Orlando Magic have plenty to remember, even from frustrating season

Aaron Gordon has had a rough season, but he picked up steam with the Orlando Magic making their post-All-Star Break run. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Aaron Gordon has had a rough season, but he picked up steam with the Orlando Magic making their post-All-Star Break run. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic’s 2020 season has not gone according to plan. But while disappointment reigns, there are bright spots to highlight.

A frustrating season for the Orlando Magic seemed to reach a boiling point in Brooklyn in late February.

This was essentially a playoff game between two teams battling to avoid the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. A Brooklyn Nets win would tie the season series with two more games to come in late March within the same week. An Orlando win would give Orlando at least a tie in the season series.

The stakes could not be higher.

But the Magic came out flat. They struggled to generate any kind of offense or get much movement. Their defense, long since reliable at a high level, faltered and they found themselves down 17 fairly quickly.

The first half might have been one of the worst halves the Magic have played all year. If there was a fire in this team, it seemed to be darkening. A perfect statement for a year that seemed to hold so much promise but ultimately seemed to cut out short.

The NBA can be fickle though. The players are so good and talented that seemingly large deficits can disappear quickly. No game is ever truly over until the buzzer sounds.

The Magic’s storm built slowly with Terrence Ross starting to catch fire. But it was Aaron Gordon — the biggest symbol of the Magic’s frustrations this season — who picked up the pace.

He scored 27 points in the game, including 12 in the fourth quarter. He had a hand in the final seven points, including a big 3-pointer to give the Magic the lead for good.

The mood of the team suddenly flipped. In the second game after the All-Star Break, Orlando had found some mojo and confidence. The team was starting to pick up steam.

The Magic won six of their 10 games after the All-Star Break, revving up to the best offense in the league during that time. Suddenly a season that felt somewhat lost had some spark, excitement and intrigue.

Even though the season has not gone how everyone hoped it would, there has still been plenty of positive to take from the year and move forward.

It is easy to look at the big picture like this. The Magic were likely to finish with fewer wins this year than last year. More importantly, the Magic did not take the step forward to be more than just a bottom-feeder playoff team.

These are all grave concerns and ultimately lead to the overwhelming feeling of disappointment of this season. The franchise will have to come to grips with this reality and find a way to push the team forward.

Even so, there was a lot to take forward. There were still memorable moments and promising performances that paint the possibility of a brighter future and the improvement everyone expected in 2020 to happen in 2021.

Aaron Gordon’s revival is a perfect example of this.

To many, this felt like the year Gordon would take the leap and become a much bigger player on the Magic. The hope was Gordon who would be the team’s All-Star representative and candidate.

That did not happen.

Preseason injuries compounded for him and he never could get himself healthy. He regressed as a 3-point shooter and seemed as guilty as anyone of trying to do too much to keep the team afloat and progressing.

After the All-Star Break, Gordon was playing like an All-Star. Or as close to it as he has ever been. He built on the momentum of an amazing Slam Dunk Contest performance. He averaged 15.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. He shot a 51.4-percent effective field goal percentage.

His biggest post-All-Star moment was in that win over the Nets. A huge game that indeed got the team going. His triple-double against the Minnesota Timberwolves seemingly unlocked a new part of his game.

Gordon’s season has been frustrating, but this nine-game sample reminded everyone what kind of talent he has and the player he can still become. At 24 years old, it is not completely time to give up on him continuing to develop.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

That development piece is as important for the Magic as anything else. This is still a young team and the most important players are all still very young. The Magic know this and so patience and slow progression are still tolerated.

The biggest surprise from the season came in the form of Markelle Fultz.

The third-year guard was playing his virtual rookie season this year and nobody really seemed to know what to expect from him after two injury-filled seasons.

Markelle Fultz averaged 12.1 points per game and 5.2 assists per game while shooting a 49.6-percent effective field goal percentage. It was his play that was most encouraging and there still seems like a lot of potential and possibility for him to improve.

That might be because so many of the team’s highlights came from Fultz.

His dunk in the opening night win over the Cleveland Cavaliers was a sign of his explosiveness and court vision. His steal and dunk to defeat the Washington Wizards in November was his announcing a return to some national prominence.

His dominant fourth quarter against the Nets — 12 of his 25 points came in the fourth quarter of a January win over the Nets that still feels very big — was a sign of how he can take over games and score when the team needs it most.

But the most memorable and important game of the year was the Orlando Magic’s upset win over the Los Angeles Lakers at STAPLES Center on the team’s January road trip. With injuries to Evan Fournier and D.J. Augustin, Markelle Fultz was the lone point guard on the roster and main creator out of the backcourt.

He proceeded to turn in his best game of the season with a triple-double of 21 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Among the highlights was a fast break where he pushed LeBron James out of the way on a fast break. And then another one late in the game where he finished around James to give the Magic a two-possession lead.

Fultz carried himself with energy and confidence. And he was picking up steam as the season went on. The Magic had more confidence in him and he was clearly putting his stamp on the team.

Of course, the biggest piece to the Magic’s puzzle remains Jonathan Isaac.

He has been out since injuring his knee on Jan. 1. It is sometimes tough to remember just how good he was and how much confidence he was gaining as a young player.

Jonathan Isaac ranked second in the league in blocks and was in the top 10 in steals at the time of his injury. He was on track to make his first All-Defensive team on those statistics alone. But even visually, he had improved dramatically as an individual defender.

One of the biggest highlight games of the season for the Magic came in a loss because of Isaac:


This game seemed like it was only Isaac scratching the surface.

He had a career season, averaging 12.0 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game, 1.6 blocks per game and 1.4 steals per game. He shot a 50.9-percent effective field goal percentage, the highest of his career.

In his last 10 full games before his injury, he averaged 12.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 2.2 steals per game while shooting 49.5 percent overall from the field. Isaac had settled into a comfortable role as a supporting offensive player who dominated defensively.

The season undoubtedly lost a lot of reason and purpose when Isaac went down with his knee injury. It felt more so than when Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon went down with their November ankle injuries that the season was over — even if the team could hold on to its playoff spot.

Isaac is as central to the team as anyone else and had made significant and encouraging progress before his injury.

Obviously, Isaac’s injury is part and parcel to a season that has not risen to expectations. The Magic wanted this year to be a whole lot more.

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But there is still something to enjoy and something to hold onto as the Magic prepare for the offseason and look ahead to hopefully brighter days.