Orlando Magic need to end season to help players continue developing

The Orlando Magic's playoff fate might be set but for Markelle Fultz and Mohamed Bamba, getting Playoff experience is vital. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic's playoff fate might be set but for Markelle Fultz and Mohamed Bamba, getting Playoff experience is vital. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic’s project to grow from the middle is dependent on this season ending. The Magic’s young players especially need to see the playoffs.

The 2020 season for the Orlando Magic has been tinged with disappointment. The hiatus has only increased the hand-wringing for the team and its fans and its uncertain future.

It is not entirely clear where the Magic go next.

The team stagnated some this year — the team sits eighth in the Eastern Conference, one-half game behind the Brooklyn Nets — and does not seem like it will reach last year’s 42-40 record. Injuries played a role, most notably claiming the team’s greatest prize in Jonathan Isaac, but this was not how the season was going to go.

Orlando was hoping — and to some, expected — to compete for a higher playoff seeding. And perhaps if the team were healthy it would be more fully entrenched as the 7-seed again.

But even with factoring for injuries, the team sits nine games behind the Philadelphia 76ers for the 6-seed in the Eastern Conference. That is a long way off and the Magic seem to be in the worst possible spot — good enough to make the Playoffs, but not good enough to go further.

It feels like there is not a lot to play for this year. But there is. There is still a lot to play for. It is necessary the Magic make their move to the Playoffs. There is valuable experience to gain.

Especially for first-time Playoff participants in Markelle Fultz and Mohamed Bamba, the process of making the playoffs and experiencing the Playoffs is absolutely vital to their and the team’s development.

While they may not get the crowd atmosphere experience of a Playoff series, they both need to go through the preparation and intensity of Playoff games. That will only help their development and give the Magic a clearer idea of their ability to rise to the challenge.

A first playoff series can be a jarring experience — just ask the Magic last year. And that experience only sharpens focus and understanding of how to win in this league. Both of these young players need this experience.

Markelle Fultz, Mohamed Bamba in the Playoffs for the first time

The Playoffs are not merely a destination. It is important to remember that.

And especially for young teams who do not have much hope for winning the title, the experience of being in the Playoffs and feeling that intensity are important. But it is just as important for them to go through the process of making and preparing for the Playoffs.

Orlando Magic players spoke about it a lot last year at how managing the season and focusing in for a Playoff series were unlike anything they had experienced before. How the Magic have managed the regular season this year certainly is a product of last year’s experience.

And after struggling so much in last year’s playoffs, everyone wants some measure of redemption — even if it ultimately ends in a loss.

But the playoffs this year are important for another reason.

For Markelle Fultz and Mohamed Bamba, this is the first time those two key young players are part of a playoff journey. This is the first time they have gone through the process of making and preparing for the playoffs.

And that journey is as important as anything else.

Both Fultz and Bamba have gotten better as the season has gone on. As you would expect from young players, they have found comfort in their roles and have started to expand their games. The Magic have brought them along slowly in many respects.

Fultz has some playoff experience, having played off the bench with the Philadelphia 76ers in his rookie year. But this is his first time playing major minutes for a playoff team. He has had an exciting season.

Fultz was averaging 12.1 points per game and 5.2 assists per game on a 49.6-percent effective field goal percentage. Solid, but not spectacular numbers.

After the All-Star Break, the Magic really started to unleash Fultz, allowing him to push the pace more and control the offense a whole lot more. He averaged 12.9 points and 6.6 assists per game while shooting 52.7-percent effective field goal percentage.

More from Orlando Magic Daily

The numbers are not that different. But Fultz was playing with much more confidence and getting the team moving into its offense quicker. That energy proliferated throughout the team.

Bamba was much the same. He was starting to make shots and playing more confidently and assertively defensively.

He averaged 5.5 points per game, 5.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting a 53.4-percent effective field goal percentage. His numbers were not that much different after the All-Star Break, although he played fewer minutes as coach Steve Clifford ramped up Nikola Vucevic‘s minutes.

Both Fultz and Bamba’s improvements are more anecdotal at this point. But anyone watching these two play can see clear improvements.

But the Playoffs are a different animal. And for most players, their first time in the postseason is a bit of a shock. Seeing how both of these players react to that pressure — there obviously will not be the crowd noise and intensity that comes from the postseason environment — will be critical to their development.

And that development is critical for the Magic.

Magic need development to keep moving forward

The Orlando Magic know there are teams beneath them eager to make a move up — the Chicago Bulls have shown some defensive ability, the Washington Wizards are likely to get John Wall back next year and the Atlanta Hawks have one of the most promising young teams and a dynamic star in Trae Young to build around.

Their spot is not guaranteed for next year.

And so a lot of the focus this season has turned to the offseason, ignoring the playoffs (likely) coming up. Indeed, the Magic should have their offseason plan already set regardless of how the Playoffs or whatever is left of the season turn out.

More from Analysis

With that view, it does not feel like there is a whole lot for the Magic to play for.

There will be likely at least five games remaining (at minimum) before the regular season starts. And then the playoffs feel like it will be pro forma against the Milwaukee Bucks or Toronto Raptors — although it should be noted that in the lockout-shortened 1999 and 2012 seasons the 8-seed upset the 1-seed in the Eastern Conference each time.

Nobody should pack it in for the entire season, in other words. There is always a chance once the playoffs begin.

The 2020 season though was still always something of a transitional year. The Magic were coming off their playoff berth and wanted to do that again, confirming the foundation they built. But the plan was always seemingly to continue fostering their young talent.

To continue making the Playoffs and make that expected leap, the Magic need these young players especially to continue growing and take this next step.

The team the Magic put on the floor this season was not the final product. It would have been nice to see the team advance and show it could compete for something greater as constructed. But the odds were always that with the roster as currently made up, they would be fighting for playoff scraps.

The Magic’s Playoffs are all for the youth

As much as anything, making the playoffs matter for these two young players to experience the preparation and focus necessary to succeed at that level. The Magic organizationally should be better equipped for the Playoffs to help them.

But their ability to process playoff information and then step up with that playing pressure is vital to their development.

The Playoffs this year and whatever is left of this season is for them.

Yes, the Magic are still going to be playing to win. Bamba’s minutes may only increase out of concern of overuse injuries coming out of the coronavirus hiatus. The Magic will still lean heavily on Nikola Vucevic. Mohamed Bamba’s improvement has earned him more minutes, but not likely a starting job.

Both Markelle Fultz and Mohamed Bamba will have their moments. The Magic will need both when they reach the postseason.

The whole point of the Magic’s project of growing from the middle depends on them experiencing the Playoffs and going through the preparation to get there and play in the postseason.

Next. Shooting is still Orlando Magic's key. dark

And this is why the rest of this season is important, even if the postseason result feels inevitable. The growth and experience these players gain will be vital.