LAS VEGAS -- Chemistry is difficult to define, but often you just know when you have it. Perhaps, it’s even easier to identify when you don’t.
For the Orlando Magic’s young core that’s participating in NBA Summer League, it’s extremely evident that special bond is already building within the group.
The evidence is overwhelming. You could point to rookie Jalen Suggs interrupting Cole Anthony’s media session to put his arm around the second-year guard and call him “his vet” and the two sharing a moment of endearment. Or R.J. Hampton and Anthony providing guidance to Suggs and fellow rookie Franz Wagner throughout each practice. You could look at center Mo Bamba showing up for a week of learning sessions even though he’s not playing in summer league. Or listen in and hear Anthony encouraging his teammates to finish their offensive drills with strong dunks at the rim.
It all points in one direction. The Magic are developing a special type of camaraderie.
“I think it’s important that we’re laying the foundation, but it’s about them developing chemistry,” said Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley of the value of these summer league sessions. “It’s about them developing camaraderie, and their ability to just tie together and move forward growing together. Just continuing to build off each other and for each other.”
One of the players at the forefront of that is Anthony. Eager to grow into a leadership role, his communication and vocal nature is audible from the moment you step into the gym – perhaps even from the parking lot outside of it.
“He’s developing himself into trying to lead,” said Mosley. “Just watching that occur. Him wanting to sit down and guard defensively. Him pushing R.J., him pushing Jalen, him pushing Franz, (and) pushing his other teammates. For me, that’s big that he’s working on his leadership and his ability to sit down and guard defensively.”
With the Magic advancing to five-on-five scrimmages in their summer league sessions on Saturday, Anthony is eager to convert those bonds into on-court success. He’s still learning the nuances of playing alongside Suggs and Wagner and building upon pre-existing chemistry with Hampton and Bamba. Thus, it was only fitting that those five played some of the sessions together.
“We’ve got some chemistry, but we want to keep building that,” said Anthony, who averaged 12.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists in his inaugural NBA campaign with Orlando. “(R.J.) is my guy right there. He can play. I think we complement each other. We’re throwing Jalen and Franz in that mix too. We want to build that chemistry with them. Just learning how to play off each other. I think we’ve got a chance to be great.”
While Bamba will not play in summer league games, he called the decision to come out and participate in the practices “a no-brainer.”
On the court, he wanted to get familiar with Mosley, his new teammates, the terminology, and the new offensive and defensive schemes.
“I think practicing with the team only helps the chemistry of the team,” said the 7-foot center, who’s entering his fourth season in the league. “I had a choice, I could stay in Orlando, work with coaches that didn’t come to summer league, or I could just come here and add in these good deposits with the team.”
Off the court, he was hoping to continue to foster existing relationships and build new ones.
Oddly enough, Bamba spent time with Suggs right before the 2021 NBA Draft as the two participated in a segment called “College Knowledge” on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live. At the time, Bamba assumed that Suggs would be long gone prior to the Magic’s fifth overall selection. However, he was pleasantly surprised when he was still available and commissioner Adam Silver announced that the Gonzaga guard would be heading to Orlando.
“Very eager,” said Bamba of his desire to get to training camp and the subsequent season to once again play in competitive games. “It’s part of the reason why I came out here. I wanted to learn, but I also wanted to play and see what we’ve got in our young guys, and I’m really excited for what we have here.”
That sentiment is shared by the entire group. Hampton, who’ll get the opportunity to compete sooner than that with the Magic opening up their summer league schedule against the Warriors on Monday at 8 p.m. ET, is just as eager to step on the floor with this young group.
“I’m ready to get out there and compete,” said Hampton, who averaged 11.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists after being acquired by Orlando in a trade-deadline deal with Denver last season. “Play with Jalen, play with Cole, play with Franz, and the rest of the guys here and build a chemistry and see what’s to come for this year ahead.”
Those aren’t just words. It’s a visible excitement. Just take a look back to draft night. Hampton FaceTimed Suggs from the Magic’s Draft Party at Amway Center the second he was drafted with fans chanting the rookie’s name in the background The two former USA Basketball teammates were filled with as much jubilation as those in the arena.
“That chemistry has just been building for years,” said Hampton. “Playing with those guys for a long time, knowing guys for a long time, just makes it more fun and exciting to get out here and compete every single day.”
Through three days of summer league practices, it’s clear that this group is eager to learn from their new head coach as well as each other and enjoy the process.