Orlando Magic have to lean on Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner to finish season

Paolo Banchero has turned in a stellar rookie year. But the Orlando Magic need him to break through a rookie wall to make a postseason push. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Paolo Banchero has turned in a stellar rookie year. But the Orlando Magic need him to break through a rookie wall to make a postseason push. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic are gearing up for the final push of the regular season.

Coming out of the All-Star Break, the Magic have 23 games left and a four-game gap to make up in the chase for the Play-In Tournament. That is a lot of pressure to put on a young team, but a crucible the team wants to see its young group come through.

If you cannot tell by our analysis of games and our string of posts coming out of the All-Star Break, we are thinking about the Play-In Tournament. The players have been openly talking about reaching the Play-In as a goal.

This was obviously not the goal at the beginning of the season. Most fans would have been thrilled in October to have meaningful games to play after the All-Star Break. That is where the Magic find themselves now though.

Every game the rest of the way is going to feel very important. And with such a big gap to make up, each loss is going to sting more.

This experience is undoubtedly going to be very valuable. And while it is easy to focus on so many other things with this team — Jalen Suggs’ emergence and push perhaps to make the starting lineup, the team’s close-game struggles and how that can flip the balance for this team and the decisions of when to go with starters or stick with the bench — so much of this season will now come down to the top of the roster.

The Orlando Magic have a big hill to climb to make a postseason push. That climb will start with their two best players who have to improve for the Magic to get where they want to go.

If the Magic are going to make a push for the postseason with their time remaining this season, everything will come down to how their top two players play. So much of their future will come down to this too. It will also come down to how coach Jamahl Mosley deploys and spreads out his two main players too.

For the season, the Magic have a +0.5 net rating with Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner on the floor together. That comes with a 112.2/111.7 offensive/defensive rating split. As proof of concept — without any other lineup context — this at least shows the duo can operate positively together.

Of interest then too, no other duo for the Magic has played more minutes together than Banchero and Wagner. They have played 1,173 minutes together, accounting for 60.9 percent of Wagner’s total minutes on the floor and 66.9 percent of Banchero’s total minutes.

The Magic are getting plenty of time with Banchero and Wagner on the floor together.

The trick now is figuring out how to balance their time on the court and the right moments to use them.

All of this highlights how critical Wagner and Banchero are to the Magic operating in general. There is no replacing the pressure both players put on the paint — along with Markelle Fultz’s ability to get downhill and Wendell Carter’s ability to work from the high post.

And the biggest area the Magic need to see improvement is with their two stars. At the end of the day, a team will go only as far as their stars will take them.

Banchero and Wagner have taken the Magic pretty far for two players who are still so astonishingly young.

Banchero has dipped under 20 points per game, averaging 19.9 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game. Wagner too has slowed down to average 18.9 points per game.

But in the last 15 games, Banchero is averaging 16.9 points per game and Wagner is averaging 14.9 points per game. Banchero is doing this on shooting splits of 36.6/18.6/73.6 while Wagner is at 46.6/39.3/75.0.

Those are still the top two scorers in that time period. And the Magic have scored more points per game in the last 15 games than their season average. But they are still clearly leaving a lot of points on the board. And Orlando is only 8-7.

That is still virtually treading water. If the Magic are going to make up ground in the Play-In chase, it is going to take a bigger contribution from their star players.

The Magic’s bench has been killer in this stretch — the highest-scoring bench in the league. But everyone knows this is not sustainable. The Magic need Banchero and Wagner to step up — especially to close games as noted in the two recent losses to the New York Knicks and Miami Heat.

The Magic have always risen and fallen based on these two players. And in order to complete this turnaround this season, it will take more of Banchero and Wagner at their best.

Banchero and Wagner are not just the leading duo for this team, but they are the leading players in minutes per game — Banchero at 33.7 per game and Wagner at 33.2 per game. And somehow it feels like they should be playing more. The Magic still have a fairly balanced lineup with just three players averaging more than 30 minutes per game.

Yet, somehow, it feels like the Magic need more.

As Zach Lowe wrote in his 10 Things column for ESPN.com last week:

"“The Magic are 18-15 since bottoming out at 6-20, chiseling within sniffing distance of the play-in. The returns of Cole Anthony and (finally!) Jonathan Isaac have crowded the rotation, and in an effort to get everyone run, Jamahl Mosley has risked minutes with both Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner on the bench. Orlando is bleeding points in those minutes; opponents have outscored the Magic by almost 8 points per 100 possessions in that 18-15 run with both Banchero and Wagner resting, per Cleaning The Glass.”"

The Magic have largely limited those minutes. The question is whether the Magic feel comfortable bumping up those minutes to the 35-minute range.

The Magic have a +1.1 net rating with Wagner on the court (111.8/110.8 split) and a -4.5 net rating with Banchero on the floor (109.8/114.3). Of note then too, the Magic have a +0.7 net rating with Banchero off the floor (111.2/110.4).

This supports the notion that Banchero and the starters have struggled a ton, especially recently. It also supports the notion that just their presence can help the team.

In Banchero’s case, his tendency to isolate can drain the team’s offense some. In the last 15 games, his free throw attempts are down to 7.1 per game from 7.6 per game for the season (Wagner’s is down to 3.2 per game from 4.2 per game for the season).

They both can play a whole lot better and that is the biggest piece missing from this latest stretch of games. They do not need to shoot any more. They just need to make more.

Next. Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs can be Orlando Magic's future backcourt. dark

These two players are obviously important to the Magic’s future as much as they are important to the present.

For Orlando to take a big step forward this season and make good on the postseason push, it is going to come down to these two players.