The Orlando Magic’s guard group was working through a passing and shooting drill to end Saturday’s practice.
One player would run a fake pick and roll with coach Brett Brielmaier while another coach faked being a defender at the free throw line and another mocked the low man. Two other teammates would line up for three-point shots along the wing and in the corner. The low-man coach would then pick which shooter to rotate to and the ball-handling guard would have to make the correct read for the open shot.
It is a drill as much about teamwork as it is about seeing the play and understanding the right pass to make.
After one of their rotations, Markelle Fultz came around the screen and made the read to Jalen Suggs in the corner. Suggs missed the three but barely as the group was trying to work together to get eight as a group before flipping to the other side of the court.
Suggs was disappointed in himself for the miss. But seemingly just as disappointed he did not make good on the pass. The two embraced during a break in the camp.
If there is an image that defines much of the team’s work in training camp, it is this one. The two players competed hard for and against each other and drills and then embraced afterward.
The crowded backcourt for the Orlando Magic are not concerned with playing time yet. They are just eager to compete against each other, improve and support their teammates.
Everyone is working hard to make each other better as they look to beat each other when they compete directly against another and then they are supporting each other afterward.
"“That’s what it’s all about,” Markelle Fultz said after practice Saturday. “This league is about competing and making the best out of it. I think we all have each other’s back and I think we all want to see each other succeed. I think that is one of the unique things about us. We have a lot of guys who can do multiple things and do the same things. I know that we’re competing when we’re out there, but I also think we support each other.”"
No doubt one of the big questions facing the Magic this season centers on their guards.
It is not merely about the uncertainty both over what kind of guards the Magic need for their future or even the uncertainty about both Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony’s future with the team with their impending free agency.
There were a lot of questions after the Magic drafted Anthony Black with the sixth overall pick, seemingly overloading their guard room with young players who seemingly need time. There are plenty of reasons to believe in each one of those players — whether it is Fultz, Anthony, Suggs or Black.
And that does not even get to Gary Harris, the potential likely starter at shooting guard for opening night. Or even Kevon Harris, a high-level two-way player who played key minutes for the Magic last year. Or even talking about any potential big lineups the Magic could use where Jett Howard or Franz Wagner play at the 2.
It is indeed a full guard room for Orlando. Part of this training camp is spent trying to sort through it. Competition is indeed the keyword in several ways with this group.
"“I think how they are pushing each other, that is the one thing I am so happy to see,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Saturday. “We said it before camp even started, it is going to be a competitive camp. It’s going to be a competitive year. Guys are going to be fighting for spots, fighting for position, fighting for time. But I think that’s a great thing because they are all pushing each other in a great direction. And they are all supporting each other in that same breath.”"
There is no clue who is winning any of the internal competitions. The main focus for the Magic out of this training camp has centered on making each other better. The fact that the Magic can mix and match most of these guards and play them together helps.
The fact the team has depth and can lean on this competition to make each other better is one of the hallmarks of camp. It is the kind of culture the team is trying to foster. There is competition for playing time and roles but that part will sort itself out further as the preseason continues.
Everyone can see the talent everyone else has. They all want to see each other succeed. But they are certainly not afraid to get after each other. No matter who is in, the team should feel comfortable.
"“I think we’re all very very talented,” Anthony said after practice Saturday. “I think we’re all different players, but we all have a very similar goal which is to help this team which is to help this team win and get better. I don’t think having too much talent is a bad thing. In practice, it has allowed us to get better at a more rapid pace. It’s just made the practices super competitve when we get to go up against each other every day.”"
For a lot of outside observers, it does feel like there has to be someone who is an odd man out. That may ultimately be the conclusion as the season advances or as contracts evolve.
Everyone has to find their niche.
For instance, Mosley said Anthony has embraced whatever he has been asked to do, whether that is picking players up full court, guarding multiple positions or asking the right question on offense.
His shooting and scoring ability certainly gives him an edge and makes him an important player. It is that versatility too that should help the Magic mix and match and find the right place for him on the court.
There is certainly a sense of urgency for the team to make good on the promise they showed last year and a determination to prove they belong in the league. That has also helped foster a culture where everyone is working to make each other better.
One player improving certainly can help make the team as a whole improve. That is the ultimate focus for this team and this group.
They are certainly not focused on the future or what might happen beyond this season. They are only focused on this season and what they can bring to the table.
It is the closeness of the team that helps them get the most out of each other. Just like how the team aims to hold each other accountable, it is this personal relationship that allows everyone to compete and push each other.
That is why there were probably no hard feelings when David Steele said on the Pod Squad this week that Jalen Suggs defended Anthony Black so well early in camp that he could not bring the ball up. That is the energy the team is seeking as they learn to play and help each other.
The competition is the biggest theme of this training camp so far. It extends everywhere.
"“We’re all pushing each other,” Fultz said after practice Saturday. “I think the biggest thing is just competing against each other which is a thing you don’t see a lot. You have guys who are similar and like each other who don’t normally compete because they are buddies. But we all get after it.”"
There are still moments for fun. Fultz said it is important for the team to find joy and have fun even though the team is extremely locked in. Everyone has noted the team’s maturity and focus this training camp. But that has not dulled the team’s personality.
There are still plenty of things for Mosley to sort out, particularly with the guards. There is probably not a full rotation developed yet and what the team trots out in Tuesday’s preseason opener is not going to be indicative of the team’s final rotation.
That competition will continue over the next few weeks. And these players will continue to push each other.