Orlando Magic have mix-and-match options to find best offensive guards

R.J. Hampton put his speed on display in helping the Orlando Magic stun the Memphis Grizzlies in May. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
R.J. Hampton put his speed on display in helping the Orlando Magic stun the Memphis Grizzlies in May. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Orlando Magic were on the clock in the 2021 NBA Draft, they were likely not expecting Jalen Suggs to be available to them.

The general consensus leading up to the draft was the Toronto Raptors would be selecting the Gonzaga guard to complement Fred VanVleet to spearhead the new face of their franchise.

In shocking fashion, they decided to take Scottie Barnes, whom the Magic front office probably believed would be in Orlando by the end of the night.

Whether expected or not, president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman had no choice but to take the best available talent in Suggs. And was probably very happy to do so. While adding a player of his caliber at the fifth spot is rare, the team now sports four point guards who deserve legitimate NBA minutes.

First-year head coach Jamahl Mosley will have the difficult decision of what to do with Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs, R.J. Hampton and Cole Anthony.

The Orlando Magic were happy to get a talented lead guard in Jalen Suggs in the NBA Draft. But that creates an intriguing roster question as the Magic balance several ball-handling guards in their rotation.

With the way the league is played now, the designation of point guard is normally in namesake only with positionless basketball dominating the general ideology of modern teams.

Still, the logistical aspect of these guard combos still needs to be addressed.

It is no secret Hampton and Anthony combined had the best offensive rating of any duo on the team last year with at least 20 games played together.

R.J. Hampton and Cole Anthony’s two-man offensive rating of 114.1 points per 100 possessions was 4.5 points higher than the second-best Magic tandem (Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier).

An offensive rating of 114.1 would have been the 10th best in the NBA compared to all the other teams last year. Considering the Atlanta Hawks had a 114.3 offensive rating, it is safe to say that Hampton and Anthony were a net positive offensively for the team last season. Although the defense struggled with that duo of Hampton and Anthony on the floor together — 125.2 points allowed per 100 possessions.

The Magic should still see potential in this group and other lineups with multiple ball-handlers.

To take a deeper dive into this relationship, I made a YouTube video going over what they did so well together on the court found here:

In my video, I highlighted the Magic’s May 1 matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies that ended in Anthony’s game-winner. Anthony had 26 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals. Hampton finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals. Both were key players in erasing a 20-point second-half deficit.

They helped spark that run that led to one of the best wins of the season.

The two guards played well off of one another constantly looking to outlet the ball following a defensive rebound. Instead of designating who the primary ball handler would be, they both understood that either could initiate offense on the other end of the court.

That allows the rebounder to look ahead knowing the other is looking to take space and pressure the opposing defense instead of allowing them to get settled into the half-court.

As the two get more polished as shooters, they could create one of the best bench backcourt units in the NBA considering how deadly they already are in the open court.

If Orlando decides to keep this duo on the court as much as possible, that still leaves the team forced with a starting lineup of Markelle Fultz and Jalen Suggs. But neither have proven themselves as strong shooters.

Neither have Anthony nor Hampton. It remains one of the biggest questions facing the Magic and their still-developing rebuild.

Theoretically, that lack of offensive production could be masked but the Magic do not possess those kinds of shooters to make that dream a reality. They had a team 3-point shooting percentage of 34.3-percent in the 2020 season which was the fourth-worst in the league.

The Magic also drafted Franz Wagner with the eighth overall pick, who ironically shot 34.3-percent from 3-point range last year for Michigan. It does not alleviate any of the team’s perimeter issues.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

That puts a lot of pressure on Jonathan Isaac to produce from the perimeter. Considering he himself has never shot better than 35-percent from beyond the arc, it could be a real problem for the Magic.

Orlando may be forced to start Cole Anthony alongside Jalen Suggs to alleviate any scoring deficiencies that starting unit is going to face. While Anthony may not be a significantly better shooter than Fultz on paper, he is a three-level scorer that should greatly benefit those around him.

If they decide to start Anthony, it would behoove the team to bring Hampton in early off the bench to maximize the amount of time the two can spend together on the court.

This is an issue that will not create immediate pressure on the team as Fultz recovers from his torn ACL suffered early last season. It would not be surprising to see the team start Jalen Suggs and Gary Harris at the beginning of the year to get the most value out of their bench production.

Following the draft, Harris truly is the odd man out once the team is fully healthy.

The former Denver Nuggets guard has not been able to replicate his 2018 season in which he averaged 17.5 points per game. Jalen Suggs may offer him a role more similar when he played opposite of the ball-dominant Jamal Murray.

But Harris ultimately has to get healthy, stay healthy and rediscover his rhythm. That was something he struggled with in his short stint with the Magic last year.

The better Harris potentially plays with Suggs, the harder it would be for the staff to decide what to do with their guard rotations. Having an issue of talent is a lot better than dealing with a lack of talent in the first place at least.

The most difficult aspect of this entire ordeal is going to be the decision-making process.  Will the staff let single bad games dictate their decisions?  How long is any one player’s leash?

This upcoming training camp and practices for the Magic leading up to their Oct. 20 regular-season tip-off will be one of the most important in team history.  This season is going to dictate the direction the franchise is going in for at least the next five years.

Next. Phoenix Suns are a rebuilding roadmap for Magic. dark

Outside of the team’s perspective, this season also could change the careers of the four young guards looking to make a name for themselves in the NBA. There is a lot to be excited about in Orlando for the 2022 season.