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Orlando Magic Laid the Foundation for Future Success During 2021-22 Season

Dan Savage
Director of Digital News

ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic recently wrapped up their 2021-22 season.

The organization’s focus will now shift towards offseason workout plans, the draft, free agency, and other methods to help improve the team heading into their next campaign.

But before setting our sights forward, it’s imperative to take a look back and examine how the Magic set the foundation for future success throughout this past season.

Creating a Culture

Franz Wagner and Cole Anthony

It’s hard to believe that a team could finish an NBA season with a 22-60 record and go the entire stretch without pointing fingers, experiencing emotional outbursts, or losing focus of their daily task of working hard towards incremental growth. However, that’s exactly what the Magic did throughout the season.

Not only did they never turn on each other, they celebrated each other’s success, which was clearly evident in many of the hilarious walk-off interviews on Bally Sports Florida and exuberant locker room celebrations after victories shared by the team on social media.

“That’s something I’m super excited about,” said Magic point guard Markelle Fultz. “Being able to continue to build this chemistry, build this love for the game with these teammates, and we can continue to learn each other. … It’s not common that you have a group like this where everybody is very close to each other and willing to be around each other and get better.”

Whether it was the collective joy after earning Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley his first win with the organization, the genuine jubilation for rookie Franz Wagner after his stellar 28-point performance in a road win over Minnesota, or the players donning Fultz t-shirt jerseys on their way into the arena on the day of his return from injury, the camaraderie amongst the group was clearly authentic and unique.

“I think this locker room is great,” said Magic rookie guard Jalen Suggs. “I didn’t think it could get much closer to what I had last year with Gonzaga and how close we were, but everybody on this team has turned into my brothers. I love spending time with them, I love being around them, (and) I love being on the court with them.”

Playing to Their Principles

Jamahl Mosley

At his introductory press conference on July 12, 2021, Mosley painted a clear picture of what he wanted his team to look like on the court. On offense, they would play with pace, space, and the pass, and on defense, they would be a hardnosed, disruptive unit that would play until the final buzzer sounded.

Throughout the season, they made strides in those areas. While injuries and the team’s desire to see different lineup combinations towards the end of the season disrupted some of that progress, the Magic showed unquestioned improvement in bringing their head coach’s key tenets to life.

From Jan. 1, 2022 onward – a 46-game sample size – the Magic had a top-10 defensive rating (111.3) and were top-five in the NBA in assist percentage (64.3) and pace (100.59).

Over that same span, they ranked eighth in the limiting opponents points in the paint (45.5) and had the league’s fourth-best defensive rebound percentage (74.7).

Overall, the Magic set team records for most 3-pointers made (999) and attempted (3,022) in a season, shattering the old marks of 937 and 2,633 (2018-19).

“We talked about we’re going to compete every night, we’re going to work every day to get better, and we’re going to have fun doing it,” Mosley explained.

Rise of the Rookies

Franz Wagner and Cole Anthony

The Magic left the 2021 NBA Draft with two key foundational pieces. Both Suggs, selected fifth overall, and Wagner, selected eighth, were deemed to be cornerstone players for a franchise looking to rebuild around high-end young talent.

Undoubtedly, their development was a key component to this past season, and without question, both players and Orlando’s coaching staff delivered the organization’s goal of prioritizing their progress.

Wagner finished the season in thick of the league’s Rookie of the Year race and should be without question a member of the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team.

The 6-foot-10 forward finished first among his class in games played and total points, and his 17 20-plus-point performances were the fourth most by a Magic rookie all-time – trailing only Shaquille O’Neal (60), Penny Hardaway (29), and Dennis Scott (24).

Among the top-10 scoring rookies, he had the third-highest field goal percentage (46.8), second-best 3-point percentage (35.4) and top free throw percentage (86.3).

“Franz is very smart,” Magic guard Cole Anthony explained. “A lot of these rookies on these other teams, they’re getting the third, fourth, or fifth-best defender guarding them. Franz, night in and night out, is probably getting the best, if not the second best, defender on each squad’s team. That’s a huge difference, man.”

Despite injuries forcing him to miss 34 games of his inaugural campaign, Suggs also showed flashes of becoming a high-end two-way player. Amongst rookies who played in at least 10 games, he finished ninth in points (11.8), third in assists (4.4), and third in steals (1.2) per contest. Like Wagner and Anthony, he was named to the NBA All-Star Weekend’s Rising Stars Game.

“The biggest growth for me came from my mindset,” Suggs said in his wrap-up interview. “The way I began to approach each day, the way I took advantage of each day, and constantly learned. Basketball has up and downs, I had my high moments, I had my low moments, but I had to go through all that to really understand who I was (and) really get some footing in this league. I wouldn’t trade, or go back, or do anything different because I needed this year. Looking forward, I’m just excited to get back, get to work this summer, and show everybody who I am next year and who we are as an organization.”

Youth Gone Wild

Cole Anthony

The steady player growth was not limited just to Orlando’s rookies. A number of the other core young pieces experienced some of the best stretches of their careers.

Anthony – From the start of the season to the new year, the University of North Carolina alum averaged 7.0 fourth-quarter points, which ranked fifth best among all players in the association. He finished his sophomore campaign averaging career highs in points (16.3), rebounds (5.4), and assists (5.7) per game. He’s looking to continue to build strength in the offseason and expand on his best stretches of the season.

“I have a lot of work to do, man. A lot of work,” he explained. “It’s going to be a big summer. Have some fun, work very hard, and can’t wait for year three.”

Mo Bamba – The biggest ability is availability. In his fourth season in the NBA, the 7-foot center posted career highs in games played (71), and contests started (69), and tallied tenure-bests in points (10.6), rebounds (8.1), blocks (1.7) and steals (0.5) per game.

“It worked wonders,” Bamba said of the role carved out for him by the Magic’s coaching staff. “I attribute that to the coaching staff that we have. There’s been so much communication, so many things that go on that (the media) doesn’t necessarily see to allow myself to be put in the position where I’m in the rotation, I’m playing those consistent minutes. Just the work in the practices, the off days, the late nights. We made sure the work would work.”

Wendell Carter Jr. – With the leaps the Duke alum made during his second season in Orlando, he drummed up some mentions for the Most Improved Player award. From a scoring standpoint, he proved that he could be a threat at all three levels.

Within five feet of the basket, he shot 72 percent, 12th best in the league among players who took 275-plus shots from that range. From 15 to 19 feet out, he shot a scorching 57.1 percent on 42 attempts, placing No. 1 among starting centers. Last season with Chicago and Orlando combined, he attempted 51 threes and made just 29.4 percent of them. This season, he racked up 214 of them and shot 32.7 percent. While he also showed growth as a playmaker and defensive anchor, he believes his biggest strides came in terms of his leadership.

“Even though I feel like I’m one of the younger players in this league, being on this team with a lot of younger guys – first-year, second-year players – I just went through the same things they’re going through right now,” he said. “Just being able to show them the ropes of the league, what to expect, what not to expect. I feel like that’s the biggest jump I’ve taken.”

Chuma Okeke also took tremendous strides in the second half of the season and R.J. Hampton closed out the campaign with a career-high 21-point performance.

Fultz’s Return

Markelle Fultz

Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman explained on media day that one of the elements of having a successful season for this young group would be properly reintroducing Fultz into the lineup after recovering from a devastating ACL injury in his left knee.

Between his relentless rehab effort with Orlando’s training staff, work with assistant coaches, game plan set forth by Mosley and the Magic’s brass and the organization’s steadfast approach to bring him back the right way, Fultz not only made his return, but finished out the season in an incredible fashion.

His per-36-minute stats in his 18 games played were 19.5 points, 9.9 assists and 4.9 rebounds per contest. Only Chris Paul and Trae Young had better per-36 assist averages among players who appeared in at least 10 games.

As his minutes slowly increased – Orlando placed a minute restriction on the standout floor general to ease him back into the rotation – so did his effectiveness. Starting the final three games of the season, Fultz closed out the NBA’s regular season calendar by putting up 10 points and a career-high 15 assists in the Magic’s victory over the Miami Heat.

“I really dialed in on trying to get better each and every day. Just a little bit better,” the University of Washington alum explained. “That’s all I really can ask for.”

What Does the Future Hold?

Wendell Carter Jr.

The one reoccurring quote that Magic players echoed throughout their season wrap-up interviews was that “the sky is the limit.” While they’re aware that future success will be tied to hard work both this upcoming summer and the seasons ahead, they’re optimistic that with the talent of their young core and the coaching staff in place, great things can be accomplished.

“The sky is the limit and I mean that wholeheartedly,” said Suggs. “I don’t say that with fake confidence. I say that because I truly believe in it. You’ve seen flashes. We haven’t been healthy all year. We haven’t had our whole roster. When we’ve had some guys come back, other guys have gone out. That’s been a little bit difficult to get guys in rhythm playing with each other, comfortability, and things like that. What’s made up for it is how close we are off the court. Once we get a good blend of both of those this offseason, coming into next year we’re going to take it as far as we want to.”

Or more simply as Carter put it:

“We’re going to be lit next year.”