With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
Despite it being one that featured both inspiring individual performances (Chuma Okeke; Franz Wagner) and continued metronomic production (Wendell Carter Jr.), it’s difficult to build a case for anyone other than Markelle Fultz as the winner of the week. The dynamic young point guard played in two of the team’s three tilts, showing little in the way of rust as he returned from the purgatorial status of rehabilitation and recovery.
Fultz may have played just a shade over 30 total minutes, and he is being held out of Friday’s game against Toronto to rest his knee, but in that time he again looked like a meaningful rotation contributor. He racked up points with a smooth mid-range game and clean finishing at the hoop, while also playing the part of facilitator with probing drives and crisp passes to open teammates. There was an energy and intensity evident in broken play sequences, a further signaling of his ability to read the floor and position himself for greatest impact.
All things considered, this was just about the best return to play that anyone would have been hoping for with Fultz. At the ripe old age of 23 he’s already been forced to face a mountain of physical setbacks that tower over the experiences of most, but in the short order of his two games this season he’s already been able to show the Magic that he still has plenty to offer this team, both in the present and in the seasons to come.
Fultz definitively remains an unfinished product in this league. But in emerging as the brightest spot of the Magic’s week – and, perhaps, the most feel-good moment of their season – he offered a reminder of exactly why the front office felt compelled to extend his tenure in Central Florida.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: at Raptors (tonight); at Grizzlies (Sat); vs Suns (Tue); at Pelicans (Wed)
Oh boy. The Magic face a busy schedule over the next seven days, with four games in four different cities punctuated by matchups against both the best team in the league (Phoenix) and the hottest team in this moment (Memphis). Sandwiched around those two contests are tilts against a Toronto side that has steadied after a wobbly start, and a rising New Orleans outfit that has ‘surged’ into genuine contention for the Western Conference’s play-in tournament. All four opponents are also trying to win, an objective which they have been considerably more successful at than Orlando.
So will the Magic nab a win this coming week? Maybe. Okay, probably not. They’re currently tied for the title of the league’s least successful team, side-by-side with Houston at just 15 wins apiece (Detroit, last-start winners against, of all teams, Toronto, have 16). Orlando is, however, currently sporting one more loss than any other side, a circumstance that they’ve already maybe incentivized with some of their tactical decision making (Admiral Schofield, anyone?). Four games against a combination of playoff heavyweights and play-in hopefuls appears to be the perfect recipe for a continued rollout of the tank.
The crystal ball says …
0-4 as our pinstriped pals maintain their tenuous grip on the lottery’s top odds.
The next week is an important one for …
Chuma Okeke. The second year forward started last week with a bang, dropping what was somewhere in the vicinity of a career-best performance with 26 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 stocks – good for an absurd +27 in 32 minutes. It was the sort of efficient offensive performance that fans of the Magic have been waiting to see from the swingman, particularly in light of his early-season shooting woes. The hope was that it would be a catalyzing moment, a hinge on which his season swung back towards the tantalizing promise that his skillset projects in the most optimistic moments.
In the two games since, however … his shooting stroke has seemingly (re)abandoned him. A combined 4-16 from the field (including 3-11 from deep) dulled the forward’s offensive impact, and while many other statistical contributions remained steady, any negative scoring threat on a relatively offensively-starved team like Orlando simply accentuates many of the side’s worst characteristics. Big Chum isn’t the cause of the team’s offensive struggles, but his elevation as a scorer sure would help cure some of the side’s ills.
Okeke is young and still figuring out the professional game. His best is undoubtedly still to come. Let’s hope that the next week serves to kickstart a strong finish to his sophomore campaign.
A figure for thought
1 – Orlando’s rank league-wide in pace across the last 14 games. By way of comparison, the team ranks 10th on the season.