Through a rough start 1-3 start to the NBA season, the Orlando Magic have had trouble once they break the starting unit.
The team’s current starting lineup, however, has played exceptionally well. In 45 minutes together, the group of Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter and Mo Bamba has a +22.3 net rating (111.7 offensive rating/89.4 defensive rating). That starting group has been very good even at this early stage of the season.
Only one other lineup that has played more than five minutes together this season (Jalen Suggs, Terrence Ross, Franz Wagner, Moritz Wagner and Robin Lopez have played six minutes together in three games) has a better net rating and only one other lineup that has played more than five minutes (replacing Suggs with Ross with the starting group) has a positive net rating.
The Magic are searching for combinations that work and a rotation that can sustain itself through a 48-minute game. But there is clearly something that works.
Right now, it is just about waiting for injured players to return and the team to become whole.
The Orlando Magic have had a stellar starting group to begin the season. They are missing depth. And reinforcements are on the way as players recover from injuries.
Once players come back from injury, there will be a balance to both units, and there will be much less of a breakdown once the bench unit enters the game.
The decision on which players to start is not an easy one. Multiple combinations could work for the Magic, and coach Jamahl Mosley will have the difficult task to create the best combination from the roster.
There have been hints to what the starting unit will be as there have been surprises to start the season that could make a future starting lineup better than what the coaching staff could have predicted.
With the theoretical vision of a starting group in the horizon and a fully healthy roster, the Magic will have some tough decisions to make as they craft a starting lineup. It may be a few months before we see it, but there is an ideal starting lineup.
POINT GUARD – Markelle Fultz
While Cole Anthony had a recent strong performance against the New York Knicks in a game where he had 29 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists, there is still an argument Anthony may not be ready to be the starting point guard of a young team.
While improved, Anthony still has to reach a level where he is able to slow down a game and keep it from getting out of hand. Anthony has had a strong assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.8 to 2.8, but his best attribute has been to be able to score in bunches.
Still, Anthony’s efficiency leaves something to be desired. He had a strong game against the Knicks on Sunday. But Anthony is shooting 36.4-percent from the floor overall and 28.2-percent (11 for 39) with the Knicks win thrown out.
The Magic are playing better with Cole Anthony on the floor — Jalen Suggs is still very much a rookie — but Anthony is still not scoring efficiently enough to demand a defense’s respect every night.
This is why Markelle Fultz is the likely starting point guard once he returns and once he returns to a playing rhythm.
Being able to go to Cole Anthony off the bench will make the lives for players like Terrence Ross easier as he continues to build his gravity and create space for teammates off his presence alone.
Regardless of the numbers, that will be the biggest positive Fultz will bring to this young team.
Out of the three young points guard on the roster of Fultz, Anthony and Suggs, Fultz has displayed the ability to control the pace and provide a calming presence to slow down a game. Fultz provides leadership on the court that won’t show up on a stat sheet.
In a small sample size from the 2021 season, Fultz also displayed the ability to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. Fultz had three out of seven full games where he scored 15-plus points which include two 20-plus point games. He also had three games with eight or more assists games in those seven games.
Fultz has shown flashes of being able to create his shot and the ability to get to the rim at will. As Fultz continues to improve on his jump shot, which Fultz hinted he has worked on his mechanics as he rehabs his injury, Fultz’s game will continue to open for himself and his teammates and will be the best option to be the starting point guard.