2023 Orlando Magic Player Evaluations: Michael Carter-Williams, Jay Scrubb rewarded for the ride

Apr 2, 2023; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando Magic guard Michael Carter-Williams (11) dribbles the ball past Detroit Pistons forward Eugene Omoruyi (97) during the second half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 2, 2023; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando Magic guard Michael Carter-Williams (11) dribbles the ball past Detroit Pistons forward Eugene Omoruyi (97) during the second half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports /

Michael Carter-Williams probably never knew if he would get back to the league after injuries derailed his 2022 season. The Orlando Magic valued him as a veteran leader as he tried to work his way back. But eventually, the trade winds called and the Magic needed the roster spot.

Carter-Williams left the team. But he never really left the team.

He continued to work and keep himself in shape. He kept working and trying to work his way back to the league. He stayed at least partially connected with his former young teammates even though he was not on the team.

But the call-up was always a long shot.

Jay Scrubb too probably never knew when he was going to make his way to the league. He could only keep working and keep playing well until somebody noticed him.

He turned in a strong season for the Lakeland Magic and got the late call-up to a two-way contract to give him that brief taste of the NBA — proving to be too brief as the Magic waived Scrubb Monday.

Opportunity is the biggest currency in the league. There are a lot of good players out there who just need the chance to play and find their fit in the league. Not everyone finds that opportunity.

The Orlando Magic helped complete the journeys for Michael Carter-Williams and Jay Scrubb, rewarding them late in the season for their paths to the league and to the team.

Sometimes it is not even about getting on the floor for consistent playing time. Sometimes it is truly the journey of getting into the league or back to the league that matters.

That is what adding Carter-Williams and Scrubb to the season meant this season.

Of course, neither player played enough to cause much lasting impact. And neither player holds a hardened, long-term place in this team. We are talking about nice end-of-the-bench stories.

Scrubb was someone Magic fans were clamoring to give a chance as he dominated in the G-League. In 28 games in the G-League season (not including the Showcase Cup), Scrubb averaged 22.2 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game and 2.3 assists per game. He was a strong scorer with Lakeland, consistently leading the team in scoring.

It sounded like he was lining up for a call-up to the main team at some point to see how that scoring would translate. And whether he could play that secondary role.

That moment came on March 24 as the Magic’s season came to a close.

He played in only two games for the Orlando Magic this season, scoring 13 total points, making five of seven shots and both of his 3-pointers.

Obviously, these were not enough stats to say much. But it seemed like his call-up and the potential to grow him where he could continue dominating the G-League and get a chance to fit in with the parent club was the right path for him to take.

Scrubb earned a real opportunity and an offseason to get better within the Magic’s system.

That made Monday’s announcement the team was waiving him more stunning. A two-way contract was the clear next evolution to see how he fit best in the NBA. This was an opportunity.

There is video on social media of Scrubb continuing to workout (wearing Magic gear, no less). So perhaps this is about opportunity ultimately. Just not with the Magic.

Scrubb could have a full-time contract lined up somewhere for the start of free agency and the Magic are doing him a favor allowing him to pursue that security. Or perhaps Scrubb wanted a bigger role playing for a team overseas and the Magic are, again, doing him a favor and releasing him from his contract.

It is an unfortunate turn for Magic fans eager to see a player like Scrubb get his opportunity and chance but then get unceremoniously dropped in the early offseason. All anyone can do is wish him the best of luck.

That was what Magic fans wished Carter-Williams when he left the Magic on Feb. 10, 2022.

Carter-Williams built his reputation as an energy wing and guard and a veteran voice in a young locker room. He helped the Magic make the playoffs in 2019 and seemingly resurrected his career. Orlando and coach Steve Clifford had seemingly figured out exactly how best to use Carter-Williams as a defender and irritant for opponents.

He shot just well enough to keep defenders honest, the biggest piece of his game that was missing.

But an ankle injury hounded him during the 2022 season and he never played. The Magic needed the roster spot for a trade and ended up cutting him while the team was on a West Coast road trip.

To Carter-Williams’ credit, he kept working and trying to get back into the league. More than that, he remained a veteran the players could lean on. By some accounts, he never got removed from the team’s text thread (or stayed on an old one) and remained in everyone’s ears.

Carter-Williams was well-liked among the Magic’s young players and remained a key veteran for a lot of them. The fact he stayed in Orlando to work out and stay basketball ready — as he did in Los Angeles before Orlando signed him in 2019.

His return to the team felt ceremonial when he signed on Feb. 26. Even to the point that it was never clear that Carter-Williams would actually play and his inclusion on the team for the final games was just to have a veteran in the locker room after the Magic traded Terrence Ross.

A blowout win over the Detroit Pistons in April marked his first minutes in the league in more than two years. But that game itself was a celebration of how much the team had grown. And it felt good to reward a player from the team’s past for his work to get himself healthy.

Carter-Williams appeared in 44 minutes across four games, scoring 17 points and dishing out seven assists. Again, hardly enough time to make any conclusions.

But having him around probably made the team better and gave the Magic a veteran they could trust and who trusted him. That part was important.

Carter-Williams probably will not be back. This was the end of Rudy where the team got him in the game for a celebratory moment that ultimately had no consequence for the team’s final result. That is OK!

Both Scrubb and Carter-Williams earned their place in the NBA. They got an opportunity. For Carter-Williams, it might have been near the end of the road and a bridge to the next phase of his career. For Scrubb, it could have been a bridge to the start of his career. Now it appears it is one to elsewhere.

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Toward the end of the season, the Magic were happy to give an opportunity to both of these players. And they both seemed to take advantage of the chance.