If there is a common statement from rookies about their first NBA experiences, it is usually about the speed.
Everything moves really fast. They always comment they are waiting for the game to slow down. It always feels like rookies are catching up.
Yes, the Magic might have been a bit spoiled by the quick emergences of Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero in the last two seasons. But even they would likely comment about how much faster the NBA is. Their whole task as they both continue to improve is to try to figure out how to slow things down.
They also got thrown right into the deep end. Both of those players came to a team with almost zero external expectations and a directive geared toward growth. They could hit the floor, make mistakes and dust themselves off and keep going. Even if rookies struggled to keep pace.
What was amazing about their rookie seasons was how well both were able to keep up.
The Orlando Magic’s era of gifting rookies extensive minutes is over. Both Anthony Black and Jett Howard will have to fight to earn their minutes this season.
That is not the same thing the Magic will ask of their two rookies this season. Both Anthony Black and Jett Howard are not going to get thrown into the fire. They are not going to be expected to carry a heavy offensive load or a usage rate greater than 25 percent (Wagner had a 23.5 percent usage rate his rookie year and Banchero a 27.5 percent usage rate).
This is a new phase of the Magic’s rebuild where there are already established players and a rotation to build off from last year. Instead, both Black and Howard will have to earn their minutes.
"“We are not gifting anybody minutes,” president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said at media day. “That’s a good thing. That means we are getting better. I don’t know how great we are, but I think we have good depth and talent spread out positionally. I know they are both going to work and they are both going to be great teammates. What this season brings their rookie year, I’m not certain. But I think they both have a lot of potential and are great kids and valuable players for our team moving forward.”"
Black and Howard are certainly part of that depth. And the Magic are at least partially invested in their growth and development. They will need time on the floor to cement any improvements they make during training camp and throughout the season.
But it is not a guarantee. That puts at least a little pressure on Black and Howard to sink or swim behind the scenes. Like all rookies, they still need to catch up.
The whirlwind of training camp
It has certainly been a whirlwind for both Anthony Black and Jett Howard as they prepare for their first NBA season. The Orlando Magic’s two rookies are now getting swept up in the pace and madness that not only is their first training camp, but is NBA basketball. Everything is a step up from even Summer League.
There are going to be struggles and these two rookies will have to prove themselves.
"“A lot of the players and coaches have been telling me how hard rookie year is,” Black said at media day. “You see some of the best players to play didn’t get going until a couple of years in. There are a lot of ups and downs. they’ve been trying to learn to let things go. That’s the big message going into the season.”"
Black said he feels the best way to make his mark is to go out there and play his game. He feels confident in his defense and playmaking. Both are skills the Magic need and should help him find a place on the floor.
The biggest concern with Black was his shooting after he struggled from the perimeter in Arkansas. It does appear he has been working on his shot and trying to get more consistent balance. But that will certainly be a work in progress.
Like most rookies, he will have to learn patience and try to get the game to slow down. But he is relishing the opportunity to compete and prove himself.
And one of the reasons why the team probably liked Black and Howard so much was their willingness to accept and enter an environment where nothing will be handed to them. Finding a player with that work ethic is critical to development.
"“I feel like at all levels I’ve had to do that,” Howard said at media day. “You want that at the end of the day for an environment that’s for that and a culture that’s for that instead of something that’s given to you. I think that’s big on the Magic for saying that.”"
Howard is obviously known most for his shooting. That is his most translatable NBA skill. But he hopes to show his versatility.
That was something on display during his Summer League run where he showed a surprising ability to attack off the dribble and play a bit out of position at power forward. That kind of flexibility is essential to the Magic’s whole process.
Playing and Learning
Now that training camp has started, teammates have lauded both Anthony Black and Jett Howard for their willingness to listen and ask questions to try to keep up with the pace of an NBA practice.
Training camp can make rookies feel like deer in the headlights. But the base that the team has gotten from going through Summer League and the Summer League training camp to lay the foundation has helped them get acclimated. Even if the speed now is picking up with the full roster available.
They are both learning and clearly still catching up, especially on a team that has so much continuity built into it.
"“I think they are great young guys,” Markelle Fultz said at media day. “One, they are good people first of all. And two they have a great work ethic. They are very versatile. They were willing to learn and pick up early and put in the extra work. It is going to be good to have multiple people who can play multiple positions. Another young guy who is going to be in that fire and learn from the people around them and have been through the same thing they have been through.”"
The Orlando Magic’s young group has certainly embraced their young rookies. Most of them were rookies a few years ago and remember the experience vividly. Even with just a few years under their belt, they likely are still learning the league too.
One way the Magic’s leadership has started to emerge is how Black said a new player seemingly takes him to the side to help answer any questions and bring him along with the team. There is a lot of ownership about this team.
Everyone is indeed going through the process and the journey together. And the Magic hope they have built a culture that fosters their growth even if they do not break through for playing time.
The NBA season is long and there are ups and downs throughout a season. They will get their opportunity whether that is because of injuries opening the pathway or their play in practice helping them break through. Rookies typically do get their opportunity. Whether they stick that first year is always the question.
But everything is going to be earned for them with this group. And they have to be ready for that journey.
"“I would tell the young guys don’t put too much pressure on yourself,” Paolo Banchero said at media day. “Obviously, we have a great team, a great group of guys that they can come in and join. I think both of them bring unique talent in their own way. They are both going to have a lot of great moments this year, but they are also going to have a lot of tough moments and learning moments. It’s your rookie year, as much as you try to prepare for it, you’re never going to be able to prepare for it.”"
This first season is going to be a journey for both Black and Howard. They are likely not going to get the same minutes Magic rookies have previously gotten. This is a different team with different ambitions and goals. And they will need different things from their rookie players.
But most players love the competition. The Magic want players who embrace the opportunity competition brings. And Black and Howard will get thrown right into the middle of that fire, even if the chance in games will take some time.