Perfect can’t be the enemy of good for the Orlando Magic

Franz Wagner has become a picture of the Orlando Magic's focus on the little things and growing incrementally. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Franz Wagner has become a picture of the Orlando Magic's focus on the little things and growing incrementally. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic are an imperfect team. Everyone knows that. Everyone knew that entering the season.

The team has tried to avoid putting expectations on the season or saying how far they expect the team to climb or advance in the postseason. Nobody has talked so openly about records, let alone the playoffs.

That is what a young, rebuilding roster and a rookie head coach will do for a franchise. And their play to start the season has similarly been discouraging if you care about winning. Orlando is starting from scratch and it shows.

That is why a lot of the focus has been centered on seemingly moral victories. The team has talked about trying to make winning plays — “bell plays” as the team has come to term them for the blue bell they ring during practices inside the AdventHealth Practice Facility — and trying to get better each day.

The Orlando Magic are still building their identity and the style they want to play. The focus is on the moment and focusing on the little things rather than the big picture.

These intangible terms that do not necessarily come with a clear definition or measure are keys to the team’s growth and development. At the end of the day, the Magic will get measured on whether the team looks better and has made individual improvements. The team just wants to see the outlines of what it will become.

This is why hustle points and plays are mattering so much at the start of the season. And why the Magic are not fretting big mistakes as long as the team continues to work to get better at them.

Overcoming a mindset where players are fearful of mistakes and making errors is key to this early part of the season. They just need players playing free.

Perfect cannot be the enemy of good for this Magic team.

They are focusing on these little things to try to build everything bit by bit in hopes of it forming a complete picture. Orlando’s young players have a lot of work to do, obviously, to get to a point where they are winning consistently.

But the Magic are clearly not using their ideal version as a judge or their present. They are trying to focus on the little victories and washing away the bad.

As Cole Anthony put it quoting the famous Ted Lasso quote: The team is trying to be a goldfish and wash away bad plays quickly. Even after blowouts, the Magic are focusing on some positive elements. Coach Jamahl Mosley noted the team’s third-quarter run that cut a 30-point deficit back to 16 last week against the New York Knicks in his postgame.

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Little victories will not pay bills. But they can help young players get the right mindset to keep growing and stay in the moment.

That will always be one of the more difficult parts for young players to get over. There are so many games and so many possessions, it is easy for a player to get down on themselves. Sometimes even good defense can get beat. And a team has to shake that off.

"“Honestly, that’s been part of the biggest change of my mindset coming into the NBA, knowing players are so good you are not going to be perfect the whole time,” Franz Wagner said after shootaround Wednesday. “There is going to be an adjustment period. It takes a lot of pressure off you just knowing it’s about the process and not the end result. Those results will come over time. I think I’ve been doing a good job with that. There’s going to be frustration. We want to win games.”"

Wagner has been a perfect example of this mindset.

Wagner is rolling right now. He has started the season averaging 13.6 points per game with a 61.5-percent effective field goal percentage. He started off Wednesday’s game shooting five for five from the court. Fans are buzzing.

And with small expansions in his game, like this nice post move and finger roll, that excitement seems warranted.

Wagner rarely makes attacks like this at this point in his career. This is not really his game. But he recognizes the mismatch and attacks it quickly. That is a sign of his confidence.

Right now, good things happen when Wagner is on the floor. The Magic have a -0.3 net rating with Wagner on the floor, the best mark on the team. They have a -43.2 net rating with him off the floor, which is . . . ouch.

Wagner is doing some very good things. But he is still a rookie, making rookie mistakes. Like this late one against Gordon Hayward in Wednesday’s game.

Here Wagner gets caught anticipating what Hayward is going to try to do. He steps up to try to cover Hayward flaring to the perimeter. But he steps too far and Hayward beats him backdoor to the basket.

The play came at a critical juncture of the game and was costly. But it was a big learning moment for Wagner. And an important moment for the young player to see how he would respond.

That response has been a big factor for the Magic all season. Wendell Carter pointed out after the game the team has struggled to respond to runs all season. And certainly, the team struggled in the fourth quarter as the Hornets put one last run to take control of the game.

There is still a lot of room to grow for the team. Especially for the team’s rookies.

"“I’m not asking them to be perfect,” Mosley said after shootaround Wednesday. “I’m asking them to give perfect effort. I’m asking them to do what’s right for their teammate and what’s best for their teammate.”"

That probably encapsulates and crystalizes the team’s approach best right now.

Orlando wants to start with effort first and foremost. That part has not been under question this season even through some of the team’s difficulties. They are hoping that effort can be directed bit by bit to help the team build.

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But they are not focused on the big picture quite yet. The focus is on winning each play and moving onto the next. It is about being as good as they can in the moment. And that will be good enough for now.