The Orlando Magic will not say it, but they are aiming for the postseason this year. How else is the team supposed to level up from last year after missing out on the postseason by six games and being the last team eliminated from postseason contention?
This is a team, after all, that is full of young players who seemed like they had figured out how to win consistently last year. This season is very much about solidifying those gains and proving the team can grow into a more consistent outfit.
What it will take to climb the standings and climb the ranks into the postseason is both simple and complex. But one thing is pretty obvious.
If Orlando wants to turn its record and take that step up it is going to take winning games (obviously). But more importantly, winning close games — the 50/50 games that could go either way.
If a team on balance wins half of its close games, then something that could determine whether the Magic make the postseason next year could well be their clutch performances.
Part of the Orlando Magic leveling up will be learning how to close tight games and turning losses into wins. That will help the Magic climb the standings as much as anything.
The fun part for the Magic is they seem like they have a lot of different places the team can go late in games. They gave Paolo Banchero plenty of looks to finish games — most notably the closing kick in the win at New Orleans against the New Orleans Pelicans. Franz Wagner took his share of late-game shots too — the most on the team, in fact. And Markelle Fultz proved some late-game chops.
Options are good late in games. And the Magic are likely to continue trusting Banchero and Wagner above all others to execute and make tough shots late in games.
The question will be where the Magic go or how will they get them shots in advantageous positions to turn some of these losses into wins. There is no other place where the Magic showed their immaturity and youth than how they played late in games.
But this is also where the team showed its most potential for growth.
Last year, Orlando went 19-25 in clutch situations last year with a net rating of -9.3 points per 100 possessions (111.1/120.4 offensive/defensive rating). That net rating for clutch situations, when the game is within five points in the final five minutes, was 26th in the league last year.
However, taking out the 5-20 starts, as we often do, the Magic went 16-13 in clutch situations with a +5.1 net rating (117.4/112.3 offensive/defensive rating). That just shows how powerful a point guard like Markelle Fultz can be and how much better this team performs.
Any team would perform better with a point guard, obviously.
The Magic have three quality options that they regularly turned to in clutch situation in Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero and Markelle Fultz. Each brings with him his own strengths and weaknesses worth discussing.