Orlando Magic started Summer League experimenting with lineups already

Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero won his initial battle with Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero won his initial battle with Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

Around Orlando Magic Twitter these days, everyone is building fantasy lineups and ideas for how the team can get creative. After all, the team has seemingly four better-than-average forward to build around now and the idea should be to get them all on the court at the same time.

So do not be surprised if fans start throwing out zany ideas like playing all four of the Magic’s forwards — Jonathan Isaac, Wendell Carter, Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner — together. Some might even throw Bol Bol into the mix for a mega-length lineup.

The point is not that Orlando should try these lineups out — although maybe the team should at least explore them internally — but that the team has the lineup flexibility to do interesting things to gain an advantage.

And that Orlando has the players with the skills potentially on both ends of the floor to make these lineups work. The Magic should at least be open to these kinds of fresh ideas.

And certainly, the place to test some lineup limits and possibilities is a no-pressure place like Summer League in Las Vegas.

Still, it was surprising to see how quickly the Magic experimented with their lineups.

The Orlando Magic quickly got to testing out their new rookie and the different lineups they could use to get the most out of him in their first Summer League game.

The Orlando Magic’s Summer League-opening game saw the team testing out lineups and roles in some unexpected ways. The Houston Rockets are a similarly young team seemingly experimenting with some lineups too.

Both teams essentially played a 5-out offense for much of the game — the two teams combined for 44 3-point attempts out of 141 total field goal attempts. It was a pretty 3-point-heavy game, especially for the Magic — 14 of their 29 field goals in the game were 3-pointers.

The Magic loaded up their roster with center and big man prospects, but only played two: Emanuel Terry and Aleem Ford. They combined to play 38 minutes, essentially the whole game. But Terry is the only true paint-bound center who played Thursday night.

Or at least that is how the team used them.

That means there was a good chunk of the game where Paolo Banchero was nominally the center. Although even in those moments it was hard to say that was the role he was playing.

Orlando moved Banchero all over the court. As clued in by his six assists, Banchero was as much directing traffic as the point guard for much of the game. The Magic had him initiate plenty of offense in his first game and he proved himself adept at hitting high-low passes with Terry, especially from the top of the key.

He made passes from everywhere. And Orlando was not afraid to trust him with the ball and get the magic into their offense.

It is hard to say what is real and what will last into training camp and the regular season. But the Magic built a Summer League roster with that would enable them to experiment with these kinds of 5-out formations and use Banchero all over the floor, giving him space to attack and pick apart passes.

One thing Orlando certainly did was attack Houston’s switching against that spread-out offense by running Banchero as a screener in pick and rolls and then having him dive toward the paint and pin his smaller man in the post. Or he would just see the switch as the ball-handler and take his man to the post.

Going with five shooters on the perimeter — even a nominal one like Ford, who made 1 of his 5 3-pointers — gave Banchero plenty of space to attack and then eventually to pass out to the perimeter as double teams came for him.

Summer League is a good time to experiment for sure. And the Magic got a good look at this kind of five-out offense and how it could help Banchero find space and find others.

It will be interesting to see how that experimentation continues. Orlando will surely still run sets for Banchero at the top of the key and look to spread the floor. That seems to be a guiding principle for the team’s offense — remember, despite the team’s poor shooting, it was still 11th in the league in 3-point attempts and the team is going to continue embracing this as part of its game.

And the Magic will surely look to spread the floor and get Banchero the ball in his spots in the post. If Orlando is doing one thing in Summer League, it is exploring all areas of Banchero’s game. This kind of strategy is certainly one way.

But everything needs an eye toward the regular season. Things will be at least a little bit different.

The Magic though are not afraid of going unconventional or experimenting.

Last year, at least, coach Jamahl Mosley seemed to have some openness to trying different lineups and different roles.

Everyone thought he was a bit crazy to try playing Wendell Carter and Mo Bamba together in the starting lineup in a league that seemed to be going smaller. But it was also clear playing the two together would ensure the Magic played their five best players major minutes. Carter’s versatility defensively proved to be valuable enough to make those lineups work.

The league is trending toward positionless basketball and playing the five best players regardless of traditional positional norms. Teams have to remain versatile and skilled, but size still matters even with those things in place.

That is the kind of team the Magic are appearing to build. They have a lot of skilled bigs who can step out and shoot and defend multiple positions. That has seemingly been a guiding philosophy for the team’s rebuild.

Banchero clearly fits into that.

And while he may not have the same ball-handling responsibilities the Summer League is handing him, he will surely still play that role some when the regular season begins. Not only that, having that skill will make him more valuable and a better fit for the team overall.

Orlando is clearly not done experimenting. And that work will continue through the Summer League into the fall.

What is important to find out now is just how far the team can push that experiment. Through one Summer League game at least, the returns from Banchero are pretty encouraging that he can fit anywhere the team might need him.

No, the Magic may not go full super-long lineup as some fans fantasize about. But it is also pretty clear the Magic could explore it if they want to. And that is what was really signaled by the way the Magic used and played Banchero in this first game.

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It will be interesting to see where the team goes next with him this year and beyond.