Orlando Magic have made progress as playoff battle continues

Markelle Fultz has had a stellar first healthy year and is a sign of the Orlando Magic's growth. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Markelle Fultz has had a stellar first healthy year and is a sign of the Orlando Magic's growth. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are set to return to the playoffs in the same spot as last year. That does not seem like progress, but they have taken steps forward.

Playoffs! We are talking about playoffs again for the Orlando Magic.

The Magic are 29-35 and are eighth in the Eastern Conference playoff race, one-half game behind the 29-34 Brooklyn Nets for the final seed. The playoff race has reached the point where the teams are watching each other’s games and tracking standings once their work is over — Orlando Magic fans were crushed when Anthony Davis‘ game-winning three fell no good in Tuesday’s Los Angeles Lakers loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

Orlando is again in contention for a playoff birth. That seemed to be the organization’s goal for the season. Perhaps they hoped to be more than this. They wanted to take the next step into upper reaches of the playoffs. That was not in the cards.

Still, the Magic’s season has gone as planned, aside from the obvious injuries. Despite the perceived disappointment, Orlando has still gotten a lot out of this season.

Early in the season, the consensus prediction was the Magic would be in contention for the seventh or eighth seed at a minimum because the Magic returned with almost the same roster with minimal additions.

Aside from adding Al Farouq Aminu, the Magic returned all of their free agents. The team had a floor of making the playoffs. The question was only how much the Magic would improve and what would come next.

Things did not go to plan in many respects. They did not take that next leap up and that has painted the season as a disappointment.

After avoiding key injuries last season, the Magic have had to battle the injury bug all year.

Nikola Vucevic missed 11 games in November when both he and Aaron Gordon went down to ankle injuries in one catastrophic game. Aaron Gordon struggled to recover from that injury, complaining of soreness when he came back too soon and played through the pain.

Jonathan Isaac was likely lost for the season when he suffered a severe knee injury on Jan. 1. That derailed a season that likely would have seen him make his first all-defensive team.

Michael Carter-Williams was in and out of the lineup at the start of the season with various injuries. D.J. Augustin just returned from a 15-game absence and is getting his rhythm back. And Al-Farouq Aminu is likely done for the year after having a setback recovering from a torn meniscus.

Now, even Evan Fournier is out for an indeterminate time with a sprain to a ligament in his right elbow.

It is a long list of injuries that few teams would have been able to withstand. Let alone still achieve its base goal.

This would all make it seem like the Magic have not achieved their goals. It would make it seem like this season is a disappointment, no matter how it ultimately ends.

Still, the season can be considered a success in one important area: The year has gone as planned in terms of player development.

Seemingly all of the young players have taken a leap in their overall development.

Markelle Fultz has shown promise, putting up respectable numbers. He is averaging a career-high 12.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game in his first fully healthy season. Markelle Fultz has been healthy all season and has played a major role in the Magic current position in the playoff race.

Jonathan Isaac made significant progress before his injury too. He was averaging a career-best 12.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals per game with an effective field goal percentage better than 50-percent for the first time in his career.

The same could be said for Mohamed Bamba. He had a rough start to the year but has slowly solidified his position in the rotation. Mohamed Bamba is averaging 5.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. Those numbers are in line with what he did last year. But his shooting and shot-blocking especially have come around at the end of the season.

Even Aaron Gordon has taken leaps after a slow start to the year, growing as both a defender as a playmaker even as he struggles to find his offensive consistency.

All of these players have taken the necessary steps for the franchise. They have made the next leap in their careers in many ways. And that was as much about the goals for this team as anything else.

Orlando has gained a lot, but not everything though. The Magic still have plenty to fight for.

The team may not be competing for home-court advantage as some thought it might at the beginning of the season. But the Magic can still gain something from the end of the season.

Winning the seventh seed is ideal because they would be facing the Toronto Raptors, who currently hold the second seed. Orlando has struggled against Toronto this season, but it seems like a more favorable matchup than taking on the juggernaut that is the Milwaukee Bucks.

In any format, the seventh seed is always better than the eighth seed. And putting young players through the wringer of preparing for the playoffs is still valuable.

Orlando Magic are long past due to realize this potential. dark. Next

Orlando may not have the season the team imagined it would. But it has still been productive. And there is still plenty more to gain the rest of this season.