The Orlando Magic have built themselves a team stacked with young talent after deconstructing their roster at the trade deadline earlier this year. As of now, heading into next season, Orlando will have seven players age 23 or younger plus likely two first-round draft picks.
With so many young guys, without a clear idea of who the leader is going to be, it is an eerily similar situation to the rebuild that started after the Dwight Howard trade.
It took a few years for the Magic to assemble a large group of talent the first time. But by 2015, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja and Nikola Vucevic were all in Orlando.
Perhaps the largest problem with the original rebuild was the Magic had seven different guys looking to prove themselves, without a clear frontman.
The Orlando Magic have done well to assemble a group of young players that display a ton of promise for the team’s future. But the direction for the franchise is still very unclear.
Unfortunately, management at the time did not have the patience to let the players compete and develop. That impatience led to Orlando fans watching Victor Oladipo become an All-Star in Indiana and Tobias Harris blossoming into a highly effective player in Los Angeles and then in Philadelphia.
Now in the same position six years and only two playoff appearances later, it is understandable if fans are wary about potentially having too much young talent and questioning how it all fits together.
The Orlando Magic have quickly built their back-court depth during the past few years. Starting with the Markelle Fultz trade in early 2019, then drafting Cole Anthony with the 15th overall pick this year and acquiring fellow rookie R.J. Hampton at the trade deadline just a few months ago, the Magic now find themselves with three-point guards under 23 years old.
Fultz was beginning to establish himself as the primary ball-handler and playmaker early this year before a torn ACL ended his year after just eight games.
But in Fultz’s absence, Anthony has taken the point guard reigns and has shown gradual improvement over the course of the year, when healthy. In the last 10 games, he has been averaging 16.2 points, 5.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game. That will likely help him win the NBA’s Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month award.
The question is: what happens when both are healthy?
As of now, one would assume that when Fultz returns to full health that he will retake the starting point guard position, but that will not be until late into the 2022 season. Anthony, if he stays healthy, will likely have somewhere between 50 and 60 starts under his belt (Fultz only has 83 starts his entire career).
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Anthony could make sense as a backup ball handler. He provides a lot of energy and could be a spark off the bench that helps a second unit score and control games. He could also make sense as a smaller shooting guard. That same amount of energy and his willingness to shoot would fit nicely alongside a more controlled and calculated Fultz.
Coach Steve Clifford has shown a willingness to play multiple ball handlers on the floor together. And if not for the injury, Clifford was openly talking about plans to play Fultz and Anthony together.
But the Magic also brought in R.J. Hampton in late March, who has received more minutes at the shooting guard position and looks like that is where he will stay.
Hampton’s game is raw. His Russell Westbrook-like athleticism is his greatest attribute, allowing him to get to the rim and compensate for his inconsistent shot. Hampton has shown some promise and his game will only improve with more experience.
If the Magic draft at the top of the order this year, it wouldn’t be surprising if Orlando selects a fourth young guard with guys like Cade Cunningham, Jalen Suggs, and Jalen Green all projected to go in the top five.
The Orlando backcourt could easily become over-congested and prompt some problems similar to the previous rebuild. The best recourse for Orlando in this situation will be patience in figuring out what works best and not moving too quickly.