Where we last left the Orlando Magic: The injury bug keeps biting

The Orlando Magic may not be able to move their playoff seeding much and might be a first-round exit, but they still have a lot to play for. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic may not be able to move their playoff seeding much and might be a first-round exit, but they still have a lot to play for. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic’s season has been full of one injury after another that has kept the team from reaching its full potential and find stability.

The Orlando Magic had finally had some lineup stability, something that eluded the team throughout the season. For six of the seven games after the All-Star Break, the Magic could count on Markelle Fultz, Evan Fournier, James Ennis, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic.

That is not a big landmark. But then again, the longest the Magic have had any lineup this season is seven games in late December, right before Jonathan Isaac’s injury. This came a year after the Magic had a virtually perfect healthy season.

Injuries have been the story for the Magic throughout the 2020 season. It is the biggest thing that has slowed the expected growth from young players on the team and the thing that has dominated every storyline for the team.

Whether it was the November double whammy of Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic spraining their ankles in Toronto. Or Jonathan Isaac’s (likely) season-ending knee injury.

The only good injury news was Markelle Fultz’s health. After two years dealing with a shoulder injury that the Philadelphia 76ers could not properly diagnose, he was the picture of health this season, missing just one game.

If there is proof of how important health is for young players’ development, look no further than Fultz. Just being out on the floor has led to him growing by leaps and bounds. And with the Magic’s coaching staff’s ability to grow players as the season progresses.

Orlando just could not escape the injury bug.

The last three games before the season went on hiatus, Evan Fournier suffered an elbow injury. While the Magic were able to win the final three games on that road trip, the team was going to need its second-leading scorer and his shooting.

The positive of playing without Fournier was how Gordon continued to develop as a playmaker and how everyone filled in. Certainly, losing Fournier and his pick-and-roll actions on the perimeter opened the door to put the ball in Fultz’s hands more.

The Magic had to adjust. And they will have to adjust now that Fournier has had the time to heal. His injury seemed to be more severe than initially believed and he might have had to miss several weeks.

Time proved to be the Magic’s friend in this instance then. It has allowed Fournier to heal so he will be ready to play. And it has opened the door slightly for Isaac to return when the season resumes in late July at Disney.

Injuries may finally not be the story for the Magic.

The Orlando Magic’s history of injury

The injuries for the Orlando Magic started almost from the beginning of the season. The seeds for the disappointment of the season were laid with a training camp that was not quite what coach Steve Clifford wanted.

It did not help that Aaron Gordon, who was tearing things up early in the preseason, took a shot to the jaw in the Magic’s third preseason game. He missed the next few preseason games, but it clearly derailed the work he was building toward in preseason. He got off to a slow start.

Things got worse just 14 games into the season. After getting Jonathan Isaac back from a two-game absence after he sprained his ankle at the Magic’s City Edition jersey unveiling, the Magic lost two key players for an extended period.

Both Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic sprained ankles that November night in Toronto. Vucevic would miss 11 games and yeoman’s work from Evan Fournier and Jonathan Isaac kept the team afloat to a 5-6 record. That very well might have saved the season.

Gordon’s recovery was a bit more uneven.

Gordon returned to the lineup after just three games. But he struggled to find his rhythm from that point forward.

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He said after a January game in Denver that he was still experiencing some tightness in the leg — citing his hamstring and ankle, although that was never entirely clear. Gordon was clearly trying to muscle through the injury and may not have given himself full time to recover.

For Gordon, particularly, the injuries have dominated the storyline on a season that everyone anticipated could be Gordon’s breakout year.

He was far from alone.

Al-Farouq Aminu suffered a torn meniscus in his knee in late November. He suffered a setback that required surgery in January. Al-Farouq Aminu is likely done for the season — the Magic received a disabled player exception for him.

D.J. Augustin missed 15 games in January and February, depriving the Magic of needed point guard depth. Michael Carter-Williams suffered an injury in November that required some time to recover from.

Minor injuries build up.

The coup de grace though was Jonathan Isaac’s knee injury on Jan. 1. On a freak play, Jonathan Isaac’s knee wrapped around Bradley Beal’s leg as he tried to step through for a Euro step, sending him crumpling to the ground.

Despite initial positivity that Isaac would be fine — he walked out of the Capital One Arena that evening — the injury proved to be more serious. A posterior lateral corner injury — a very severe sprain — would put him on the shelf for at least two months before the team could even reevaluate him.

The Magic have always been cautious with major injuries, especially with Isaac. They likely believed he was done for the season once the diagnosis came in.

Fournier’s elbow injury right before the hiatus was the cherry on top of all this. Another obstacle preventing the kind of consistency a team like the Magic needs to reach its full potential.

Time heals some wounds

There was light at the end of the tunnel then. The time off has enabled the team to do something it has not done all year — get healthy.

Evan Fournier was allowed back into the AdventHealth Practice Facility early as the league opened back up to get treatment for his elbow. It was still recovering, but he is expected to be fully healed and ready to play when training camp resumes in a couple of weeks.

Aaron Gordon still played through his injury, but he was able to take enough time off to start to find a rhythm and look healthy again.

He felt good enough to participate in the Slam Dunk Contest and put on a show that night. But even before then, Gordon was starting to play significantly better. In his last 11 games (dating to Feb. 10, the last game before the All-Star Break), Gordon averaged 17.3 points per game, 9.1 rebounds per game and 6.7 assists per game while shooting 48.6 percent from the floor.

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  • That included his first career triple-double and a few more games where he flirted with the statistical milestone.

    Nikola Vucevic also finally regained his rhythm, averaging 21.4 points, 11.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game in the 14 games leading to the hiatus. Some of that was how the Magic used him, putting him in the paint and post more.

    And even Mohamed Bamba finally looked fully healthy and was producing at a higher rate.

    Leg fractures like the one Mohamed Bamba suffered last year usually take a full year to completely recover from. Since Jan. 31, 2020 — one year after his injury — Bamba has averaged 5.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting 50.7 percent from the floor and 44.0 percent from beyond the arc.

    To further that point, Bamba averaged 17.1 points, 13.7 rebounds and incredible 4.5 blocks per 36 minutes after Jan. 31. He had a season on-court net rating of +1.8 and an on-court net rating of +5.8 points per 100 possessions after Jan. 31.

    And, of course, Jonathan Isaac has continued to ramp up his rehab and progress in his recovery. He said he plans to be in the campus setting, continuing to leave the door slightly open for his return. Magic executives still say they do not expect Isaac to play. But the hope remains.

    Health goes a long way in player development and team development. Health will be an X-factor for teams heading to the campus setting at Disney.

    This will remain a key storyline for the season.

    But the Magic after dealing with recurring injuries throughout the season finally appears to have some health. Time has healed some wounds.

    Next. Orlando Magic should use extra roster spot to invest in future. dark

    And the return of the season might finally enable the Magic to play at full strength.