Before the Orlando Magic’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night, coach Jamahl Mosley took his team across the street to the team’s still-under-construction practice facility. The new facility is expected to open in time for next season.
It was a symbol of what the team is still trying to build and start this year. Like that building, the foundations are there but it is still incomplete. The best is yet to come.
Like that building, the Magic got a preview of things to come.
In a surprising move, with less than a handful of games left, both rookies, Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner returned from injury and joined Markelle Fultz, who replaced Cole Anthony (sprained toe) in the Magic’s starting lineup.
The Magic’s future would be on display in full and they shined in what was their first real chance to play together.
The Magic showcased potentially the starting backcourt of the future with Fultz, Suggs and Wagner in a 120-115 home victory against the Cavaliers.
The Orlando Magic got a preview of what their future might look like as Markelle Fultz and Jalen Suggs played their first extended minutes together and rolled to a win.
That is a group that has played only two total minutes together entering Tuesday’s game. Yet, it is a trio that feels so central to the team’s future and hopes. Fultz and Suggs had only played nine total minutes together thanks to Suggs’ ankle injury that cost him the previous 10 games.
Orlando may have only gotten five more minutes with that trio on the floor with Wagner spraining his ankle yet again in the first quarter. But the team got a brief glimpse of what it might look like.
The Magic got off to a slow start, but that vibe permeated throughout the game as they found their groove. The Magic were eager to show off the future on the court that their new practice facility will help mold moving forward.
Fultz is the presumed starting point guard going into next season because he has outplayed every other point guard on the roster. And Suggs was the No. 5 pick in last summer’s draft and has shown enough promise to be the starting shooting guard. At small forward, Wagner has been a stalwart in the starting lineup all season and should be for years to come.
So, how did it all play out against the Cavaliers?
Fultz put on a show — taking over the game in the third quarter with 10 points — all on jump shots.
Fultz showed all his promise and creativity on the court. He seems adept at the Anfernee Hardaway step-back jumper move that few have tried since Penny did it in the 1997 Playoffs.
He used it and his ability to step back and attack to twist the Cavs’ defense throughout the game as Orlando started to pull away in the second half.
He finished the game with 16 points on 8-for-12 shooting from the field, six assists and two steals in a season-high 24 minutes.
Passing the ball, Fultz had the third-best assist percentage (minimum 10 games) in the league with 43.6-percent going into Tuesday’s game. He is doing a great job controlling the pace and setting up his teammates.
Fultz shined as he played alongside Suggs for his most extended minutes of the season. The duo shared the floor for 17 minutes (nearly tripling their time together entering the game). Orlando had a 100.0 offensive rating and 94.9 defensive rating with the duo on the floor. Their ability to switch on guards proved to be a big boost for the defense, again showing its potential.
"“It’s something we’re super excited about being able to have that chance to have guards who can switch and both push the ball,” Fultz said after Tuesday’s win. “It’s something I look forward to moving forward. I just want to continue building every day as we go out there.”"
On paper, it does not seem like Fultz and Suggs would be ideal backcourt mates with both not excelling at the three-point shot. But it could possibly work because Suggs is an all-around player, who moves well without the ball and will cut to the basket.
In the third quarter, they showed a glimpse of what they can do on the fastbreak as Markelle Fultz dished the ball at just the right time to Jalen Suggs for a running layup following a Mo Bamba block (one of six on the night from the young big man).
Both are smart players with point guard abilities and that should fair well on the court.
Although Suggs’ shooting numbers are abysmal this season at 36 percent from the field, he has the right form on his jump shot and is not afraid to let it fly from deep.
And Suggs is so potent defensively that he needs to be on the court for the Magic as much as possible. His defensive prowess was on display when he defended the Cavaliers’ Kevin Love in the post and blocked his shot.
Suggs finished with only four points in the game and played on a minute restriction that kept him to 18 minutes. Wagner left the game after nearly seven minutes after spraining his ankle again.
The Magic’s future is still somewhat under wraps. Fans will have to wait a bit longer to see it in full force.
But Wagner is going to fit right in with both Fultz and Suggs because he is also an all-around player who can shoot, create off the dribble and play without the ball– he has proven that all season. Also, Wendell Carter Jr. has played his way into a big role with Orlando going forward and should be a starter in the frontcourt next season.
The backcourt is presumably set with Fultz, Suggs and Wagner. It is not clear who will be the final piece to Orlando’s promising group. But it could come via the draft lottery, free agency, trade or even the return of a healthy Jonathan Isaac.
"“This thing is going to be something special because this group is something special,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Tuesday’s win. “Their camaraderie, their chemistry and their willingness to continue to scrap and respond. Their response from the previous game to this one is something you have to hang your hats on for each other.”"
With only two games remaining, the Magic have now clinched one of the spots for the best odds to receive the No. 1 overall pick (thanks to the win from the Oklahoma City Thunder in Portland). The Magic still have their eyes squarely on the future.
Tuesday night, it played out on the court. It felt as real as it has felt all year long.