With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
Any time the Magic punch out a 3-1 road trip against good opposition, it’s going to result in a bunch of names being worthy of recognition. Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner again shouldered much of the offensive burden, turning in a series of impressive performances. Markelle Fultz continued his winning ways, coming up with big plays in the clutch on a number of nights. Moe Wagner was all heart and hustle. Cole Anthony masterfully conducted the second unit. Mo Bamba quietly continued to provide some of the most effective contributions of his professional career. It was a good week!
However, it’s highly unlikely that we’re singing the pinstriped praises of this team quite as merrily this morning without the contributions of an unlikely pair. Admiral Schofield and Kevon Harris, the Magic’s two-way duo, consistently delivered impactful play in reserve roles, providing a level of value well beyond what would be expected from their place in the pecking order. Schofield averaged 9.7 points across the week’s final three games, canning five three-pointers and generating valuable offensive juice for the team in key moments. Harris was a defensive ace, coming in during clutch moments and doing an admirable job of bottling up top-tier talent like Trae Young. He also collected a team best individual plus-minus over the last week, the Magic winning Harris’ 49 minutes by a total of 23 points.
No team wins three-quarters of their games on the back of just a single player or two. For the Magic that’s been made abundantly clear across the last week, with vital contributions from two unlikely sources helping to keep the good times rolling.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: vs Spurs (Fri); vs Lakers (Tue); at Pistons (Wed)
A slower and softer stretch of the schedule for the Magic, who sandwich the holiday break with a pair of home showdowns against Western Conference stragglers, before heading back out on the road to tussle with the Pistons. Considering the current trajectory of each of these sides, it also happens to be a week during which Orlando should genuinely be favored literally every time they step on the floor. A circumstance we’ve grown unfortunately unaccustomed to this last half decade? A sign of shifting fortunes? A Christmas miracle? No matter what label it ultimately gets slapped with, optimism for the coming week is a sign of the fact that things are going pretty swimmingly for the Magic at this moment.
The crystal ball says …
3-0, although it is possible that we see some ‘inexperience slippage’ in the form of a team that comes unprepared against struggling opposition. Let’s hope that’s not the case.
It’s time to keep an eye on …
Wendell Carter Jr. After missing 18 of the last 19 games the big man is due back as soon as tonight, the question being how high he can raise the ceiling of a Magic team that has suddenly won 7 of their last 8. We know that his defense is strong and his offensive game generally dependable, but is a Moe Wagner-sized usage rate enough to keep him satisfied and the team rolling? Or will Paolo, Franz and Fultz have to make some concessions for their returning teammate? It’s actually a nice problem for the Magic to have, particularly considering how often the team’s dilemma has instead seemingly centered on how to make up a talent deficit. Over the last couple of seasons there have been stretches when Carter Jr. was undoubtedly the most valuable player in pinstripes. It’s imperative that the coaching staff now figure out how to get the most out of the fifth-year big man while not losing any of what has made the team tick these last two weeks.
Three from downtown
- Banchero’s ability to generate free-throws is really starting to emerge as other-wordly. Through 26 games he’s already racked up 217 total attempts from the charity stripe, a figure that only two Magic players eclipsed by the end of last season. It’s not even Christmas!
- Only a few weeks ago the Magic were projected to have the most difficult remaining schedule in the entire league. After their recent stretch of winning that has undergone a seismic shift, the team now looking at the equal-twelfth easiest slate to come.
- At the NBA level, the effectiveness of any zone defense often comes down to the opponent’s ‘make or miss’ shooting numbers as much as it does execution. The Magic were able to ride their 2-3 deployment against the Rockets for the better part of a half of basketball, but it would be a mistake to think it’s anything more than an in-game audible they got the rub from this time.
A figure for thought
+6.0. The Magic’s differential across their last eight games. On the season, only one team currently has a mark better than this (Cleveland, +6.5).