3 Orlando Magic players with short- and long-term questions
Short-Term Question: Can Wendell Carter have a healthy season?
Long-Term Question: Is Wendell Carter the center the Orlando Magic need?
No one should question Wendell Carter’s toughness. He played most of last season with a plantar fascia injury that caused him to miss some time in December. The understanding was that he would not make the injury worse and so he gutted through it.
If there was a reason that Carter’s season seemed a bit underwhelming, that very well could be the reason why. Carter was playing perhaps a step slow.
And that may have highlighted some of his weaknesses as a true rim protector.
No one should take Carter for granted. He does a lot of things that just make sense for this team. He is solid positionally, able to deter players at the basket and defend the post effectively. He can step out and guard the perimeter too.
There has always been a lot to like about Carter. But this year will be about proving himself in two ways.
The first is his need to stay healthy. Carter has struggled mightily with little nagging injuries throughout his career. It has never been anything long-term that has kept him out for long periods of time or recurring injuries to the same area. Yet, Carter has struggled to stay on the court.
He appeared in only 57 games last year. Carter has never played more than 62 games in any season of his career (that was the 2022 season). Even during the COVID-shortened year in 2021, Carter played in only 54 of 71 games — equivalent to 62.4 games in an 82-game season.
The best ability is availability. And losing your starting center is a big deal in the NBA. The Magic had some weaknesses at backup center but clearly feel comfortable enough with Moe Wagner and Goga Bitadze in the short term.
The question is whether Carter’s struggles to play consistently will hold him or this team back. Orlando needs him on the court. The benefits are clear — the Magic had a 111.4 defensive rating with Carter on the floor, a mark that trailed only Franz Wagner among starters. And Carter is a solid defender in every aspect.
Still, it is hard to escape the questions about his long-term future and whether he can play center on a championship-level team.
Carter is solid positionally and rates overall as a good defender. He is a decent shot-blocker, but not an above-the-rim playmaker.
Carter is emblematic in many ways of how the Magic found success defensively last year. The Magic were fantastic at preventing shots at the rim or in the restricted area, but if teams could figure out how to get there, they offered little resistance.
Advanced stats show Carter did well at the rim — opponents shot 4.30 percentage points worse at the rim than expected and Carter’s defense saved 0.61 points per 75 possessions, according to data from Basketball Index. But Carter also rates poorly as a pure rim protector — opponents still shot 64.0 percent at the rim against Carter, according to data from Second Spectrum.
Carter is more than serviceable and above average as a starter at center. But the question facing him and facing this Magic team is whether what they have and what they are building around players like Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner work in the playoffs.
This is something that everyone on the roster has to prove. Carter can silence a lot of questions by helping get the Magic to the playoffs and succeeding in it. That is the central thesis for the season and the biggest thing this team needs to see and learn.
Carter is certainly capable of stepping up to that plate. But he does not have the look of the centers that are winning big in the NBA now — either super-skilled playmakers like Nikola JOkic or versatile rim protectors like Joel Embiid and Bam Adebayo. That is something he has to put to rest this year.