Orlando Magic aim to add physicality to identity

Paolo Banchero's presence has helped the Orlando Magic put a focus on being more physical on both ends. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Paolo Banchero's presence has helped the Orlando Magic put a focus on being more physical on both ends. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports /

Training camp is all about laying the foundations for the team. It is about building the team’s identity and finding that groove and what will work when the games start.

It is not always a straight line, especially for young, unestablished teams. There are fits and starts and things to experiment with during the preseason. Teams in this situation are always a bit uneasy because they do not have that thing to count on.

Everything is uncertain.

But it is also a clean slate. And that is where the Orlando Magic find themselves this preseason. Everything seems fresh — even with the same roster returning. The Magic have a lot to build and a lot to layer on as they look ahead not only to this season but beyond.

The Orlando Magic are still building their defensive identity and culture. One thing they want to add more of this year is a level of physicality and aggression.

The Magic have made it clear not only from their draft choices but their coaching hire and their talk, they want to be a defensive team. It is the one area the team showed positive signs throughout last season, even if there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Identities are established in success though. And the team is still looking to build its foundations on defense.

That is a big part of this preseason and a big focus for the team.

The Magic have rarely been known for their physicality. But that will be something the team hopes to add this year. It is clearly at work during the preseason.

With the potential to play big lineups with Paolo Banchero, Wendell Carter and Franz Wagner joined by the potential likes of Jonathan Isaac or Mo Bamba, the team feels like it has no excuse not to be a force defensively with that length and potential.

"“The team is not afraid of physical,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Wednesday. “That’s the one thing that makes our coaching staff and our guys proud of that. They’re not afraid to hit people. We just have to make sure we keep drilling that and working that understanding how we have to be physical and not just running around hitting people for no apparent reason. We have to be smarter about how we go about doing it.”"

Mosley is right about that. He said the demand for the team is to be physical. They want this to be part of their overall defensive identity. Teams need to know they played the Magic.

That is part of what “bell plays” are.

The team loves it when players take a charge — just watch the bench after Moe Wagner’s late-game charge in the win over the Spurs on Thursday — and love when players dive on the floor and make those hustle plays. Those are created in part by a team’s overall physicality and ability to make opponents feel uncomfortable.

But as a young team, they can still get a bit overzealous and foul.

That has been one of the big focuses and problems through the first two preseason games. The Orlando Magic committed 27 fouls for 34 free-throw attempts in Monday’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. The team improved only marginally in Thursday’s win over the San Antonio Spurs, committing 27 fouls for 26 free throws.

Orlando committed 11 fouls for nine free throw attempts in a first quarter where the team fell behind by 15 points. Right now, fouling is the biggest impediment to the Magic’s defensive growth.

But if the Magic are going a bit overboard now and can figure out how to scale back, perhaps that is the kind of growth the team is looking to be. Establishing the identity in exaggeration and then learning to dial it back could very well be the point of this preseason.

Chalk that up as another point the team needs to learn.

"“For sure, I think we’re definitely a physical team,” R.J. Hampton said after Wednesday’s practice. “I feel like we need to be smart while being physical though. Fouled a lot last night, myself included. Just playing physical in the paint, playing physical on the perimeter, making the refs have to choose whether they are going to call a foul or not. We can’t just be reaching and sending them to the free-throw line.”"

This is all of a type of course.

The Magic want to play fast and aggressive. And encouraging players to up their physicality is part of that. It is really something that goes on both ends.

Orlando wants its players to play aggressively. And that means seeking a physical advantage.

With the team’s versatility and hard-nosed players, they hope they can get downhill, absorb contact and finish through bodies. They want to get to the line more. And the only way to do that is to attack and be on the front foot.

One of the attractions of selecting Banchero was his ability to physically overpower smaller defenders. The Magic expect him to be a presence on offense and someone who can bully his way to the basket.

That was one of the attractions for drafting Jalen Suggs too. Suggs last year struggled a lot offensively, but one area he was successful in was his ability to attack the basket and get to the foul line with some regularity.

As everyone likes to note, Suggs was a football player throughout high school and Banchero played some high school football before switching his focus to basketball.

"“I see with their aggression they are not afraid to get hit, they are not afraid to get on the ground and not afraid to dive for loose balls,” said Hampton, who also played some high school football. “Even with just the IQ that they play with at times you can see that comes from being a quarterback.  We love that they have that background. They are so physical it helps bring that mentality to the rest of us. We feed off a lot of people on this team.”"

They certainly took some of the skills they learned in that sport onto the basketball court. They are both capable of taking contact and dishing it out on both ends. Suggs already deploys his physicality well on defense, it is the one area he shined as a rookie and is shining in the early preseason run.

And one physical play or one “bell” play turns into another throughout the roster. They hope that it can be contagious.

With all the size the team has, they may have no choice but to be physical to find their way to the basket. It will at least be a way to establish some defensive identity and reputation.

There is still a lot of growth to come in this area. That much is clear early on in preseason as the Magic try to draw everything together.

Next. Moe Wagner is everyone's big brother. dark

But the team wants to be more physical. It wants to assert itself more. And this is going to be an area to continue monitoring as the team continues to prepare for the season.