The Orlando Magic saw a glimpse of its future with Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony sharing the floor and driving the team. But they need a base to grow.
Orlando Magic fandom was absolutely giddy following Sunday’s 116-107 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in a preseason game — thus the result is not super important.
Fans saw the very lineup they have envisioned since the Draft come to fruition. They saw their future play out with both Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony manipulating defenses and sharing the floor together. They saw them rally the Magic back from a deep deficit and nearly lead a team playing most of its starters to a come-from-behind win.
Fultz was the star in the second quarter, scoring 13 of his 21 points in the first half. Cole Anthony scored 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting off the bench, dropping Brandon Goodwin for one mid-range jumper.
This was a vision of the team’s future. All speed and pace pushing the tempo and putting pressure on the defense with their ability to drive. The team had something cooking. And even a late double-digit lead was nowhere near safe.
Coach Steve Clifford did not share this optimism. While he singled out Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony — along with Evan Fournier — for their efforts in the game, he was largely disappointed with the way the team played. The future is only as bright as the present allows it.
And if the Magic want to make the most of the potential they saw, it starts with putting the work in now and setting the standard and foundation the team has tried to build.
"“It was the worst day we’ve had so far this year,” Clifford said after Sunday’s game. “We’ve really practiced well. The other night I felt like we took good steps to what we had to do on both ends of the floor. Markelle was terrific, I thought Evan was fine. The other [starters] nothing. Cole played well off the bench. Other guys had some decent minutes. But overall, not the type of effort a team like ours can play. We need to be an effort team, an intangible team, we need to be ready to play every night. If we do, we’ll be good enough to beat anybody. If we play like tonight, it would be hard to beat anybody. It was a very disappointing effort.”"
Throughout the course of the game, it was that effort and attention to detail that differentiated any good stretches of play from the poor ones.
The Magic fouled a ton in the first quarter and throughout the first half — giving up 19 free throw attempts in the second half. Both Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier had four fouls through the first half.
That is how the Magic found themselves in a double-digit hole for much of the first half. The only saving grace was a run with Markelle Fultz where he simply pushed the tempo and forced the team to lock into place. That got the team playing with the energy and precision they need.
Clifford said he hated the team’s approach and attention to detail among other things. The team is playing to a greater standard.
And the young players are only going to take the team as far as the team’s foundation. That is what training camp is trying to build. And that is the only way the young players and the team’s future that seemed.
Development and culture intertwined
The Orlando Magic’s present and the future are intertwined in that way.
The young players will only play if they understand the team’s foundation enough to play to it and exemplify it on the court. But they can only succeed on the court so long as everyone else is doing the same.
The Magic have built their foundation on being a tough defensive team that makes few mistakes of their own doing. They do not turn the ball over and they do not foul, most of all. They lock down the glass and they work together to move the ball.
Those were all things that were not present in Sunday’s game. And everyone could feel it from the beginning.
"“We really didn’t play too hard,” Cole Anthony said after Sunday’s game. “It was a different tone from the other night. We brought the intensity the other night. We threw the first punch in the first quarter. We came here and they threw the first punch in the first quarter. Coach says this is a first-quarter league and whoever throws the first punch is usually the team that wins. That’s something we have to focus on. I think we’re going to keep getting better at it.”"
Clifford was not satisfied saying this was a game where the Magic fought to get back into the game, even briefly taking the lead early in the third quarter. The Hawks did go on a 19-0 run to open up a 17-point lead in the third quarter. And there was little the magic could do.
A lot of this came from those lack of details with fouls and turnovers or poor shots. The Hawks moved the ball around the perimeter to get open shots.
Signs for the future
But each time the Orlando Magic came back, it was because of their two young point guards pushing the tempo to get the team back in it.
As they picked up their energy, the rest of the team did too. And with the defense showing any kind of activity and helping them push the pace, that only fed their potential more.
With both Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony on the floor, the Magic outscored the Hawks by three points in roughly 10 minutes of play. They shared the floor down the stretch as the game got tight.
"“I think we can be really good,” Markelle Fultz said after Sunday’s game. “Our tempo is a big thing coach is trying to emphasize this year. Having two guards who can get it out and push the pace. yOu have two guys who can put pressure on the rim and play pick and roll. That’s always a plus. I think we’ll be very hard to guard down the road as we continue to learn each other’s game and he continues to grow offensively and defensively. I’m very excited about that.”"
Anthony did not score a ton in that stretch, the majority of his scoring came in the early fourth quarter. But even that point of the game was vital to making the game close again.
He led a deep bench unit that helped Orlando get back into the game to set up the starters to try to pull out the game, something they were not able to do.
That was a sign of how comfortable he was and how unshakable his confidence was even after a self-described poor game on Friday.
It is going to take a lot of that learning and improving to get through this rookie season. And he should get better with each game and each experience.
But none of that is possible if the rest of the team is not doing its job. If the rest of the team is not holding to its principles. That is the only way these players can truly grow and learn the right way to play.
Anthony has seemed eager to do so. Both he and Fultz tried to get the Magic there Sunday. But it will take a whole lot more to build upon the foundation.
Without it, the Magic have nothing to stand on.