30 Teams in 30 Days | 2023

30 teams in 30 days: Magic aim to accelerate their upward swing

With Paolo Banchero in tow and his game rising, Orlando must now build on its late-season improvements from 2022-23.

Paolo Banchero (left) and Franz Wagner have their eye on further improvement in Orlando.

Key additions

  • G Anthony Black (draft), G Jett Howard (draft), F Joe Ingles (free agency)

Key subtraction

  • C/F Bol Bol

Last season

After stumbling through the first two months and looking shaky through the holidays, the Magic showed some swagger while closing out with a 29-28 run. That wasn’t enough to put them in the playoffs, let alone the AT&T Play-In Tournament, but Orlando got what it wanted — a better team in the final few months.

Orlando was among the youngest teams in the league and most nights played like it, making mistakes and coming up short in close games (the Magic went 5-6 in games decided by three points or less). Eventually, they began to figure it out, led by 2022 No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero. The 6-foot-10 forward was everything Orlando hoped for, mostly consistent through the season, poised in big moments and easily the centerpiece of the team. The Kia Rookie of the Year averaged 20.0 points (42.7 FG%) and 6.9 rebounds per game and was the best player on the floor some nights.

Paolo Banchero entered the NBA with a big splash and was rewarded with the 2023 Kia NBA Rookie of the Year.

Second-year forward Franz Wagner again displayed skills and a competitive spirit, dropping further hints that he holds potential yet untapped. From an efficiency standpoint (46.5% shooting, 36.1% on 3-pointers), he was the best offensive player on the team.

Wendell Carter, Markelle Fultz and Jalen Suggs were also productive in the rotation, the latter two rebounding nicely from major injuries. Again, this wasn’t enough to atone for a horrendous start (5-20) but based on the finish, Orlando had reason to feel good about its future.

Summer summary

The recipe being followed by the Magic is simple: put a heavy emphasis on the Draft, select wisely (hopefully), groom youngsters through the player development program and maybe land a star or two.

This isn’t anything new to the NBA, but the Denver Nuggets did just that and won a championship in 2023. Of course, they luckily stumbled upon perhaps the greatest Draft pick in NBA history in Nikola Jokic, but you get the idea.

The Draft route was once again the pathway when Orlando added two more first-round picks in Black and Howard. That makes seven players on the roster drafted by the Magic in the first round.

In addition to having the most envious head of hair in the NBA, Black brings an ability to score off the dribble along with a bit of showmanship. Howard — the son of former Magic player and current Michigan coach Juwan Howard — might take a bit longer to develop, but his shooting range is deep and promising.

At some point, the Magic must make big decisions on their talented cohort, because these players are nearing the end of their rookie deals. Which ones are worth keeping? Whom to trade? In the summer of 2023, the Magic kept the stockpile intact, with the exception of Bol’s exit. He wasn’t long for the club because Orlando is stacked in the frontcourt.

Magic coach Jamahl Mosley joins the live broadcast at the NBA 2K24 Summer League in Las Vegas to discuss the up-and-coming squad.

One player who wasn’t traded was Jonathan Isaac, which came as a bit of a surprise. Isaac has essentially been hurt for most of the last three seasons, ever since the bubble. His contract is only partially guaranteed going forward. Because of his inactivity, there likely isn’t a big market for him, so Orlando hopes he stays healthy, earns playing time and does something with it.

The Magic also didn’t part with any of its point guards, which means Fultz, Suggs and Cole Anthony will be on the team, at least for now. Come the trade deadline, a different story may arise.

So it remains Draft and develop for the Magic. That won’t give them a high ceiling for 2023-24, but this is a long-haul approach that could pay off in the future.

Up next: New York Knicks | Previously: Charlotte Hornets

> 30 teams in 30 days: Complete schedule

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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