The FIBA World Cup has put the Orlando Magic’s future on full display.
Franz Wagner is an essential part of Germany’s hopes to medal at the FIBA World Cup for the first time since 2002, the only time that proud basketball country has medaled at the World Cup. He sat out Sunday’s win against Australia with a sprained ankle, but remains day-to-day to help with those efforts.
To be sure, while Dennis Schroder is capable of carrying the German team, Franz Wagner is essential to those medal hopes. He is a certified star for his national team. And only seems to be growing.
Playing a reduced role from his time with the Orlando Magic, Banchero turned heads when coach Steve Kerr put him at center and he had to learn the finer points of screening and find his place within the offense that is not going to give him the ball.
Banchero found that groove successfully in the U.S.’s win over New Zealand to open World Cup play on Saturday scoring 21 points to lead the team in that victory.
Everyone is admittedly still becoming wise to these players and to the Magic as a whole. They are expected to compete for a postseason spot, but nobody has quite bought all the way into them. Yet, they remain very excited for what the future may hold for this team.
There are just a lot of things left for this Magic team to prove. And there is a lot of consistency this team needs to establish.
That is just one of the big themes for the team this season.
The biggest theme for the Orlando Magic this season is the growth and progress of their young players. Finding consistency is how this team and this group will establish itself in the NBA.
But development and growth is rarely a straight line. There are going to be ups and downs along the way. And this is a young team that still seems prone to wild swings.
This is why the national pundits are not quite ready to buy into the Magic and expectations for the team — internally and externally — seem measured.
Youth is not an excuse by any means. This year’s Magic team is expected to take the leap into the postseason — where else can the Magic level up to after being the last team eliminated from postseason contention in the Eastern Conference last year? And fans should manage expectations — a run to the 4-seed is unlikely but not impossible — but still should have expectations of reaching the postseason.
There are still some signs they can do that.
They spent most of last season playing like a .500 team going 29-25 until they were eliminated from the postseason (they lost the last three games). Orlando had the sixth-best defensive rating in the league after Dec. 7, giving up 113.0 points per 100 possessions.
Those were all positive signs for a young team still learning how to compete and win consistently. It is something to build on, but hardly stuck in cement.
If there is doubt about this Magic team, it is because the team has not shown it can do it for an 82-game season. You are your history is what makes a reputation in this league and the Magic are still laying down the tracks for theirs.
And that is where the inconsistency of youth comes into play. Nobody knows what to expect from the Magic because their talent is so young and so unproven. And they are going to go through their series of ups and downs throughout the year.
By not adding many new players in free agency, then, the Magic are hoping for internal improvement to reach that next level.
That is a good bet considering the Magic were the third-youngest team in the league. There is no reason to think Banchero or Wagner will not continue to improve as potential stars. The tipping point for the team might be the growth of other young veterans like Markelle Fultz, Wendell Carter and Cole Anthony. Then there are further wild cards with Jalen Suggs and Jonathan Isaac each trying to make their park.
There will be a fair amount of internal competition for minutes with this Magic team.
Still, this team goes as far as its top players will take them. And while they look like they have taken steps up through their work with their national teams, everyone is waiting to see how they come together.
On Seth Partnow of The Athletic’s player tier rankings, he has three Magic players in his top 125 with Markelle Fultz in Tier 5 as an interesting back-end starter. He placed Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero in Tier 4 as budding young stars.
The same could be said of a similar player ranking published this week by Matt Moore of the Action Network.
In his top 100, Moore has Paolo Banchero at No. 52, citing his inefficiency that was expected as a rookie that needs to improve; Franz Wagner at No. 50, citing his overall versatility and likelihood to keep improving both on and off the ball; Wendell Carter at No. 81, citing his defensive versatility; and Markelle Fultz at No. 95, citing his need to keep improving as a shooter.
There is no doubt the Magic have talent. But the question everyone has is how that talent comes together and develops. The question is not about talent or ability, it is about consistency. None of these players have established who they are or what their most beneficial roles would be in the NBA.
If Banchero and Wagner continue improving at the rate they appear set to, the Magic’s outlook looks much better. Having back-to-back solid seasons is the only way for the rest of the basketball world to get on board with what the team is doing.
That is the overarching goal of what the Magic want to see this season. They want to see these players put these pieces together more consistently.
Orlando is likely to ride some ups and downs this season. The reason the Magic organizationally are not putting any hard and fast goals on this team is because the team knows this is a process. And progress happens in broad strokes not necessarily in the monitoring the daily ups and downs.
It is still just about getting better.