Orlando Magic’s identity will be born from their hustle

The Orlando Magic are still finding themselves as their preseason nears its close. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic are still finding themselves as their preseason nears its close. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

It is hard to draw too many conclusions from the Orlando Magic’s first three preseason games.

There are still far too many players missing and playing rotations are still all jumbled up — let alone what their opponents are trying to do and accomplish with the time they are given. This is not a complete picture of who the team will be.

Three preseason games into the schedule and nearly a week away from the regular season beginning, the team still has to come together fully and figure out who it wants to be. Piecing the rotation together will help in that process.

Still, the preseason is good for helping a team — especially a young team with a new coach — find its way and find its identity.

Sunday’s 101-100 loss to the San Antonio Spurs showed the Orlando Magic’s weaknesses pretty clearly. Orlando struggled in the half-court to create consistent shots. But one thing clearly emerged in the wreckage and in an 18-point comeback bid that fell just short: The Magic have an identity they can cultivate.

The Orlando Magic are cultivating a new identity built on hustle and defense. As the preseason nears its end, the team is sticking with a style and an attitude to build on.

That identity is built on the defensive end. All the team’s best moments — and really throughout the preseason, not just Sunday — were born on the defensive end. The team ratcheted up its intensity and focus defensively and generated more offense that way. That is where the team found its rhythm.

"“Just their ability to battle back,” coach Jamahl Mosley said of his team after Sunday’s game. “I think this is one of those teams that is going to be resilient. You saw the bench tied together, cheering for one another. Not just on shots being made but on the defensive end. We had a ton of bell plays tonight. I think that’s going to be huge for us going down the stretch.”"

There were plenty of plays that showed the Magic’s potential.

In the first quarter, there was Jalen Suggs diving at the ball twice to save a possession, throwing a pass to Gary Harris for a dunk.

There was Mohamed Bamba chasing down a fast break and blocking it off the backboard to set up a Jalen Suggs layup on the other end. That was the first of his five blocks in an impressive 16-point, 10-rebound performance Sunday.

Bamba said these kinds of “bell plays” — hustle plays that get the coaches ringing the bright blue bell in AdventHealth Practice Facility — are at the heart of what the team wants to do. It puts players in the right position and energizes everyone.

This team is not going to have elite talent to lean on — and their best players are still young and learning the league. Energy is going to have to be their thing. There should not be any moment where the Magic are getting outworked.

The best moments for the team came with this hustle. That alone is not an identity by any stretch. Effort can lead to plenty of mistakes and the Magic’s defense can become a tad bit too aggressive.

Orlando’s penchant for shooting into passing lanes or doubling too hard in the paint has exposed them to a lot of open 3-pointers and offensive rebounds.

The Spurs hit 12 of 35 3-pointers (8 of 25 through three quarters) and grabbed 11 offensive rebounds. Opponents are making 40.0-percent of their 3-pointers (27th in the league) and 12.7 offensive rebounds per game (27th in the league).

These are two points of weakness the Magic’s defense will have to resolve in the near future. Their effort can cover up some of these issues and remains important, but there are finer things to tune up.

And that does not even get into the offense.

The Magic had their moments where they got stuck. Rookie Franz Wagner said the team overdrove on some occasions, getting too deep into the paint and getting trapped.

Mosley noted his team overpassed and played too unselfishly in the first quarter when the team struggled to a sub-40-percent field goal percentage. He urged his team to shoot when open — and the Magic hit seven 3-pointers during that fourth-quarter comeback.

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That was something of a proof of concept for how the team wants to play. Coach Jamahl Mosley has preached certain aspects of this identity, he has started with the focus on defense most of all.

As the regular season approaches, the Magic are still trying to put all the pieces together and see who they really are.

"“I think for us, there is good in continuity and putting everything together for an entire game,” Jalen Suggs said after Sunday’s game. “I think over these past couple of games, we’ve had great spurts — great halves, grat quarters, great runs — but now as we get into the regular season, now is when we have to put it all together and put it into an entire game.”"

Sunday’s game was progress for sure, despite it all. Center Wendell Carter said after Wednesday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans he felt the team got down on itself as the Pelicans went on their run.

While the Spurs built their own lead, the Magic never seemed to let their energy wane. They indeed stuck together. And eventually, that effort and energy got them back into the game and gave them a chance to win — understanding the opponent they were facing and the context of a preseason game.

In reality, it was also a sign of how much better the team will play when given a longer runway. The team is still in preseason mode with quick changes and platooning of players.

These were the best moments of the preseason so far. When the team is able to get after things and make these energy plays, everything clicks. And as long as this is how the team plays, they will give themselves a chance.

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That is at the heart of who this team wants to be. And the hope is that with each play, the Magic will discover this is who they are.