The Orlando Magic added depth and confidence in the offseason. That balance and depth will help them adapt throughout the coming season.
There is something to lament that the 82-game starter has gone by the wayside. The old heads who claim in their day things were different and players suffered through back to backs without complaint and made it through without “load management.”
Never mind that much of the load management craze and the push to reduce back to backs and travel comes from teams looking for ways to protect their multi-million dollar investments. Players were not going to complain about taking more time off and protecting their bodies to extend their careers.
Load management though is a luxury reserved for the best teams. The Toronto Raptors could map out a plan to rest Kawhi Leonard because they were confident that they could make the playoffs with the rest of their roster. They had a long-established track record. And they were indeed good without Leonard in the lineup last year, although perhaps not championship good.
That gambit, of course, paid off. Leonard was fresh and strong to go after everyone in one of the best playoffs runs in NBA history. The Raptors won the title.
Other teams are sure to consider copying or considering a similar program for their star players. But they can only do it if others are ready to step in on those occasions.
The Orlando Magic are far from a position where they could manage players in the same way, mapping out rest for key players well in advance. As a team fighting for its playoff reputation and not assured of a spot in the top eight — at least, not in the same way the Raptors were last year — there is no banking a few games or sacrificing a win or two.
To get back to the postseason, Orlando will need everyone to play their role and step up to the plate. The Magic will need to be at close to full strength to have a chance to take the next step and repeat last year’s success.
But this year is going to be different for the Magic. There is the added confidence of making the playoffs and knowing how to get there. There is also the continuity of playing similar roles and understanding what coach Steve Clifford wants and how he wants it done.
If there is added confidence for this team, it is from experience in the journey and together. And it truly was a journey together, giving the Magic a confidence they can rely on everyone.
The Magic relied on Nikola Vucevic for his consistent scoring throughout the year. But it was really a balanced scoring attack.
Orlando had five players score 10 or more points per game, four had more than 15 points per game. And Jonathan Isaac was hanging at 9.6 points per game, upping that average during the team’s playoff run.
Orlando has multiple players capable of going off for big games and scoring a significant amount. Nikola Vucevic was the most consistent of these options. But Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon have scored 30 or more several times in their careers.
The Magic could easily rely on them to up their scoring when needed. That is almost expected with Evan Fournier looking to bounce back from a down year and Aaron Gordon continuing to grow as an offensive player.
But the other benefit the Magic have is with depth.
Orlando can survive off games or players missing time in a way that perhaps they could not last year. And it is because of this added depth and understanding of roles and responsibilities.
The Magic should be able to adapt better this year. Perhaps to the point that they can feel comfortable sitting players out a few games or letting them ease back in when they recover from an injury, no matter how important they are to the bigger picture of the season.
That may not mean the team has a plan to rest Vucevic, Fournier or Gordon on specific games. None of those players have long-term injury issues and they are all relatively young. The expectation will be they play each and every game.
But if they pick up a knock in the course of the season, their added depth will help them resist it. They should be able to pull together and replace whatever they lose.
Orlando has 12 players they likely feel comfortable playing in the rotation — including essential rookies in Markelle Fultz and Mohamed Bamba and late-season standouts Michael Carter-Williams and Khem Birch.
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None of those players may be superstars or able to start for an extended time. But they can hold the spot down for a spot start or fill a role while other plays help make up any lost production.
The point being, Orlando has quality players it will rely on. And, frankly, quality players who will be out of the rotation.
Clifford likes to stick to a nine-man rotation. That almost guarantees a player like Wesley Iwundu could be out of the regular rotation.
Depth is a really powerful tool for the Magic. They can attack teams in many ways with capable players. And withstand absences for any period of time.
Orlando got some extreme injury luck last year. The top six players in the rotation all played 75 or more games last year. It seems pretty hard to believe that will repeat again this year. All their top players were essentially healthy the entire season.
It is hard to believe the team will receive the same injury luck. Having this kind of depth and confidence in their players will enable them to adapt and compete even if key players have to miss games.
Orlando has already shown a willingness to let players sit until they are fully healthy. That is part of their long-term health approach.
The Magic were notoriously patient with Jonathan Isaac and his recovery from injury. They have not given many updates on Markelle Fultz’s return all summer and are showing patience with him, hoping to have him on the court for the long term.
The Magic’s approach to injuries will not change any time soon.
But if they have confidence on a deeper roster, they could be willing to let a player sit longer and ensure they are all the way back. Or even do some load management and have a player sit a stray game if they are sore or experiencing any type of pain.
This is a luxury, of course. If the Magic find themselves struggling and having to make up ground to make the postseason or secure favorable position, they will have to be all hands on deck. There will not be time to manage players through rest.
But their ability to turn to several different players will enable the team to adapt to any matchup.