With a plain eye, Orlando’s 2-8 start indicates a poor opening to their 2022-23 season. But under a microscope, one will see that is not the case.
Already this season the Magic have been without Cole Anthony for six games, Jalen Suggs for five and Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris and Jonathan Isaac for the whole season. Yet even with their injury-plagued roster, five of the team’s eight losses were by single-digits.
And while availability might be the best ability, Orlando’s nucleus, individually-speaking, has been outstanding through their first ten games.
Paolo Banchero: The Isolation King
Through ten games, the 2022 No. 1 overall pick has more than lived up to the billing.
The raw stats are astonishing: Banchero currently has the sixth-highest rookie points per game average (22.6) in the three-point era (since 1979-80) while leading all rookies in both rebounds (8.5) and assists (3.6) per game.
But what is particularly impressive is how the young phenom is scoring his points: in isolation and at the free throw line.
Banchero is one of just 13 players this season getting at least four isolation possession per game, a testament to how much freedom he has and how quickly he has adjusted to the NBA.
Explaining this revelation is not complicated: even in today’s NBA where seemingly every player can dribble, pass and shoot, a player of Banchero’s stature creating off the bounce the way he can is an abnormality.
The rookie has been great at hunting mismatches, both on the perimeter and inside the arc, and a dependable in-between game has kept defenses honest early on.
Banchero has already proven to be a go-to scorer, and when he shares the floor with the other six-foot-ten point guard on the roster, opposing defenses have to pick their poison.
Franz Wagner: The Pick and Roll Maestro
With the injuries to Suggs, Anthony and Fultz, Orlando’s impromptu point guard has taken his game to another level this year.
Wagner is one of 30 players averaging six or more pick and roll ball handler possessions per game, nearly doubling his per game average from last season. Of those 30 players, Wagner ranks fourth in effective field goal percentage (60.4), trailing only Luka Doncic, Stephen Curry and Tyler Herro.
Him and Wendell Carter Jr. have displayed a great synergy thus far, and even though Wagner’s turnover frequency percentage is relatively high on these possessions (22.7), some of that can be attributed to him being a jumbo ball handler routinely facing competent perimeter defenders.
I will be curious to see if Wagner’s pick and roll opportunities dwindle once Orlando’s backcourt rotation returns in full. But in the mean time, the Magic should continue allowing him to operate in this manner.
Wendell Carter Jr.: Creating Elbow Room
So far this season, Carter Jr. is averaging career highs in points (16.0), assists (3.0) while shooting a career-best from the free throw line (81.6%). Where Carter Jr. is doing most of his damage is from about 19 feet out, also known as the elbows.
This year, the fifth year big man ranks sixth in the league in elbow touches per game (5.5): hovering around the likes of Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Bam Adebayo.
Carter Jr. has been effective in this role because of how shrewd a decision-maker he is.
Whether it be passing it out on the short roll, knocking down pull-up jumpers or faking a handoff and taking it to the rim himself, Carter Jr. has consistently made a positive impact from this area.
His field goal percentage could stand to improve from this range (46.2%), but more often than not Carter Jr. is giving up the ball rather than taking shots himself. He is 2.6 times more likely to pass from the elbow than shoot: one of the factors contributing to his career-high in assists per game.
Jalen Suggs: Pull-up Shooting
During his rookie season, Suggs’ outside shooting woes was a major red flag. He was one of the worst three-point shooters in the NBA and any improvement would have been welcomed.
This season, while his raw three-point shooting stats remain subpar, the confidence in his jumper looks encouraging.
As mentioned earlier, Suggs has already missed five games to injury, so his stats are likely inflated because of the small sample size. But in five games this season he is shooting 71% on his pull-up twos and 45.5% on his pull-up threes.
It feels like Suggs utilizes his pull-up jumper in ball-screen actions when defenses switch or go under the screen. But occasionally, like his go-ahead three-pointer against the Golden State Warriors, he can get his shot off on an island against a larger defender.
While there is still progress to be made regarding Suggs’ jump shot, the early returns from this season indicate that he is trending in the right direction.
Bol Bol: A Unicorn
Of course I do not speak for everyone, but heading into this season there were qualms about whether Bol would be a viable rotation player for the Magic.
Those doubts have been quickly shed as he has already started more games this season than he did in his first three years in the NBA.
Our very own Garrett Townsend wrote in-depth about Bol’s tremendous start to the 2022-23 season, but what stands out to me is his efficiency at or near the rim.
Through ten games this season, Bol has missed nine shots (42/51) from inside 14 feet and is shooting 87.2%(!!!) from inside five feet. He also currently leads the NBA in two-point field goal percentage (76.8).
It is not uncommon for a player his size to be efficient on two-point fields goals, but what is different about Bol is that his points are not coming strictly off put back attempts and alley-oops: he is 7-foot-2 getting into the lane from the perimeter.
The same way I am curious to see if Wagner’s pick and roll opportunities diminish once the team gets healthier, I will be interested to see if Bol’s role in the offense lessens once the Magic integrate more players into their rotation.
But Bol has not made that decision easy for Orlando’s coaching staff. To start the season, Bol has showcased exactly why he had so much hype coming out of Oregon.