Although it has produced plenty of stress, this offseason has undoubtedly been a momentous one for the Magic.
Not only did they draft Paolo Banchero and Caleb Houstan, Orlando’s front office also retained veterans Mo Bamba and Gary Harris. And as with any young team, year two of the Jahmal Mosley experience will ultimately warrant higher expectations. That said, there is still time to develop and experiment with this roster.
Over the past few seasons, Orlando has acquired numerous multifaceted players, a growing staple of the modern NBA. And because of that, the Magic can become trendsetters for the next iteration of the league.
With that in mind, here are four potential lineups the Magic could use next season to take advantage of their diverse collection of talent.
M. Fultz - J. Suggs - F. Wagner - P. Banchero - W. Carter Jr.
This could easily be Orlando’s starting lineup next season. If that is the case, this quintet will likely be one of the best passing units in the NBA.
Markelle Fultz’s passing ability is already well-documented, but rising sophomores Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner both showcased incredible feel during their rookies seasons.
In transition, Suggs competently reads the floor the way English teachers read Shakespeare; and his execution on those passes are just as proficient. On the other hand, Wagner is a colossal yet skillful forward who offers efficient playmaking in a myriad of ways.
As these two continue adjusting to the speed of the league, dissecting defenses with their passes will only become more prevalent.
And as for Banchero and Wendell Carter Jr., it will be difficult to find a more cerebral 4-5 combination in the NBA.
Even though Banchero is a tremendous shot creator, his best skill might be his passing. Part of that is tied to his ability to create advantages as a ballhandler, but Banchero made some truly remarkable passes during his lone season at Duke and in this year’s Summer League.
And while Carter Jr. is not the “creator” the other four are, his quick decision-making will lend itself well in this lineup, particularly in short roll situations.
Put it all together and you have five players, three of who are 6-feet-10 or taller, who can handle the ball and create for others. Overpassing could be detrimental at times, but this lineup will capitalize on rotating defenses ad nauseam.
That said, what good is passing when you have no shooters to space the floor? A backcourt of Fultz and Suggs could be a disastrous shooting duo and Carter Jr. will likely not offer much on the perimeter either.
Surely Orlando’s coaching staff will recognize these concerns and put these five players in the best position to succeed (maybe by replacing Fultz with Cole Anthony).
C. Anthony - D. Cannady - F. Wagner - P. Banchero - M. Bamba
Let’s get weird.
From a basketball purist standpoint, this could be Orlando’s most aesthetically pleasing lineup.
At times last season, Cole Anthony was an offensive hub for the Magic. But while his stellar play normally produced favorable results for the Magic, the heliocentrism of Anthony’s game is likely preventing him from his peak offensive efficiency.
Despite increasing his usage percentage last year, Anthony’s effective field goal percentage rose two points. Part of that growth could be a byproduct of his amplified off-ball opportunities: Anthony’s frequency as a pick-and-roll ballhandler went down and both his frequencies as a spot up shooter and cutter went up.
Playing alongside Wagner for nearly 1600 minutes generated relatively positive results, and incorporating another offensive playmaker in Banchero should boost Anthony’s efficiency as well (they are already building chemistry).
Devin Cannady and Mo Bamba would have menial roles in this lineup, but provide some much-needed floor spacing. Cannady shot 40.5 percent from three on 37 attempts last season and displayed a synergy with Banchero during this year’s Summer League. And Bamba posted the second-highest 3PAr of any seven-footer last season and still clocked in at 38.1 percent from beyond the arc.
At minimum, Orlando would have a spaced floor, three players who can act as primary initiators and a dominant interior presence: the foundation of a great offense in today’s NBA.
If Cannady is waived before the season, Houstan would be a viable replacement in this lineup.
J. Suggs - G. Harris - F. Wagner - W. Carter - M. Bamba
During his rookie season, what Suggs lacked on the offensive end he more than made up for on defense. His reaction time and awareness on that side of the floor already ranks among the best in the NBA.
Suggs also did not get enough credit for his switch ability last season, as he rarely struggled against primary ballhandlers, but also held his own defending larger, post-oriented forwards.
With the tools he already possesses, Suggs has a chance to be an all-world defender. The next step in his evolution is consistency (staying healthy). Alongside Suggs is Gary Harris, a veteran stalwart who also thrives as a point of attack defender. I do not envy opposing backcourts going up against this duo.
Wagner, as many know, was another defensive ace during his rookie season. He used his length well on that side of the floor and is capable of defending all types of players. Needless to say, a defensive lineup without Wagner would be ludicrous.
In the frontcourt, I was inclined to give Chuma Okeke a spot over Bamba because of his defensive playmaking (deflections and steals), but Bamba’s rim deterrence was too good to pass up.
Bamba’s interior presence could anchor this lineup’s defense while Carter Jr., who moves exceptionally well for a player his size, takes on the more versatile forwards and bigs.
And for those wondering, “where is Jonathan Isaac?” I will refrain from adding him to any lineup until it is confirmed he will be ready for next season.
Pace and Space
M. Fultz - G. Harris - C. Okeke - P. Banchero - M. Bamba
I recently wrote about Fultz’s upcoming 2022-23 campaign and ways he can maximize his skillset. One of those points was pushing in transition; and this lineup could help unlock that layer of Fultz’s game.
In the article linked above, I mentioned how Harris was a beneficiary of Fultz’s transition game in the limited time they played together. The chemistry those two displayed as a play initiator and play finisher was phenomenal.
Okeke’s ability to wreak havoc on the defensive end will create opportunities for this group to get out on the fastbreak. Not only that, he shot 39.8 percent on his 113 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts as a rookie. If Okeke returns to form in that sense, putting him in this lineup will be justified.
Finally, the frontcourt features Banchero and Bamba. Banchero, for obvious reasons, is a great pace and space player given his ability to “grab-and-go” while simultaneously playing off a ballhandler like Fultz. And Bamba is a great “trailer” big who can methodically make his way up the floor and knock down shots above the break.
Overall, this lineup could cause a lot of problems in transition.
Growing pains are inevitable; it is part of the process of seeing which lineups work and which do not.
But coach Mosley should keep an open mind when constructing lineups next season, becoming discouraged may limit his team from reaching their full potential.
With the right leadership, Orlando could spearhead the next evolution of the NBA game. Now it is up to Orlando’s coaching staff to figure out exactly what that evolution is.