With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
For a player who initially felt like a cute-but-unnecessary offseason addition, Moe Wagner has certainly managed to show enough to suggest that he’ll stick in this league for quite some time yet. He was good again for the Magic across their most recent stretch of games, continuing a trend that has been true for much of the season.
Wagner first returned from injury against the Grizzlies, entering a game that was already out of hand but still producing an eye-catching offensive performance with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists in 27 minutes of playing time. Against the Suns he wasn’t as accurate from the field (3-9), but he still managed to pile up a personal tally of 12 and 7 that was buoyed by 2 offensive rebounds, a pair of makes from deep, and a tidy 4-4 from the free-throw line. He wrapped up his week with 9 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists against the Pelicans, another instant-offense injection that spoke of a burgeoning playmaking courtesy of willing ball movement.
Orlando’s second Wagner has had a genuinely good season in a relatively limited role. Still, the numbers like the contributions of the reserve big man. Surprisingly, he leads the Magic in PER (18.4), win shares per-48 (.139) and box plus/minus (+1.7). He’s also equal fourth in VORP, tied with his baby brother at 0.6. This collection of data speaks to his ability to put points on the board, and to do so in relative bunches – a nice trait for a backup big to possess. Wagner’s performance this week was just a little more evidence of that fact.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: vs Timberwolves (tonight); vs 76ers (Sun); vs Nets (Tue); vs Pistons (Thurs)
The Magic might have caught a break last week in regards to the opposition’s availability, but there’s no denying that the team pleasantly surprised in claiming two wins from four opportunities. Additionally, deliberately ignoring the beatdown at the hands of the thrilling Grizzlies, Orlando even looked competitive in their loss to the league-leading (but admittedly understrength) Suns. Perhaps most importantly of all, they also managed to stay incrementally behind both Houston and Detroit in the standings. It was a week of victories all round – literal, moral, and hypothetical.
So, could the same sort of outcome be in store this week? Well, unless the Magic get lucky again in regards to star availability, the answer is likely not in favor of them winning games. The game against the Pistons is essentially a coin flip, sure, but each of the others is coming against teams hungry to win and doing a pretty darn good job of doing so in recent times.
Still, the chances of their opponents choosing to rest some key players isn’t beyond the realm of possibility, particularly considering the fact that each of Minny, Philly and Brooklyn have more significant dance partners for the game immediately after they tango with Orlando. Maybe some strategic rest before a circled date on the calendar is what’s needed to inflate the Magic’s chances across another busy slate of games.
The crystal ball says …
Late season unpredictability continues, with the underdogs from Orlando scrounging their way to another 2-2 week.
The next week is an important one for …
Markelle Fultz. This is not to say that the recently returned guard has played poorly – quite the opposite, in fact! – but there is some real importance to him firstly maintaining and then secondly building on the momentum he has established to this point in a protected role.
The early numbers have been encouraging for Fultz. He’s currently shooting 54.8% from the field and 80.0% from the line, figures that are both well above his career averages. He hasn’t been a three-point threat at all – he’s without a make on just 3 attempts – but he’s offset that to some degree with a sizable percentage of shots right at the rim (35.5% of all attempts coming within 3 feet of the basket). Elsewhere, his strong nous for playmaking has remained evident in his assist rate, currently sitting at an absurd 41.7% with totals that exceed any previous per-minute averages.
Now, any evaluation of the numbers certainly has to be prefaced by the blaring of ‘small sample size alert’; 4 games and 67 minutes does not a reliable data pool make. Still, Fultz’s play to this point has already proven to be a real reason for genuine optimism. He’s an effective organizing presence when running the point, he reads the game well, and frequently capitalizes on the opportunistic moments that spring up during the course of any game. The eye test also suggests that Fultz is already Orlando’s best source of painted area pressure, a necessity for a team without a whole lot of gravity-creating threats on the perimeter.
Unless circumstances demand it, Fultz isn’t likely to play as a starter for the Magic over the remainder of the season. However, it’s certainly a role that the team’s decision makers will be hoping he settles into in the years to come. This coming week represents a chance for the dynamic young guard to continue his steady recovery towards that very outcome.
A figure for thought
104.7 – The Magic’s defensive rating since the All-Star break, good for first league-wide. By way of comparison, the team ranks twentieth on the season.