The Orlando Magic started off the season undefeated but have lost five of their last seven games mostly due to injuries to key starters on their roster.
The Orlando Magic were expected to fall off significantly especially when the team has at least three starters out with injuries. Because it takes time for the next man to find chemistry with the remaining starters. It does not help when the team has to play two of the MVP candidates from the 2020 season in Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Even when a head coach has a healthy roster, he may put particular players in the game with his starters to see how they would play in a live game situation if they were called upon. The idea is to have some sort of chemistry before you are forced into a situation where you have to figure things out on the fly.
This is one of those situations. An extreme version of this situation.
The Magic lost Markelle Fultz, the organization’s likely point guard for the future, for the remainder of the season due to a torn ACL. Before the injury, Fultz was averaging 12.9 points per game and 5.4 assists per game. He was having a career year by leading the Magic to the top of the Eastern Conference. The team started making pundits scratch their heads after securing the second seed.
That was a devastating blow that the Magic took and may have erased the Magic’s Playoff hopes although they sit at fifth in the Eastern Conference after 10 games.
He was not the only injury to a rotation player.
Evan Fournier has missed the last six games and his return is uncertain. He could be back during the team’s upcoming road trip, but that is not certain. Michael Carter-Williams is out with a foot injury and it is not clear when he will return.
And that is on top of Jonathan Isaac being out for the year with a torn ACL of his own. And Al-Farouq Aminu still recovering from the torn meniscus he suffered last December — coach Steve Clifford said Aminu is making progress but is still not ready to return. And Chuma Okeke is out with a bone bruise.
The injuries have piled up and gutted the Magic’s depth. They have been the story of the season.
And the team is likely still holding its breath over potential COVID issues that might arise from the team’s contact with the Dallas Mavericks over the weekend.
It would have been hard to prepare for these kinds of losses. Actually playing with these losses has put some extreme stress on the Magic’s roster.
They lost their backup point guard in free agency after their last postseason run. D.J. Augustin was the player with that type of experience with the starters in the regular season and in the Playoffs. So the organization felt they needed to fill that role in the 2020 NBA Draft when they selected North Carolina star point guard Cole Anthony with the 15th overall pick.
But Anthony was not selected to become the starting point guard, but rather someone who can learn under Fultz and maybe make the jump to become a starting point guard. He certainly was not meant to start less than a quarter into the season.
But due to an unforeseeable injury, the coaching staff was forced to throw Anthony into the fire. They have had to throw a lot of players into the fire, lean on rotation players a lot more than they thought and change roles completely from what they designed in training camp.
The Sixer Sense
And the Magic invested so much of the offense to Markelle Fultz’s skill set, which opens up the potential for players like Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon. These two players were gelling in Clifford’s offense with Fultz skill set because his penetration can get them open shots regularly.
With Fultz missing out of the starting rotation, the team is without a player who can penetrate the lane at will and create passing lanes with their athletic ability and basketball IQ.
The team is also missing a player who was developing into one of the best point guards in the Eastern Conference right before our eyes. That process will be on hold now and the next man up has to be ready to play and bring much-needed energy every night.
It is clear how much the team is missing him. Granted this is a small sample size of three games, but the Magic have cratered without Fultz — a 97.6 offensive rating with a 124.1 defensive rating as the team has looked out of sorts without him. Overall, thanks largely to those outlier stats, the Magic have the profile of a team destined for good lottery odds rather than a team competing for the playoffs.
Fultz is the type of player who makes other players better around him. Vucevic was on the receiving end of a lot of those assists and he is averaging a career-high this season with 22.5 points per game and 11.3 rebounds per game. Fultz has to get some of the credit for his play.
The biggest thing this team needs is a few days of practice and a few more healthy bodies.
But there is a long way to go, though.
In the Magic’s case, it is the next men up because Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz will not be back for the entire year. They just have to hope some reinforcements are coming back to help them stay afloat and find their way.
When Fournier comes back he will be expected to get going quickly because he will be the only original starter on the perimeter and his scoring and veteran leadership will be crucial to the success of this young team.