The Orlando Magic have a talented backcourt with four guards capable of producing in the starting lineup.
Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris, Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs all have arguments as to why they should be in the starting unit. Coach Jamahl Mosley has been feeding the hot hand in lineups so far this season and provides an opportunity to any of the four who are playing well any given night.
While Mosley is determining how to develop Anthony and Suggs properly in their young careers, he also wants to provide ample shooting on the floor with Harris and his team-high 43.3-percent 3-point field goal percentage.
However, Harris had one of his worst games in his Magic tenure during Friday’s win against the Washington Wizards. He was 0 for 6 from the floor and had several defensive lapses where he lost his defensive assignment, leading to open shots for opposing guards.
One play, in particular, Harris was running back on defense to defend a fast break, but pressed on the breaks and did not even attempt to contest the shot. This was alarming as it seemed he had the angle to alter the layup. But maybe that was an injury-preventing etiquette decision at the end of a season with two teams on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
Either way, it was a play that was indicative of how poorly the team played early in that game. And when one guard struggles, there are other options available.
The Orlando Magic have built a deep crop of guards worth developing leaving them capable of mixing and matching and finding the hot hand to close games in the backcourt.
Luckily, general manager John Hammond and President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman have crafted a deep backcourt rotation with the current Magic roster. Harris only played 20 minutes that evening, as Anthony was tasked to carry a greater load based on Harris’ off night.
During the same game, Anthony picked up the slack and finished the game down the stretch for the Magic. He shot the ball particularly well, going 7 for 11 with 16 points and seven rebounds.
Anthony’s aggressiveness pushing the pace and scoring ability helped spark the team, which was struggling to score. He was finding his spots on offense for mid-range pull-ups and was not bashful.
Anthony can continue to see his role grow with this aggressiveness Orlando desperately needs, as he finished the game with a team-high +15 and was part of the group that erased the deficit and finally gave the Magic the lead.
Anthony is also shooting 41.7 percent from behind the arc since the All-Star break which is the highest out of Magic players in the current rotation.
The Magic do not have a roster riddled with shot-creators and have relied on Anthony and his scoring off the bench. But his ceiling is higher as a starter, as is any player in the NBA.
Suggs also showed promise against the Wizards with his defensive efforts, even though his contributions did not show up in the box score. He is active on defense with his athleticism getting into passing lanes and he also crowds his defensive assignment.
Luckily for Suggs, he can play defense tight on his matchup and rely on his lateral quickness to recover if he gets beat. This is an underrated skill that separates good defenders from great defenders. Suggs showcased his ability to make offensive players uncomfortable on Friday night guarding Johnny Davis and Jordan Goodwin. Both players combined 3 for 15 from the field.
He has improved his shooting percentages in the second half of the season as well and seems more comfortable handling the ball and making quick decisions as an NBA guard.
In February and March, Suggs shot 35.3% from three on 3.6 attempts per game. This is a significant improvement from his career average of 25.8 percent and this increase in comfort will be a key to taking the next steps in his career.
All four players have unique skill sets and athletic abilities. And, depending on the matchup, minutes can be distributed accordingly.
Markelle Fultz seems to have his job as starting point guard secured, as he has averaged the third-most minutes per game this season behind Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero. But the other lead guard position still looks open, and Mosley has been teetering playing time between Gary Harris, Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs.
Here are the average minutes per player for the Magic guards in the last three months in order of most minutes:
|1. Markelle Fultz (29.3)
|1. Markelle Fultz (32.5)
|1. Markelle Fultz (32.7)
|2. Cole Anthony (24.9)
|2. Gary Harris (26.8)
|2. Cole Anthony (28.6)
|3. Gary Harris (23.9)
|3. Jalen Suggs (23.8)
|3. Jalen Suggs (26.2)
|4. Jalen Suggs (16.0)
|4. Cole Anthony (21.2)
|4. Gary Harris (25.0)
The Magic are still a developing team and are seeing who plays well together while continuing to build a winning culture. Player development while winning is a challenging combination, but the Magic have been competing while their younger players have seen increased minutes.
If Suggs and Anthony can continue to improve and serve as viable three-point shooting threats, then Mosley will have to make a decision to determine if Harris should come off the bench to start next season.
Orlando and Mosley have been testing different lineups and playing their guards with sporadic minutes on any given night.
Ultimately, the decision of which lineup makes the most sense will be a difficult one for Mosley. The Magic have a dilemma to determine which of the four players work best together and if Anthony or Suggs can blossom as starters.
Additionally, the roster might be quite different at the start of next season, making the decision even more complex. These last five games will be an indication of who can build momentum as a starter opposite of Fultz next season.