With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
After an excellent rookie campaign and a stellar showing at EuroBasket in the offseason, expectations were through the roof for Franz Wagner in year number two. Despite the general dependency of his production in the early going, it’s probably been fair to say that performance relative to expectations – even if those expectations were unfairly high – was a little on the underwhelming side through the season’s first two weeks. Was there a sophomore leap in store?
Well, worry not, because Wagner’s play over the last three games has been positively scintillating. He kicked things off by hanging 31 and 6 on the Kings, combining with Paolo Banchero to offer an awe-inspiring glimpse of what they should one day become. He followed this up with a hyper-efficient 23, 7 and 5 against Houston, converting at 75.0% from both the field (9-12) and three-point line (3-4). He closed the week by dropping 22 and 6 as he led the Magic to a major upset over the Mavericks. Franz appears to be leaving behind his early season shooting struggles, including the wayward radar from deep. Perhaps most importantly, he’s also been able to exert a little more control over play-to-play sequences, with more assists, fewer turnovers, and a personally positive plus/minus in seven of the last eight outings.
Wagner’s play rarely, if ever, creates consternation for Magic fans; he’s looked like a comfortable pro’ from the very first moment he stepped onto the NBA hardwood. As such, his play across the last week has simply been confirmation of what we were all expecting – a confident and measured playmaker on the wings, with a wonderfully advanced driving game and multi-faceted scoring proficiency. It’s been great to see him really hit his stride this last week.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: vs Suns (Fri); vs Hornets (Mon); vs Timberwolves (Wed)
Another three home contests are on tap for the Magic this week, their chance to confidently close a seven-game homestand that started with a bang – an ego-boosting win over the defending champs – but that has also included some unflattering whimpers – evident in the humbling collapses against the Kings and the Rockets. Again, there are some winnable nights on the immediate horizon; Phoenix are really good, but Charlotte have stumbled in losing seven straight while Minnesota continue to have trouble figuring out how their new pieces fit alongside the old. Still, the Magic aren’t a team that can ever pencil in a win with confidence, regardless of the opponent’s travails. As is so often the case, these results will be determined by effort and execution when the chips are down.
The crystal ball says …
Predicting a winning record last week was obviously too bold, but it seems reasonable to expect the Magic to at least squeak out one more home W before they get back out on the road.
It’s time to keep an eye on …
RJ Hampton. The young guard has been good in limited opportunities so far this season, but it’s one of those descriptors in particular – limited – that speaks to the concern with him at this moment. Despite the backcourt injury crisis in Orlando, Hampton is playing less frequently than at any other point in his pinstriped tenure. He’s averaging just 15.7 minutes per contest, including three nights when his court time failed to hit double-digits and two other occasions when he didn’t see the floor at all, the first DNP-CDs of his Magic career.
It’s difficult to know precisely what the cause of this inactivity is. While it’s true that the team’s bench has been pretty horrible, Hampton has actually been a relative bright spot. He’s shooting better than ever before from basically every important spot on the floor, whether that’s at the hoop (83.3% within three feet!), on floaters and runners (42.9% from three to ten feet), or from deep (50.0% on 5.5 attempts per-100 possessions). He remains dangerous in the open court. He hasn’t been a turnover machine. He’s top five on the roster in basically any advanced metric, including PER, VORP, win shares per-48, and true shooting percentage. Plus, as already noted, literally every other ball-handling guard on the roster is currently injured.
Hampton will get a chance again this season, if only because Head Coach Jamahl Mosley has already shown a willingness (tendency?) to chop and change the rotations on any given night. However, the manner in which he has been deployed to this point suggests that his long-term future might reside somewhere other than Central Florida. Let’s see if the young guard can do anything to alter that likelihood.
Three from downtown
- It’s been a season to forget for Chuma Okeke to this point, but his success in locking down Luka Doncic on Wednesday night was a timely reminder of the connective 3-and-D glue-guy potential he still has.
- Sometimes it feels like Wendell Carter Jr. is the player who has had to sacrifice the most when it comes to touches and role on offense. However, his usage rate, shot attempts and assists are all pretty comparable to his numbers from last season, a fact which speaks to the adaptability of the fifth-year big man.
- Orlando are already streaking ahead in the ‘man games lost to injury’ race, but the recent news that Markelle Fultz will contribute another 3 to 4 weeks to that tally is still a downer.
A figure for thought
7. The number of years one has to go back to find a season in which the Magic surrendered more than the 23.3 free throw attempts they’re currently giving up each night (2015/16 – 24.0).