Orlando Magic’s bench lineups find their groove

Cole Anthony has helped the Orlando Magic get on the attack and powered their bench lineups to save games. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Anthony has helped the Orlando Magic get on the attack and powered their bench lineups to save games. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

It was only a few weeks ago when the Orlando Magic dreaded their minutes in the second and fourth quarters when they broke their lineup. The team had seemingly settled on a new lineup that worked and were reworking the rest of their rotation to account for a suddenly healthy team.

Only things were not clicking. As the starting group seemed to shine, the bench seemed to give everything away. It seemed like the team was dreading turning over the lineup and trying to find consistency from their bench.

Look no further than Cole Anthony, who seemed to struggle with his new role off the bench in the early days after he and Markelle Fultz came back on the same night.

Orlando clearly had something to build on but everyone was still getting comfortable.

That might be the big key for this bench group. They needed to get comfortable playing together. They needed time to gel and get comfortable. they needed to learn their roles and their spots in the rotation to lift up the starters.

Now it seems the tables have turned. The Magic are struggling to get out to great starts, but it is the bench unit anchored by Cole Anthony with Jalen Suggs, Moe Wagner and even Bol Bol adding some needed lift and turning games on their head.

The Orlando Magic’s bench has become a huge advantage for the team as they have flipped games and helped the Magic expand leads and stay in games.

The Magic are averaging 36.6 points per game off the bench this season, 10th in the league. Their bench group shoots 46.1 percent from the floor overall and 35.1 percent from beyond the arc. That is holding its own against the starting group.

Since Jonathan Isaac returned on Jan. 23, the bench group is averaging a league-best 44.1 points per game off the bench with 51.1 percent shooting and 38.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

The lineup has started to settle down now that the team is finally fully healthy. And it has helped everyone clarify and carve out their roles. That is as much the reason for the group’s success.

"“I think we’re getting better and better every single game,” Anthony said after Thursday’s win. “I can speak to that second unit, I think we’re starting to figure it out. It’s been shifted around a bunch just having some dudes in, some dudes out. We’ve started to have a steady stream of games together and we’re starting to figure it out.”"

That played out in the Orlando Magic’s 115-104 win over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday.

It was the bench that helped turn the game on its head, outscoring the Nuggets’ bench 56-10 and turning a five-point deficit when the Magic broke their lineup in the first quarter for Jonathan Isaac to enter into a 12-point lead when Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter checked back in during the second quarter.

The catalyst for this turnaround started with the defense, of course. The team has typically relied on Jalen Suggs and his defensive energy and Jonathan Isaac’s presence to set a ton.

But Anthony has been a key part of this turnaround in every way. He had a stellar 17-point, 7-rebound, 7-assist effort. But he set the tone with his attack off the dribble and his aggression getting to the basket.

"“He did such a great job for us being able to push the pace,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Thursday’s win. “I had a great conversation [Wednesday] just being able to communicate the things he is seeing on the floor as well as what we’re asking him to do. The big part is just be himself. Be aggressive early and if he doesn’t have anything being able to break the defense down and move it side to side.”"

That has been a big key. Anthony is averaging 13.7 points per game on 53.1 percent shooting and 39.3 percent shooting from deep in his last 10 games (since Isaac’s return). He is adding 3.7 assists per game against 1.3 turnovers per game.

Even on that improved efficiency from deep, Anthony is not settling at all. He is the one on the attack. He is averaging only 2.9 3-point attempts per game in that stretch. Anthony is not even driving more, he is just doing so with more precision and poise.

And that comfort and leadership gets to everyone else.

Moe Wagner has taken a huge step up offensively, using his smarts and footwork to work players on the interior and then to step out from deep and hit from the outside. Wagner is averaging 12.4 points per game with a 50.4-percent field goal percentage in the last 10 games.

A lot of this group is just clicking together right now.

The regular bench trio of Cole Anthony, Moe Wagner and Bol Bol has a net rating of +11.2 points per 100 possessions with a 105.1 defensive rating in the last 10 games. The trio of Cole Anthony, Moe Wagner and Jalen Suggs has a net rating of +6.2 points per 100 possessions (111.2/105.0 split) in the last 10 games.

In fact, the top six most used trios of the last 10 games with Cole Anthony in them have a positive net rating. If anything, the biggest area of struggle has come from the slumping Paolo Banchero at the moment.

The Magic’s starting group that had played so well has a -0.5 net rating in the last 10 games (113.8/114.3 split). Orlando’s second-most used lineup in that time — Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Bol Bol and Moe Wagner — has a +15.8 net rating (111.7/95.8) in 75 minutes.

The Magic’s bench group right now is getting in the game and flipping things on the defensive end and using that to power their offense.

"“I think most importantly we try to come in and try to get stops and bring energy,” Bol Bol said after Thursday’s win. “That’s why we’ve been excelling so good. We’ve been focused on getting a whole bunch of defensive stops and that’s leading to our offense. And I feel like we are meshing a lot better game by game.”"

These players may not be known much for their defensive acumen but they are clearly working hard to get after it and make defense their catalyst. They have been providing energy by flipping the script defensively.

This was even the case with Jalen Suggs entering the starting lineup for the injured Gary Harris on Thursday. This is just who this group is becoming and the role they play for this team.

It has taken time for this Magic team to come together. Health has obviously played a role in that. Now that the team has gotten healthier everyone is finding their groove. Even with how much the starting group has struggled of late, it has still held the ship steady.

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How long is that sustainable? Who knows?

But the bench right now has found its groove and is a big part of the Magic being able to stay in the postseason race and continue to make the progress they have made.