With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
He’s been the brightest of spots all season long, a fact which remains constant through the closing stages. Franz Wagner’s star continues to shine even as the games mean less and less. He dropped a wonderfully efficient 28 points against the Wizards, arriving there on 11-20 shooting that included a perfect 3-3 from deep and 3-3 from the line. He also top-scored with 19 in the tilt against the Kings, while he turned up the play-making dial against the Cavs in piecing together 10 points and 6 assists (despite not seeing the floor in the fourth quarter).
I’ll have more to say about Wagner’s rookie season before the season is done, but it’s safe to say that it has been an impressive campaign by any number of metrics. The versatile forward is among the most efficient scorers in a notably impressive draft crop, with his recent effort against Washington even ranking favorably on a historical level. He’s shown genuine juice as a playmaker, with a developing pick-and-roll game and already dependable figures on the dribble drive. Even his individual defensive numbers are excellent for a first year player, with his combination of switchability and stickiness suggesting a player who will be a net-positive on that end for years to come.
In short, Sweet Franz has had a genuinely great freshman campaign, the best by a Magic rookie in … almost 20 years? Last week was just another reminder of that fact.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: vs Raptors (tonight); vs Knicks (Sun); vs Cavs (Tue); at Hornets (Thurs)
The Magic head into the season’s penultimate week with a busy pending slate, alternating game and rest days across all seven starting tonight. Three of the four contests come against playoff-bound opponents, while the fourth sees them match up against a Knicks side that figures to be severely disappointed by their absence from the postseason festivities.
In the other corner stands the Orlando Magic, losers of four straight and a long-time lottery lock that has lately prioritized the tank above all else. The injury report swells on a nightly basis. Lineup and deployment experimentation is en vogue. Deep bench units are primed to play the entirety of fourth quarters should the coaching staff catch even the slightest whiff of an unexpected win.
So what does all this mean for the Magic’s next batch of four games in seven nights, this one at the tail end of a very long and very trying campaign? It means that the only victory to even be hoping for is one of the moral variety. Orlando will – and should! – be pulling out all the necessary stops to ensure they stay neck and neck with fellow cellar-dwellers Houston and Detroit, an approach that won’t juice the now-flattened odds any but that will work to soften the blow of any worst case scenario outcome come lottery night.
The crystal ball says …
0-4. If the Magic don’t finish the season on a nine-game losing streak, something can be considered to have gone wrong.
The next week is an important one for …
Devin Cannady. First signed by the Magic almost twelve months ago to the day, the livewire shooter finds himself back in pinstripes after successfully rehabbing the serious ankle fracture he suffered against the Pacers in the close of last season. Cruelly it was only the game before his injury that things clicked for him at the professional level, with a 17 point performance (including 3-5 from downtown) preceding his unfortunate stint on the sideline.
One year on, Cannady is back. It’s a heartwarming story, with his recent reps in the G League helping him to regain his rhythm while also convincing Orlando’s front office to give him another look at the NBA level. He’ll jostle for minutes in what is currently a crowded backcourt rotation, but considering the team’s commitment to the tank it’s reasonable to expect meaningful opportunities to emerge in at least a couple of the remaining games. Let’s hope that this time round the home stretch produces a happier outcome for the young shooter.
A figure for thought
35.3 – the percentage that Nikola Jokic, a 58.0% shooter on the season, has converted at when directly guarded by Wendell Carter Jr. (12-34).