Orlando Magic’s bench will be key to success this season

Cole Anthony is likely moving to the Orlando Magic's bench this year, a big adjustment for the young player. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Cole Anthony is likely moving to the Orlando Magic's bench this year, a big adjustment for the young player. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are virtually the same team as last year. They brought back everyone from last year’s team, only losing Robin Lopez and Ignas Brazdeikis in the process.

Still, so much about the Magic has changed.

Paolo Banchero’s arrival has completely changed things for the Magic and their overall outlook. A fully healthy offseason for Markelle Fultz has seemingly added another dimension to the team and feels like adding a new player to the fold. And Jonathan Isaac is waiting in the wings to return.

In many respects, this is the same team as last year. In many respects, this is a completely different team for a number of reasons.

Everything is going to slot in and roles are going to be determined throughout training camp. There is still a lot to sort through.

But the team’s depth and bench will play a critical role nonetheless.

The Orlando Magic struggled with depth last year as they dealt with injuries and youth. For the team to take a step up, it will need its bench to slot into their roles and provide needed support.

In reality, the Magic’s bench, both its overall contribution and how players move into and accept their roles will be a big part of the team’s story. As important as individual player improvement and figuring out the starting lineup will be, players accepting and succeeding off the bench could be the difference between a nice season and something that sees the team take the next step.

Last year, the bench was one of the team’s worst features.

Orlando spent last season dealing with injuries and it showed with how much their bench took a hit. Orlando’s reserves averaged 37.4 points per game off their bench, 10th in the league. The team was able to score with its bench in the game.

But the team still had its struggles with its bench unit.

The bench was still -4.3 points per game with its reserves. The Magic’s net rating in the second quarter, typically anchored with second unit players, was the second-worst in the league at -9.7 points per 100 possessions.

The Magic’s most-used lineup that featured no more than two starters was a lineup of Jalen Suggs, Gary Harris, Terrence Ross, Chuma Okeke and Moe Wagner. it played 65 minutes at a net rating of -11.3 points per 100 possessions. The next most-used group was Cole Anthony, Gary Harris, Franz Wagner, Chuma Okeke and Robin Lopez for 55 minutes at a net rating of -22.7 points per 100 possessions.

It just goes to show that just because the Magic had guys who could score off the bench, it did not mean the Magic were winning those minutes.

Orlando often cratered with its bench lineups in. That is something that is typical of teams at the bottom of the standings — Orlando’s typical starting lineup of Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony, Franz Wagner, Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter had a net rating of -1.1 points per 100 possessions. But the team is hoping for some change.

The Magic are hoping first and foremost that health will put players in the roles they should have always been in. The team asked a lot of young players and found limitations to many of their games. That is as much a reality for teams at the bottom of the standings. Orlando also had to rely heavily on its two-way players.

The first sign of any kind of success for the Magic will be their health. Orlando does not need perfect health, but the team also cannot afford to be the most injured team in the league again.

Getting Fultz back for a full season and getting anything from Isaac will, by definition, add to the team’s depth. Those are both high-level players who just have not been on the court. Their absences were seriously felt throughout the team.

As things stand on the depth chart now, players like R.J. Hampton and Chuma Okeke appear to be fighting for their way into the rotation. Veteran big man Moe Wagner is also seemingly on the outside looking in. And whatever Bol Bol is supposed to be is hanging around the roster too.

Orlando is trumpeting its versatility and there are at least 15 players who provide some intrigue on the roster. Some Magic fan is going to be disappointed that their favorite prospect is not in the rotation all the time.

That will be perhaps the biggest challenge facing the team. Especially if they hit some rough patches.

Right now, Orlando is trading on its good vibes. Everyone is eager to compete and see each other do well. And the players on the team genuinely seem to like each other.

But that was also with a somewhat established pecking order and clear roles without the pressure to win. The focus was on improvement. As the Magic begin to shift their focus toward winning, they are going to ask young players to make some sacrifices.

Anthony has been a starter for virtually his entire career thanks to Fultz’s injury early in his rookie season. And Anthony has been a critical scorer for the team as one of the few players who could create his own shot off the dribble (albeit really inefficiently).

With Fultz returning, it seems clear he will be the team’s starter because he is a more consistent playmaker and decisionmaker. That will move Anthony to the bench for the first time.

Most people assume Anthony would be best served playing a sixth-man role. But this will still be a major adjustment for him.

In reality, Anthony playing with the second unit as a sixth man will allow him to play much the same way — he had a usage rate of 25.1-percent. He will be able to dominate the ball the same way in that second unit.

Still, there is no doubt this will be an adjustment for him. And a role he has to accept and find success in. That is just something nobody knows.

There is no indication Anthony is not up for that challenge. He has been all about his teammates and his team throughout his tenure with the Magic. But there is still a lot to sort.

The same will occur with Mo Bamba. He spent all of last year as the team’s starting center. But with Banchero coming to the team, he will likely slot in as the backup center.

That is a role he has played before. And he would still have Isaac or Okeke as a backstop defensively. But it is not the same as playing alongside Carter. And there are going to be questions about Mo Bamba filling that role — he struggled some with that backup role behind Nikola Vucevic early in his career.

But the signal of potentially moving Anthony and Bamba to the bench though is just a sign of how much more talented this team appears. And if the starting lineup continues the relative success it had last year — granted with Paolo Banchero sliding in at forward — then a stronger bench could lead to the kind of outcomes Magic fans dream of.

Next. Orlando Magic need to see Franz Wagner build on rookie year. dark

Orlando’s bench was a clear weak spot for the team last year. Without many new additions, the bench unit is hoping returning players, reset roles and individual improvement will help them give the support they need this coming season.