The Orlando Magic disappointed a lot of basketball fans — and maybe a few TV executives — when they sat Paolo Banchero for Monday’s mega matchup between the top two picks in the draft (surprisingly slated to be the first matchup of top two picks at Summer League since 2018).
The Magic are sitting Banchero for the rest of Summer League, apparently having seen enough from the top overall pick to send him through to the regular season. R.J. Hampton and Admiral Schofield both joined him in sitting out Monday and appear to be done with their time in Vegas too.
The goal in sitting those main roster players was to see more players on the roster get their chances. They were ready to dig deep into the group they brought with them to Las Vegas.
The most interesting part of Summer League for the Magic is done. At least the part that interests fans.
But the work is not done. Every moment someone with a Magic jersey steps on the floor, they are representing the team and what the team wants to be about. This is still a rebuilding team trying to build its culture. And this Summer League is still about laying those foundations and establishing the expectations for everyone who puts on Magic colors.
The Orlando Magic are still working to lay their foundation and the culture of their team. Even without Paolo Banchero on the floor, the team still bought in and fought to win.
So, yes, the attention might be gone. Many of the main roster players who crowded the sidelines to celebrate their teammates may have begun to disperse. But the Magic still remain.
What they are trying to build still remains.
What kind of team are the Magic trying to build?
They are trying to be a hard-working team built on their defense. They are trying to be the kind of team that moves the ball and keeps fighting. They are trying to build an identity. And an identity and culture like that is something that should last beyond anyone who is on the floor.
That is the biggest key left as the Magic build their players. Even if they are playing without their top talent, they should be able to compete and play with a similar energy.
Going up against an Oklahoma City Thunder team featuring the second overall pick and an All-Rookie guard in Josh Giddey along with several other players with NBA experience could have been an easy excuse to pack it in. Especially when the Thunder’s starters tore the Magic apart through much of the first quarter.
But Orlando kept fighting. The team kept grinding and pushing. Oklahoma City kept Orlando at arm’s distance, but never out of it.
"“Really proud of the guys,” Magic Summer League coach Jesse Mermuys said. “What you are trying o do in that situation is give yourself a chance. And we did that. We stayed the course. Able to withstand a lot of adversity out there, kept chipping at that lead and kept fighting. Had a chance and multiple chances to tie the game and send it to overtime. Proud of the guys’ fight.”"
And then the Magic made their run. They tied the game at 77 with 3.5 minutes to play. They were in the game.
Orlando had every chance to steal the game even with Josh Giddey and Chet Holmgren playing well. The Thunder just always stayed just ahead.
On the final possession of the game trailing by three points, the team was able to get Caleb Houstan an open look from the corner that fell no good.
Orlando fought for a jump ball and then stole the tip. Devin Cannady got a three that did not go in. Emmanuel Terry rebounded it and found Aleem Ford in the other corner for another game-tying attempt.
At the end of the day, it comes down to making shots. The Magic had their opportunities to force overtime again. They just could not get over the hump in an 84-81 loss Monday.
The defeat will surely stick in their craw some. Losing should hurt even in Summer League. But the team still showed plenty about itself and what it wants to be about.
This was not simply Summer League players getting their chance and fighting for their spot. This is the way the Magic want to play basketball. This is what they want to be about.
"“We’re getting great heat on the basketball,” Mermuys said of the team’s defense. “We’re battling down there even when we went small there, we were still battling on the glass and physicality has been high level. Really proud of the team’s effort defensively.”"
The Thunder were able to execute and beat up on the Magic’s small starting backcourt early on to build their lead. But Orlando remained fairly scrappy. The Magic forced some turnovers and made it hard to execute when they got themselves set.
Early on, Orlando struggled to execute anything offensively. But the team was able to settle in and start to hit from the outside. They just kept grinding and battling, finding a way to keep themselves in the game.
Especially once the Magic got bigger, with Justin James coming in at guard alongside Tommy Kuhse, it not only helped set a better pace for the team. But it just enabled them to put up a better roadblock.
They were able to get the Magic’s offense moving too. Orlando hit 9 of 37 3-pointers and were able to force Oklahoma City t miss its 3-point attempts. That always kept the deficit within reach.
But so much about this game was about the team’s grit and determination. The Magic might have been outmatched and might have had no answer Giddey or for Holmgren in the end, but they neve relented. Oklahoma City just could not bury Orlando.
The Magic have plenty of areas they could improve.
Their offense got stagnant and was too reliant on 3-point shooting (as has been the case throughout Summer League). Without Banchero or Hampton, the team really had no one who could create and put pressure on the defense.
Defensively, the Magic put out a lineup that lacked size. Their best defense came with Jeremiah Tilmon providing a 260-pound wall that Chet Holmgren struggled to break through in the paint. The team has been switching a whole lot this Summer League to some good effect, but with the usual miscommunication that can come with that style of defense.
None of that really matters. The specifics of this kind of game do not particularly matter either.
It is the attitude and culture the team wants to see come through.
Orlando certainly has to be happy with the team’s fight, energy, grit and determination. To give themselves a chance to win this one speaks well of how the coaching staff has prepared this team and the faith and trust the players have put in them.
That part is impressive. And is something the Magic can keep building on.