What to make of the Orlando Magic’s 2022 season?
On one hand, the team finished with the second-worst record in the league. That is the ultimate measure for any team and for any success in this league. You are what your record says you are and there is no denying the Magic were one of the worst teams in the league.
No matter anything else, that is something that will hang on this team.
On the other hand, the Magic were expected to be bad. Perhaps even designed to be bad.
This was a young team with a young coach that would need the space and ability to grow. Throw in the usual spate of injuries that every team faces, and it was always going to be an uphill climb.
The amazing thing about this Magic team was how the losses never seemed to be discouraging or debilitating. They remained focused on their long-term goals and building something from the ground up.
The Orlando Magic knew the 2022 season would be difficult. But the team saw the growth it wanted from young players, but also some concern as they keep building.
That task is extremely difficult. And the reality is that this season was a connector to the future.
It is impossible to determine whether this season was a success — beyond getting the exact number of wins necessary to win the NBA Draft Lottery — because this season was not about this year’s success. It is still about how the team progresses.
And even here, it is hard to say for sure whether the team accomplished all it needed.
On one hand, the Magic played together and showed signs of their potential success. There were a lot of positive signs the team showed both individually and as a team. There was a lot to be excited about as the Magic continue to put pieces in place.
On the other hand, the team had all the characteristics of a bad team. They got blown out and beaten up. They were inconsistent. And there was very little they actually did well. The team has positive spots, but a long way still to go.
It is easy to be optimistic when the expectations are low. But it is clear now the team has to take some steps forward. And nobody can be sure whether this young group will be able to do it.
This is always the most difficult step in a rebuild and it will take the right draft pick and some careful building to add to the team to take that step.
So what do we make of this season? How do you evaluate a season full of so much good and so much bad?
There is that duality in everything from this Magic season. There was something really encouraging and then something very concerning.
Franz Wagner was a stud all year, surprising everyone to be one of the top rookies in a loaded rookie class. He averaged 15.2 points per game, grabbed 4.5 rebounds per game and shot 46.8-percent from the floor. Magic fans left the season eager to see a whole lot more from Wagner immediately.
He was one of the true bright spots for the team throughout the year.
Then again, the Magic’s prized draft pick of that celebrated 2021 Draft in Jalen Suggs struggled throughout the season.
Suggs had injury issues throughout the season. But his struggles to shoot — 11.8 points per game and 36.1-percent shooting overall — haunted him throughout the season. He showed plenty of potential defensively, but it was a difficult year for the Magic’s prized rookie and something that certainly held the team back.
That is not enough to give up on him. But Suggs did not live up to the outsized expectations the team and fans had for him.
That is a theme throughout the season for the team. It is truly best embodied by the difference between the team’s rookies. There was a lot to get excited about and even the bad brought something to be intrigued with and continue developing.
But there was a lot of bad that is hard to ignore.
The Magic were one of the worst offensive teams in the league by a wide margin. It is hard to find an offensive stat where the Magic were not at the very bottom — the only one perhaps is pace, where the team was 10th in the league in pace at 99.7 possessions per 48 minutes.
The team got blown out — a lot — too.
Orlando had 14 losses by 20 or more points and seven losses by 30 points or more. That is an imperfect measure, but it is something to keep in mind.
Even when the team was playing its best defense of the season, they gave up that 60-point game to a fresh Kyrie Irving.
There were plenty of strong individual offensive moments against this Magic defense too beyond that one from a fresher-than-usual Irving.
Jaylen Brown scored 50 points in an impossible come-from-behind overtime win for the Boston Celtics. Joel Embiid essentially scored 50 points in three quarters against their defense. Kevin Durant torched the team in an early-season blowout.
The Magic wanted to hang their hat on defense. But there are still concerns about what will translate, what will develop and what is real.
The defense though remained the brightest spot overall despite these hiccups and events.
The team finished 19th in the league in defensive rating at 112.1 points allowed per 100 possessions. In the final quarter of the season after the All-Star Break, the Magic were seventh at 111.2 points allowed per 100 possessions. That includes several weeks of the team setting up their Lottery position and holding players out.
The final part of the season was integrating injured players back into the fold. Even here, the Magic could only count a half success.
Markelle Fultz indeed returned to the court after the All-Star Break from a torn ACL. He stepped on the court and did not seem to miss a beat. His 10.8 points per game and 5.5 assists per game in 20.0 minutes per game in 18 appearances was revelatory for the young guard.
On the other hand, the team never got Jonathan Isaac back on the floor. Whether because of caution, actual setback or just slow recovery, the team never felt comfortable enough to clear him to play.
That remains the most important point — Isaac was not physically cleared to play and there was no reason to push him. But it still remains disappointing that Isaac did not play in a season that provided little pressure.
2022 Season Grade: B-
The goal for the Orlando Magic in many ways was only to show a shade of who the team could be. The outlines of what the team will be when it is ready to compete.
In that sense, the season was a success. Orlando successfully established the foundations for the team’s future.
The Magic found a quality big man to anchor their defense in Wendell Carter. They unearthed and developed a stellar rookie in Franz Wagner. They saw Markelle Fultz return to the court.
There was a lot to be excited about.
But the challenge ahead is a big one. How does the team tie this all together? How does this team take all those positive moments and turn them into something more concrete?
How does this team turn those into wins?
At the end of the day, teams are judged on their record. And while part of the process this year was to set the team up for the Lottery success they ultimately experienced, it is still a long journey to go from 22 wins to 50 wins and contention.
The Magic have a long way to go. They could make that ground up quickly though.
The first overall pick will help. The ample cap room will help. Jamahl Mosley’s solid job establishing this team’s culture could quickly turn into a strong identity. The team is so young that internal improvement seems inevitable — although not certain.
There is a bright future for this team. But it is hard to ignore that there is a significant amount of work to do.