2023 Orlando Magic Player Evaluations: Jamahl Mosley built the foundation for success

Mar 3, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley talks to guard Cole Anthony (50) druing a break in the action against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 3, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley talks to guard Cole Anthony (50) druing a break in the action against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports /

Jamahl Mosley laid the terms for his team’s 2023 season back in April 2022.

That was before the Orlando Magic got the first overall pick and their future became much clearer. That was before the team even knew how it would come together or what injuries would befall them.

In pure coach speak, Mosley spoke vague enough to allow for a moving target that fit whatever narrative the team needed. But he also spoke firmly and succinctly enough to lay out a clear goal for the team and its growth. Something that would be tangible. Something everyone would know when they see.

As the Orlando Magic wrapped up their 2022 season with a win over the Miami Heat, Mosley was already looking to his team’s future. He challenged his team then and there to “level up.” It would become the defining term for the season.

Ultimately whether the Magic leveled up or not would be how the season would be judged.

Jamahl Mosley created a clear mission statement for his young Orlando Magic team to achieve. They did that and built a foundation for them to grow.

It is safe to say that challenge was met. And Mosley’s guidance in getting the team to 34 wins, keeping them together through such a rough start to the season and building their foundation through that final run where the Magic stayed just close enough to the postseason to have that carrot to reach for was a testament to how much his team believed in his vision.

There were plenty of complaints about Mosley throughout the season from frustrated fans reaching for that short-term prize. But Mosley was focused on the bigger picture at all times. He was fine letting his team make mistakes to teach them something down the road. He was never going to take a player out for one mistake or deviate from a plan that would help the team in the long run.

It is again hard to argue with the results.

This season was about building that foundation. It was about beginning to explore the possibilities with Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner together. It was about establishing the team’s defensive identity. It was about experimenting and seeing how far the team could stretch positionless basketball at times.

It was about so many things that would lead to winning. It was still not quite about winning.

The Magic needed to see a vision of their future and keep the togetherness and buy-in that characterized this fun, young team.

They did that. Certainly in the final 57 games when the team went 29-28. They certainly saw that in how the team galvanized itself to go on a six-game win streak after a nine-game losing streak. They certainly saw that in the consistency they played with, not losing more than two games in a row from December until March.

There are still clear areas to grow with this team. But the creativity and flexibility Mosley showed while still establishing consistency for his young team were impressive to watch.

Everyone can see the talent and potential within this group. Mosley started to bring it out and focus it in a direction that produced results. And now they just have to keep growing.

Mosley came to Orlando heralded as a defensive coach from the Dallas Mavericks. He was their defensive coordinator. And while their overall defensive numbers were not strong, they still stepped up their game in the playoffs.

To be sure, the Magic’s defense stepped up and showed some real signs of being the force the franchise believes it can be. After Dec. 7, the Magic ranked sixth in the league in defensive rating at 113.0 points allowed per 100 possessions. That helped them stay in a lot of games and give themselves opportunities to win.

That does not mean the Magic were perfect defensively. They struggled with fouling at times and gave up a lot of 3-point attempts. There are a lot of things for the team to shore up to make that defense feel as effective as the statistics suggest.

But things are pointing in the right direction.

The same could be said offensively, although there are still clearly some odd fits. The Magic were still searching for their way offensively. But their size and willingness to try different things could give defenses problems. And certainly allowing Banchero to experiment and make mistakes led to some rough moments.

That is perhaps Mosley’s greatest trait as a coach and strategist. His flexibility and willingness to experiment and work on things during the regular season that will become important in the playoffs.

Mosley had his eyes on the bigger picture at all times. He would show the team playoff clips and talk about the team’s hypothetical playoff preparations. He had his team focused on their bigger goals and understanding what it is going to take.

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This year was not about this year. It was about something beyond it and growing toward it. And Mosley did a really good job keeping the team focused on that vision.

At the end of the day, the Magic got to see big lineups with Bol Bol, Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner to stress the idea of positionless basketball. They got to see Markelle Fultz running the show and gaining confidence to set up a new season. They got to see Cole Anthony confident as a flame-throwing sixth man. Jalen Suggs showed his potential on both ends.

Everyone had their moment. There were few key core players who seemed to take a step back. And the team began to win a little bit.

In other words, it is clear they leveled up and, perhaps more importantly, showed they can level up again.

Coach. Orlando Magic. JAMAHL MOSLEY. B+.

There are still plenty of complaints fans have about Jamahl Mosley.

His rotations were sometimes wonky and he stuck with some players and ideas longer than perhaps he should have. These decisions may have cost the team a win here or there or put the starters in a tougher spot when they returned.

Then again, this is kind of the plan. The Orlando Magic wanted to give space for players to make these mistakes and see what works and what will not work. The Magic are still trying to figure out what kind of team they want to be.

The focus on the bigger picture mattered most. He was trying to build the foundation for the team and what they are capable of. That was on full display — warts and all for a young team. They went through those growing pains and started to improve and show signs of who they can be when they start winning.

Of course, leveling up is not just a directive to his team. It is a directive for Mosley himself.

He too will have to level up his game as a young coach. He is the one who has to build on the foundation he has laid. And he too is inexperienced as a head coach — even though he has been an assistant on several successful teams.

Next season will bring a new challenge for Mosley. He will have to lay this foundation all with the pressure to start winning. His own players have put down that expectation for him.

The things Mosley often struggled with — or ignored for the sake of long-term development — are things he is going to have to be more proficient at. Every win is going to count. And while the long-term of the season still matters, the team is not going to be able to afford the same leash with lineup experiments if winning is going to become the main goal.

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That is a challenge everyone on the team will go through together. But this season was about building a foundation. And the Magic can get there because of the work Mosley and his team put in this year.