Everything for the Orlando Magic is theoretical.
Paolo Banchero? A fantastic rookie year that was historical on many levels.
But the Rookie of the Year race devolved into asking whether his inefficiency will one day translate into the kind of stardom his stats suggest. Those who wanted to poke holes in the argument pointed to rookies playing more defined roles on their teams.
Franz Wagner? He backed up his rookie year with a strong sophomore season. But the narrative that Wagner can be more present on the ball persists as everyone just wants more from the forward.
Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter? Both seem like solid starting options. But both have plenty more to prove.
Jalen Suggs? His shot still needs a lot of work to make his defense pop more. Cole Anthony? He grew into his sixth-man role, but can he continue that?
Orlando has a bright future because the team is so young. They are seemingly on a strong upward trajectory. But a lot is unproven with this team.
The Orlando Magic have a lot of young players with plenty to prove this coming season. While there will be noise to make immediate moves, the Magic should understand their young players deserve the chance to prove themselves.
As the Magic contemplate how they will look to improve this offseason through the draft and free agency, everything seemingly comes back to the big question of what they will do with their roster. Or rather, how much this team believes in what they have and how quickly they want to improve.
As promising as the Magic’s season was — or as promising as a 34-win season can be — the Magic still do not know how good they are. And the real question for this offseason is how much latitude is the team going to give its young players to find out.
The going thought though is the Magic will give its young roster the chance to prove itself next year. While there is plenty of noise, suggestions and possibilities for a big trade, it seems more likely president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman will look to shore up his current core and see if stability will take him far.
A lot of these questions seem to center on the future with Markelle Fultz.
If the national media has a misperception about the team or a question to put everything in the right place — aside from finding this team some shooting — it typically centers on the question at point guard with Fultz.
Some of this is about the idea that Fultz as a non-shooter is inherently limiting. And if that is the case with Fultz it might be.
But Fultz also ended his season looking like he had his bounce back from the draft process. He finished dunks with gusto and even hit pull-up 3-pointers more comfortably than he has before. Fultz does not have to be a dominant 3-point shooter, but he has to hit enough to keep defenses honest and space the floor.
Three-point shooting is the biggest concern for the Magic, of course. And so Fultz gets special discussion and examination.
But he was also vital to the team.
His return — along with Cole Anthony — changed the Magic’s season where they went 29-28 in their final 57 games after that 5-20 start. His scoring surge after the All-Star Break especially — 15.6 points per game and 6.0 assists per game with an on-court net rating of +0.8 points per 100 possessions — hinted that there was a big step for Fultz yet to take.
In other words, there are a lot of questions about how Fultz develops and whether he can be the lead guard for a playoff team. But those are questions he seems capable of answering.
It means that while there is some talk about the Magic improving the point guard position, that remains a question for further down the road. If Orlando believes in Fultz at all, the team should stick with him — and consider an extension this offseason as he enters the final year of his contract.
The same question has come up — and certainly, I will admit to having these questions — with Wendell Carter.
Carter has proven himself as a versatile and varied playmaker at center with solid defensive instincts. But the team’s lack of rim protection seems like it could be a deficiency when it comes to the playoffs.
Carter is beyond solid and one of the most important players on the team.
But with the Magic going smaller, his inability to play above the rim should be a concern. Carter blocked only 0.6 blocks per game and has only one season with more than 1.0 block per game (his rookie year). Opponents shot 64.0 percent at the rim against Carter this season according to Second Spectrum.
These are all fair questions to ask about a player like Carter just as the shooting question is a fair question about Fultz. But this is also putting the cart before the horse.
These are all questions the team has yet to answer. And these are all players who are young enough that they have time to answer these questions.
They have also earned the opportunity to prove themselves and grow. Like with Fultz, Carter has earned the right to see how teams attack him in the playoffs. He has earned the opportunity to see if he can step his game up in a meaningful way.
And the Magic are not in a position to make firm conclusions. They are not in a spot to make final decisions on any player. A lot of players have given a reason to keep believing.
Sure, if a deal for a clearly better player comes around, the team should consider all of its options. But the Magic are not quite in the position to push their chips all the way in.
Weltman has really focused his time on establishing consistency so his young team can grow. Massive changes to the starting lineup that are not clear upgrades does not seem to be in the offing.
Instead, Orlando should be looking to add depth to support the group the team is already building and ensure the team gets to the postseason. From there, the Magic will really find out what its weaknesses are and who actually fits.
The reality is that so much of this is conjecture for the Magic. Everyone is wondering how these players fit for a playoff team and what it looks like.
And nothing proves that more than doing it. And so the Magic should be thinking about their young group as needing to prove themselves and they should use the 2024 season to do it.
A lot of the questions everyone is racing toward are questions that should be asked and should linger. But Orlando’s young players have earned their chance to answer some of these questions before the team rushes into any moves.
The Magic are nearing a point where they may need to make some changes. There is no doubt about this. But many of the bigger changes are not immediate concerns.
Orlando has earned the right to see what the team’s young players can do.