammates’ absence.
What is the best case scenario?
Although they have only appeared in two preseason games together, Orlando’s front court of Franz Wagner, Banchero and Carter Jr. has to be one of the most promising trios the franchise has had in some time.
Following that preseason win over the Grizzlies, Banchero touched on the connection the three players already possess.
“Playing with Franz is easy. I’ve never been able to make backdoor cuts and get easy layups. I can already feel the difference, [Wendell] doing the same thing, we are all so unselfish...it feels natural so far” Banchero said.
For a team that finished last in offensive rating this past season (104.5), having a more adept and free-flowing offense should translate into more wins. In just a few preseason games, the team has showcased that their offense has taken a step forward.
And while the Magic will need contributions from everyone on their roster, the team will likely go as far as Wagner, Carter Jr., Anthony and Banchero takes them.
If Banchero is a runaway Rookie of the Year candidate, Wagner and Carter Jr. are mainstays in the Most Improved Player discussion and Anthony regains his early 2021-22 season form, it is easy to envision this team competing for a spot in the play-in tournament.
What is the worst case scenario?
In the same breath, finishing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference for a third straight season also remains a possibility.
Whether it be lingering injuries, an abundance of youth and inexperience or stagnation in terms of player development, the postseason drought may continue for another year.
But that does not mean whatever feats the team accomplishes this season are insignificant.
Although it is a tough pill to swallow, the organization resides in the early stages of a rebuilding process. As fun as it would be to see Orlando playing in late April, tempering expectations might be beneficial for everyone’s well-being.
What should we be excited for this season?
That being said, there is still plenty to be enthusiastic about, perhaps none more than the mystery that revolves around this team.
There are so many questions to be answered once the season commences on Oct. 19: How do Banchero and Houstan perform as rookies? Do Wagner and Carter Jr. take a leap forward? Does Anthony set a career-high in games played? Will Isaac finally return to the court? Does Suggs continue his trajectory into becoming an elite defender? How does Mo Bamba play following his career year? Does Terrence Ross bounce back from an underwhelming 2021-22 campaign? Will R.J. Hampton develop into a reliable backup guard? Is Bol a legitimate rotational player moving forward?
These will all be answered in due time.
What is the most likely scenario?
The most likely scenario probably falls somewhere in the middle.
Banchero has flashes of superstardom, but also off nights that spark morning talk shows to question Orlando’s usage of the top pick. Wagner and Carter Jr. roam in the first-time All-Star conversation, but do not have the national rapport to get selected. The team is healthier than in years past, but still deal with injuries to key players.
I say let the games begin; everyone following the Magic should be eager to see how it plays out.
2021-22 Season Finish: 22-60, 15th in the Eastern Conference
Offensive Rating: 105.25 (27th of 30)
Defensive Rating: 113.25 (17th of 30)
Roster Additions: Paolo Banchero, Caleb Houstan
Roster Subtractions: Robin Lopez, Ignas Brazdeikis
2022-23 Season Prediction: 30-52, 13th in the Eastern Conference