With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
Considering the current context of professional basketball in Central Florida, this season-opening moment of recognition was only ever going one way. Who is it that has set hearts aflutter in Orlando across the season’s opening stretch? Paolo Banchero, of course!
The Magic’s prized rookie has made a blistering start to his professional career, immediately establishing himself as a bona fide scorer that can generate points in a multitude of ways. He has placed himself among auspicious company in terms of the historical pace he has set coming out of the first year blocks, staking claim to a spot amidst names like Jordan, Wilkins and the Big O. And from an exclusively pinstriped perspective, consider this: Banchero has even put up more points in his first five games for Orlando (120) than the team’s last transcendent scorer, Tracy McGrady did (109) – despite playing 20 fewer minutes in those contests!
Emerging from this string of exciting performances is an optimism that this Magic franchise hasn’t experienced in quite some time. Having so long suffered through lineups bereft of dynamic scoring threats and team offensive ratings languishing at the depths of the league rankings, Orlando now has a definitive foundational piece of the offense – and franchise – around which all roster decisions can be made moving forward.
Banchero might not yet have experienced a win on an NBA court. However, what he has already managed to claim victory over with his scoring exploits are the hearts of a collective fanbase.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: vs Hornets (Fri); at Mavericks (Sun); at Thunder (Tue); vs Warriors (Thur).
A balanced week gives the currently winless Magic a fantastic chance to belatedly open their account for the season. Both Dallas and Golden State are a tall order regardless of the location, but a Hornets side at home and a Thunder team on the road both represent winnable games that Orlando will be keen to capitalize on. The showdowns share a number of similarities: each opponent will be missing at least one key cog from the rotation; neither is a back-to-back situation for the Magic; and both are against teams projected to spend the season jostling for lottery odds. Considering that they have been largely competitive in each contest so far, expect Orlando to finally break their drought … even with a growing injury ward.
The crystal ball says …
The Magic will nab a much-needed win before the week is done.
It’s time to keep an eye on …
Chuma Okeke. The Magic’s third-year forward has essentially been invisible to start the season, with little in the way of impactful basketball contributions to be seen for his time on the court. In shooting 28.6% from the field and 27.3% from downtown he’s seen his true shooting percentage plummet to a sub-arctic .437, a mark which resides almost at the bottom of the roster’s depths. On the other side of the ball his defense has also been generally ineffective, with an individual defensive rating of 120 the worst of his young career. Did I mention that he doesn’t yet have a steal or a block to his name this season? I probably should have.
Across his first two seasons Okeke seemed very much like a low-ceiling, high-floor prospect, the type of player who could fill a connective role as a strong individual defender and acceptable shooting threat on the wing. However, if he can’t knock down an open jumper and he isn’t able to impose himself defensively, his opportunities on the court figure to dry up pretty quickly. Through the season’s opening stretch that’s certainly been the case, the nadir being his five-minute cameo in the recent Cleveland contest. Okeke needs to turn things around and soon, otherwise he’ll be just the latest in the line of 3-and-D hopefuls to fade away.
Three from downtown
- Franz Wagner appears to have literally mastered the patented Dirk fadeaway. But before the ball goes through the hoop, look at how effectively he creates and then uses the contact that generates the necessary separation.
- In 86 minutes of court time, Bol Bol has swatted 13 shots, a total which leads the league. By comparison, Mo Bamba has zero in 60 minutes.
- The Magic have persisted with the 3-2 zone they first implemented in the preseason, despite the fact that it’s getting pretty regularly roasted. We’ll see how long this look lasts, particularly as some of the currently missing cavalry start to return (they are returning, right?).
A figure for thought
0.001. The field goal percentage margin by which Orlando’s opponents are out-shooting them across the season’s first five games.