Orlando Magic set their identity with foundation picks of Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner

Jalen Suggs shoockingly fell to the Orlando Magic in a move that could well change the franchise's fortunes. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images)
Jalen Suggs shoockingly fell to the Orlando Magic in a move that could well change the franchise's fortunes. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images) /

There was genuine shock and excitement inside the Amway Center as the Toronto Raptors made their pick.

As Adam Silver made his way onto the stage to announce Florida State’s Scottie Barnes would be the pick heading to Toronto, fans gasped in shock. Something truly special seemed to be happening. And when Silver confirmed what many fans hoped would happen, there was elation for the first time in a long time at the Amway Center.

The Magic were able to get one of the four celebrated players in this year’s draft class. Jalen Suggs fell to them and gave the team what feels like its first high-end perimeter player in a long time.

There is a reason to be excited again about the Magic and their future.

"“It means the world,” Suggs said when told of the fan reaction from New York. “It makes me so excited to get there and give them my all. And I’m going to give them nothing less than that. I’m going to come in from day one and embrace the fan base. To see them happy will make me happy.”"

For a franchise in desperate need of some star power and some notoriety, Suggs becomes the team’s highest-profile pick since taking Victor Oladipo in 2013. Certainly, he has become the most universally approved draft pick the Magic have made in some time. It has been rare in the last decade to see the Magic get an “A+” grade on their draft.

It almost did not matter that Franz Wagner was not nearly as enticing or eyebrow-raising a pick at No. 8. Wagner is still a solid player even if his stats and his potential do not jump off the page. Wagner is more of a role filler for this team.

But he does not have to be more than. Not anymore with Suggs now in tow.

The Orlando Magic should feel excited about the foundation they laid during the 2021 NBA Draft as adding Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner clearly put the team on a path with an identity to build upon.

Orlando feels like it has its star. And more importantly, with both of these picks, it feels like the Magic have firmed up and centered their identity as they begin this rebuild.

"“I don’t really have much to say other than it was a great night for the Magic,” president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said after the picks were made. “We added two talented, high-character, team-oriented players who we believe will grow very nicely into what we’re trying to build here. It’s not often you get to add not one, but two of these guys on the same night.”"

What is this identity then? It is a tough-minded defensive mentality for sure. That is what everyone expected both looking at the Magic’s roster and Jamahl Mosley’s history where he has coached before.

Both of these players bring intangible values that typically point to winning. They are competitive and gritty and play with a high basketball IQ. The Magic may want them to star a bit, but they will also be capable of fitting in and playing together.

Orlando’s identity is getting cemented. The team is going to have defense as its base. But the team is going to display the grit and poise to execute on offense too. Grit was a word that constantly came up when describing Suggs and Wagner.

Weltman described Suggs as smart, tough, skilled, versatile and competitive. All the kinds of things the Magic have seemingly sought from their draft picks.

Suggs seemingly checked off all the intangible boxes for the team. Scouts often cited his experience as a quarterback in football and his potential to play football at the collegiate level as a benefit in drafting him.

Weltman maybe put it best that Suggs is a winner at almost every level. He was a key part of Gonzaga’s undefeated season that ended in the NCAA Tournament championship game. It certainly goes beyond his buzzer-beating half-court shot.

Suggs averaged 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game in his lone season at Gonzaga. That may not scream star but his heady play and his determination and leadership are part of the selling points.

That was much the same selling point with Wagner.

Wagner averaged 12.5 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game. Wagner works well off the ball too as a strong cutter and a smart passer. He is considered one of the better defenders in the draft class with the ability to defend multiple positions at 6-foot-9 (and perhaps a bit taller).

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

There are a lot of the familiar buzz words for the Magic when it comes to the Draft with both these picks. Wagner’s fluidity on defense and potential to both space the floor and make plays on offense made him intriguing, even if he did not have star potential.

But this fits exactly who the Magic want to be.

The Magic have long pointed toward the identity they want. Jeff Weltman has repeatedly drafted layers with versatility and a defensive instinct. He hired Steve Clifford to try to press this identity to some extent. The one thing the team has lacked is the elite talent to make it work beyond a first-round playoff exit.

As the Magic begin to rebuild, Weltman hired a coach who is known for player development but has spoken about the tough-minded nature he wants his team to embody. That is the way Jamahl Mosley played, after all, in his playing career.

What this draft did then was set the foundation for the mentality and type of team they wanted to be.

They found players who are of the same type — tough-minded, aggressive defensively and versatile on all aspects of the floor. Their roles will vary and the Magic will have a  lot of work still to do to develop them and grow them, but they bot fit into a certain type of team.

Orlando clearly has a vision for what the team will ultimately look like and how it will play. Both Suggs and Wagner fit that vision. They are foundational pieces of that team.

The Magic are slowly beginning to build the team they want to be. The question now will be whether they can execute it.

On Draft night, everyone feels like they came out winners.

"“The sky is the limit for us, honestly,” Suggs said after the Draft on Thursday. “We all have so much room to grow and get better as players and as a unit. Once we get comfortable with each other, it’s a scary sight for the league.”"

Orlando still has a long way to go before it gets to that final vision. But if the goal of Thursday’s draft was to begin forming this identity and set their path to the future, the team certainly accomplished it.

Next. Orlando Magic must find the project they believe in. dark

Even with a bit of luck, Orlando feels like it has found its foundational piece.