With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
What was looking like a truly deflating stretch for the Magic ended on a high, a gutsy comeback effort against the visiting Clippers snapping a nine-game losing streak and finally delivering the team their sixth win of the season. Central to that second half turnaround and a strong performer across the rest of the week’s slate? Moritz Wagner, sidelined when things first kicked off but now entrenched in the rotation and making valuable contributions.
Brother Moe’s effort and enthusiasm – along with a fistful of thunderous dunks! – helped to drag the Magic back into the contest against the Clippers, a final stat line of 20 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 ‘stocks’ an impressive return for the always energetic contributor. He also had an effective double-double against the Bucks as well as 16 and 9 in the tilt against the Raptors, frequently helping to shore up an understrength Orlando frontcourt that has recently taken a battering on the defensive glass.
Wagner certainly isn’t a starter for the Magic when – I know, I know, but humor me with this – they’re at full health, but he’s been pretty solid after being called into that duty not long after his own return from injury. In fact, he has definitively proven that there should be a spot for him somewhere in the rotation, his play a jolt of grit and hustle that this particular team sometimes needs. This week was a nice reminder of what the elder Wagner brother brings to the club on his best nights.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: vs Raptors (Fri); vs Raptors (Sun); vs Hawks (Wed)
A slightly quieter week for the Magic with only three games to worry about, and all in Central Florida to boot. It still projects to be tough sledding, however, with both the Raptors and the Hawks in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff mix as they hover around the .500 mark. The pair of adversaries have also each claimed a recent victory over Orlando, comprehensive double-digit takedowns that appear to emphasize the gulf between the teams. Remember, though, that the Magic are a notably stronger side when enjoying the comforts of home, with their most impressive wins of the season coming on the pinstriped hardwood. Could they catch a Toronto side struck down by heat stroke, or benefit from the apparent beef between Atlanta’s star and coach?
The crystal ball says …
I’m tipping the Magic to get one more win this week before they head back out on the road, likely via a split with the Raptors.
It’s time to keep an eye on …
Markelle Fultz. It’s great to see the oft-absent point guard back on the floor, even as he works through the process of removing rust and regaining his rhythm. His performance has, understandably, largely been quiet across his first five games, but glimpses of his potential remain tantalizingly evident. That being said, his return has already started to raise some significant questions for the Magic and their future. Can his possession-heavy playstyle mesh with the team’s vision of a pair of plus-sized playmaking wings? As a non-shooting threat is he suited to a starting slot in Orlando’s backcourt? Will his presence ultimately help or hinder the long-term development of Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner? We’re a long way from definitively knowing the answers to these questions, but they are ones that the Magic are going to have to figure out in the weeks to come. That process of evaluation begins in earnest now.
Three from downtown
- Is Franz of the Fourth Quarter becoming a thing? On the season the silky forward is averaging 6.3 points in the final frame (having appeared in 23 of the team’s 26), a figure which jumps to 9.3 fourth quarter points across the last 10 games (8 appearances) and a whopping 12.7 over the last 4 (3 appearances). It’s yet another sign of his ascension in this league.
- Opposing coaches are almost certainly right to view the Magic as the type of side – poor shooters; often indecisive passers; a frequently injured backcourt – to trot out a zone against. But unless Orlando is facing a mirror match, the coaching staff should probably resist the urge to flash too much of this look themselves. Orlando’s zone D has too frequently been a disaster.
- At this stage the expectations are essentially non-existent, but to hear that Jonathan Isaac is apparently inching closer to a hardwood return is another interesting wrinkle in the Magic’s season.
A figure for thought
10.1. The number of screen assists the Magic average per-game, fourth-most league-wide.