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Bold predictions for the 2022-23 Orlando Magic season

It’s time to go on record with some educated guesses as to how the Magic’s season will play out

Orlando Magic v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

With the Magic’s opening game of the 2022/23 campaign inching ever closer, it’s time to put our (figurative) money where our (digital) mouths are and make some bold predictions regarding how we see this season shaking out. Wins, losses, stats, awards, one-way tickets out of town … let’s consider it all! Having this column also means that there will be one convenient location to visit when, down the line, you’re inevitably looking for the receipts to prove how much of a basketball idiot I am (case in point: predictions from the last two seasons!). Let’s dive in!

Offensive ranking

Los Angeles Lakers v Orlando Magic Photo by Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images

The most painful reality of Orlando’s existence last season was their night-to-night offense, with the team routinely struggling to put up the points required for a winning outcome. As a collection, the numbers make for some brutal reading, as the Magic simply failed to effectively do any of the things that usually result in offensive efficiency.

A talking point evident in Jamahl Mosely’s tutelage from day one was that of spacing via shooting, with the Magic subsequently embracing the three-pointer last season in a way that the side never had before. Attempts from beyond the arc accounted for 41.7% of the team’s total field goal diet, with a whopping 36.9 long-range bombs going up each night. This last figure was good for the 11th most league-wide, Orlando nipping at the heels of notoriously trigger happy teams like Golden State and Houston in terms of shot profile.

There was, however, an element of that equation working against the Magic, namely accuracy. Despite firing away with impressive regularity, the 2021/22 side simply wasn’t any good at shooting the long ball. Orlando converted just 33.1% of all attempts from beyond the arc, the league’s 3rd worst mark. In fact, only two players managed to convert at a rate above the NBA average, despite it being a slightly down year for the league in terms of accuracy.

Broadening the evaluative lens, the Magic were a poor finishing team from basically every spot on the floor, also boasting the league’s fourth-worst two-point percentage and finishing in the bottom half of the rankings from every distance range that is tracked. The one exception was their slightly above average accuracy from the corners, although even that bright spot was dimmed because of how infrequently they leveraged this high-value shot – only 21.2% of their long-range attempts came from the corners, the fourth-lowest frequency in the NBA.

Other factors also contributed to the Magic’s wayward offense. The team’s foul-drawing inability resulted in an anemic free-throw rate of .223, Orlando finishing as one of just four sides to take less than 20 trips to the charity stripe each night. They were also the league’s least effective offensive rebounding outfit, securing only 19.8% of all opportunities on the glass at that end of the court. It’s an outcome that is as much about scheme as it is skill, but it’s yet another factor that contributes to the cumulative impact of limited opportunities for easy points. Finally, the Magic were also pretty bad at taking care of possessions, the team’s 13.0% turnover rate the sixth-worst on the season.

This sort of grisly autopsy of last year’s offense is necessary because of the high level of continuity that the Magic are returning in 2022/23. The vast majority of the roster has remained intact, as will many of the regular rotations and lineup combinations. Still, there are enough changes evident to suggest that maybe Orlando isn’t destined to languish at the absolute depths of the rankings again this coming season.

Orlando Magic v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The arrival of Paolo Banchero is almost certainly the greatest cause for optimism in this regard. The highly-touted rookie represents the future of the offense in Orlando, a versatile individual scorer with enough play-making wrinkles evident in his game to one day serve as a true offensive fulcrum. His play during preseason was already to some degree proof of this concept, the talented big man shaking off a sluggish shooting start in his first two contests to eventually lead the team in scoring (14.0). Most impressive of all was Banchero’s ability to absorb contact, his 4.4 free-throw attempts each night – in just 24 minutes! – a number that would have comfortably paced the Magic last season.

Lining up alongside Banchero should also assist the offensive evolution of some of the other valued youngsters on Orlando’s roster, most notably Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr. Both players have already proven themselves deserving of a featured role in the game plan, and likewise they also both project to still have gains that can be made with the ball in hand. Last season was really the first in a recalibration of Carter Jr.’s scoring profile, an adaptation that continued to see improvements as the season wound on. Wagner appears to be on an even more pronounced upward trajectory, with his performances during EuroBasket and the preseason contests reflecting a player who is growing ever more comfortable bending and breaking opposing defenses in year number two.

Indiana Pacers v Orlando Magic Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The interplay among this triumvirate of frontline scoring threats is also something that should bear offensive fruit for the Magic this coming season. All three draw defensive attention of some meaningful degree on the perimeter, and all three have already shown the ability to create something out of any single coverage looks that are thrown their way. A handful of preseason games have also demonstrated a growing chemistry to the various pairings of this trio, with jumbo-sized two-man sequences and inverted pick-and-rolls causing some measure of havoc on sequences when sighted. Also not to be overlooked is the ability of each to move with impact when off the ball; Wagner is already a deadly cutter from the weakside while both Banchero and Carter Jr. have flashed a knack for timely backdoor sequences that exploit defensive miscues.

To entirely unlock the potential of this frontcourt the Magic will eventually have to surround this size with shooting from the backcourt, a feature that doesn’t yet appear to be in place. However, the team may have stumbled into a solution that has the capacity to supercharge the starting lineup. Long thought of as a microwave sub needed to breathe some life into a tepid bench unit, Terrence Ross got a look as a starter during preseason and immediately made himself at home. The gravitational pull of his mere presence was evident in the space he extracted from opposing defenses, the threat of his outside shot serving to create new avenues on the floor for his teammates to attack. It also seemed to help his own individual game, with more shot attempts coming on the back of swift ball movement and with feet set, as opposed to the heliocentric nature of his unassisted and off-the-dribble profile as a sixth man. So often recognized as the mother of invention, the necessity of unavailability may have assisted the Magic in stumbling into an offensive solution they didn’t realize they already possessed.

For the first time in a long time, it feels like there is a path to genuine offensive improvement visible to the Magic. Banchero is an injection of the precise sort of scoring talent that this team needs, while Wagner has the makings of the perfect running mate alongside him on the wing. If Orlando can also get some meaningful three-point improvement from, say, either Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs or Chuma Okeke – or, heaven forbid, all three! – then we might officially have something brewing. However, due to the nature of the warts on offense, it ultimately feels like this team is still twelve months and a piece or three away from having the mix exactly right. Expect the Magic to take a step towards respectability with the ball in hand while still falling short of the league’s offensive middle class.

Prediction: 23rd ranked offensive rating

Defensive ranking

Memphis Grizzlies v Orlando Magic

If Orlando’s offensive projections appear a little difficult to distinguish, then the other end of the court seems to offer greater clarity. The Magic were a competent defensive outfit last season, ultimately finishing 17th by defensive rating and rolling out a number of impressive one-on-one defenders at multiple spots in the lineup. For a young team they were generally committed and connected on these sequences, an accomplishment that puts the side in good standing heading into this latest campaign.

A consideration of some key individuals reveals the reason for optimism. Jalen Suggs is a terror at the defensive end, a physically tenacious matchup already generating awe-inspiring metrics against whoever he is locked in on. Carter Jr. and Wagner both consistently put up solid one-on-one numbers last season, with an adaptability evident in their respective games at this end that allowed each of the pair to hold their own in a variety of matchups. Mo Bamba is a shot-blocking machine, while Bol Bol’s physical dimensions similarly limit the available space on the court simply by virtue of his presence. Chuma Okeke projects as a 3-and-D connector in a perfect world, while Gary Harris already has established form as just that. Markelle Fultz possesses the profile of an effective deterrent at the point of attack. Also, remember Jonathan Isaac?

There are a couple of areas where the Magic could potentially be a little better this season, small improvements with the capacity to nudge the team’s defense into the league’s top half. If the preseason experimentation with jumbo-sized line-ups holds once the games are underway it could further solidify the side’s defensive rebounding numbers, an aspect of defense at which they ranked 12th last year in cleaning up 77.2% of all opportunities on their own glass. That Orlando also has some effective rebounders in the backcourt adds to this belief.

Indiana Pacers v Orlando Magic Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Relatively speaking, last season the Magic were a side ineffective at forcing turnovers, with opposition possessions ending early just 11.7% of the time, the sixth-most infrequent mark in the league. Similarly, this was a side that just didn’t generate many chances in way of deflections, with 12.9 per contest landing in the NBA’s bottom third. That seems like an absurdly minuscule amount for a team with this much wingspan waving around, and a set of numbers that could experience some positive regression.

Last season Orlando’s defense was also afflicted by some bad luck that figures to bounce back to some degree this year. Despite not surrendering an abnormal number of open or wide-open three-point looks, the Magic saw their opponents knock down 36.3% of their long-range attempts, a figure well above league-average and one that ranked 24th league-wide. Opposition three-point percentage is a notoriously volatile statistic, believed to be more closely aligned with variance than any specific defensive talent (or deficit). A team can control to some degree the types of threes they allow, but not how often these go down; with no apparent aberrations in the long-distance shot profile that the Magic ceded, it seems there’s a reasonable chance that this season they experience little more luck in that regard.

It’s probably unwise to expect any major improvements to Orlando’s defense, particularly as a still very young side already juggling injuries. However, a favorable break or two in certain areas could certainly see the team consolidate some of the gains that were evident by the end of last season’s campaign. That sort of year to year consistency would be a solid achievement for this group at this particular moment in time.

Prediction: 15th ranked defensive rating

Win total

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

So, with projections of an improved offense and defense, it stands to reason that the Magic are poised to take a noticeable leap in the standings, right? Well, that’s a claim that can’t quite yet be made with a resounding level of confidence just yet.

For all of the optimism evident in previews of Orlando’s season to come, there’s still a lingering feeling that this team is another twelve to twenty-four months away. Franz Wagner is an obvious star in the making. Paolo Banchero has a shot at being really good right away. Wendell Carter Jr. is poised to deliver one of the best ‘value to dollar’ ratios of any non-rookie contract in the league. Any one of a dozen other players on the roster is a chance of taking the next step in their own personal development.

Still, despite the ease with which these best-case scenarios can be envisioned, there’s too many factors working against the Magic for this campaign. This is a really young team, and history has routinely shown us that inexperience doesn’t amount to wins in the NBA. The side figures to be sub-par in some of the most important offensive elements of the game, most notably in terms of long-range accuracy and individual shot creation. And the team’s defense, while promising, is unlikely to be a real difference maker; not embarrassing, yet not elite enough to buoy the record.

One final wrinkle: there’s also the fact that the franchise likely isn’t actually all that interested in winning right now. It’s a takeaway that can be seen in the status quo of the offseason, a stretch during which the team’s front office decided to return a 22-win core while ignoring many of the side’s ugliest blemishes. With a loaded draft class looming, it’s both an understandable and justifiable position. One more blue chip talent could genuinely elevate Orlando to meaningful contention in just a few short years.

The Magic appear to be close to extricating themselves from the languorous morass of the current rebuild. I just don’t think it will happen this season. Instead, expect a slight shuffle in the right direction and one final set of alluring lottery odds.

Prediction: 27-55, thirteenth in the East

Rapid fire!

Minnesota Timberwolves v Orlando Magic Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Let’s whip through some quick ones and see what sticks!

  • Paolo Banchero wins Rookie of the Year honors.
  • In a similar vein, Franz Wagner picks up more than a handful of votes in the Most Improved race.
  • Jalen Suggs makes at least 80 three-pointers.
  • Moe Wagner plays more than 1200 minutes over the course of the campaign.
  • Only one of Terrence Ross and Gary Harris are still with the side after the trade deadline.
  • Mo Bamba does not finish the season in pinstripes.
  • As a team the Magic attempt more free throws on a nightly basis, but are still beaten by their opposition in the battle of the charity stripe.
  • The Magic lose more overtime games than any other team in the league.
  • Orlando gets one regular season win over a team that eventually makes the Finals.

There we have it! A handful of final predictions as the clock ticks down to Orlando’s opening tip. Be sure to chime in below to let us know if you agree or disagree and, of course, to share your own.