Every player will have part to play in Orlando Magic’s season

The league's hiatus and the short ramp-up time will mean the Orlando Magic will have to rely on everyone to help fill minutes. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
The league's hiatus and the short ramp-up time will mean the Orlando Magic will have to rely on everyone to help fill minutes. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

The one thing that has become clear even after one scrimmage game is that Orlando Magic players will not be able to play their normal minutes.

The Orlando Magic played a game Wednesday.

That was supposed to clear a few things up and give the team a clearer picture of where they were at and how ready they were for the season to start. It was meant to be a data point to help coaches know how to prepare their team further.

The first game was a success in that nobody got hurt. Everyone seemed to pull through with little incident.

But one thing became abundantly clear too. The team still needs a lot of conditioning work — as every team does. And what will become vital to the team is its depth to fill in those gaps.

Everyone on the Magic’s roster will have a role to play in getting through the seeding round and beyond. They will be a key buffer as even the players are in shape get up to their regular minutes.

The first scrimmage was undoubtedly a success. The team looked fairly organized. Except for a stretch in the second quarter, the Magic were able to move the ball and score fairly effectively.

The team will have to tighten some things defensively. But it felt like the main goal was to go out and play — coach Steve Clifford said as much in practice Thursday, saying the mistakes the team made were details the team has not gone through yet.

Overall, the team looked like it could play and process the basic information of playing the Magic’s system and sets. In that respect, the team did not miss much of a beat — picking up the pace and executing more consistently will come with time.

But indeed, the main focus for the Magic is still on building the conditioning to play a full game. Some players are doing better than others at that point. And the team is still looking for ways to pull those players back up to that level.

A big test comes Saturday when the Magic play a 48-minute game for the first time. The team will see just how good a shape they are in. Although it is hard to imagine the Magic playing guys regular minutes. Especially if they are not ready.

Clifford has already said he will have to expand his rotation from his preferred nine-man set. It is still not clear how much or how he will manage things.

But it is also clear from the first scrimmage that players are still ramping up to play and that expanding that rotation is a necessity.

Everyone at different spots

Steve Clifford said after Wednesday’s game that everyone will need to progress at their own pace. That was again the message after practice Thursday.

More from Orlando Magic Daily

With everyone at a different place and still plenty of concern about overuse injuries after four months away, the team is going to have to rely on everyone on the roster at some point.

Mohamed Bamba is still getting himself into condition after putting on more than 20 pounds in weight training during the hiatus. The team is being careful with his workload as he gets used to playing at that new weight.

He can only play roughly six minutes at a time and the Magic limited him in the scrimmage to just those six minutes. That means Khem Birch will play a bigger role in filling minutes behind Nikola Vucevic.

And it is hard to imagine Nikola Vucevic even coming close to approach the 32.6 minutes per game he was playing this season — or the 34.8 per game he played after the All-Star Break as the team ramped up toward playoff-level minutes.

Vucevic probably tops off around 28 minutes when the team is in rhythm during the seeding round. That will leave 20 minutes to fill behind him.

And Vucevic looked like one of the players who was in pretty good shape, conditioning and rhythm.

Aaron Gordon is in the same boat. He looked strong in Wednesday’s scrimmage. That bodes well since Steve Clifford trusts Aaron Gordon immensely — he led the team with 33.0 minutes per game. He might be the only player that approaches 30 minutes per game when the season restarts. But even that feels like a stretch.

Someone like Gary Clark is going to have to fill minutes and play well for the Magic to have any kind of success. While there still seems an outside chance that Jonathan Isaac plays, it will still be in only limited circumstances. He probably will not be able to play more than five minutes at a time — if that.

The Magic might rely on James Ennis, Khem Birch or even Vic Law to fill out some minutes at power forward depending on how comfortable the team is with Gary Clark. Clifford might be forced to get creative with some of his lineups.

Getting everyone back

That includes at the point guard position.

Markelle Fultz is still out and not cleared to play five-on-five, leaving a big piece of the Orlando Magic’s offense on the shelf. The team struggled to generate a solid pace and tempo without Markelle Fultz in Wednesday’s game.

It is not clear when he will be cleared to play again. And when he is cleared, the team will be very cautious with his minutes. It will be a slow ramp-up to play — even if that ramp up has to occur during the seeding round games.

The Magic are in a good spot at point guard with three players they trust to handle the ball in Michael Carter-Williams, D.J. Augustin and Markelle Fultz. But there is still a deficit elsewhere.

More from Analysis

Steve Clifford likes to play two point guards with his second unit, usually pairing D.J. Augustin with Michael Carter-Williams. If they have to handle more point guard duties, the team will rely on Wesley Iwundu a lot more.

Wesley Iwundu could end up playing a bigger role in this seeding round than he would have otherwise to fill in these minutes. But even then, the Magic might need to ask more of James Ennis or B.J. Johnson to help fill minutes.

The Magic might have to go deeper into their bench with Ennis still getting himself back into shape after recovering from COVID-19.

Especially considering it seems like Evan Fournier is one of those players who are a bit behind. He certainly took a back seat in the loss to the LA Clippers, missing all five of his shots in his time on the floor.

Everyone is still playing catch up.

The schedule problem

The importance of depth and filling in these minutes will become even greater when you consider how compressed the games will be. Eight games in 15 days is a grueling stretch even under normal circumstances.

Under these circumstances, it will take careful management to get the team through that schedule. And everyone has a part to play.

It would be hard to see the team sitting any starters once they are cleared to play — the team certainly cannot afford “rest days” with the urgency of the games they are playing. But the team will have to rely on its depth to get through this season.

The Magic may have to scale back on some players during the course of the seeding round. And starters will not be able to play anywhere near their Playoff minutes. They may not be able to get there even into the first round of the postseason.

The hope is that everyone can find that conditioning and rhythm quickly. The Orlando Magic coaching staff is certainly balancing the need to keep players fresh and the need to play rotations that will allow them to win.

Orlando has no room to ease into the season.

It is a lot to manage. And it does not seem like there is a clear answer yet.

Next. OMD Mailbag: The unknown will soon be known. dark

The one thing that became clear even as the Magic tried to slowly get their players ready in Wednesday’s scrimmage is that everyone on the roster will have a part to play in finishing this season.