Orlando Magic’s young players balance individual growth for team growth

Wendell Carter is among the players expected to take a major step forward this year. But his improvements all help the team. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Carter is among the players expected to take a major step forward this year. But his improvements all help the team. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic did not change much from their roster last year.

That is one of the big storylines during training camp. The team is focused on building off the growth they showed late last season. And the team is clearly investing in what they saw and hoping to repeat and grow from it.

Of course, there is no standing still in the ever-changing world of the NBA. If you are not getting ahead, you are falling behind. And so an offseason with few changes to the roster seemed to make this season more about internal improvement.

Why wouldn’t it be? The Magic were the fourth-youngest team in the league last year. They are bursting with the energy of a team that knows its brightest days are ahead of them.

There are so many players who are expected to improve. Whether it is Paolo Banchero building off his historic rookie season or Franz Wagner continuing to come into his own after his run at the World Cup or a healthy Wendell Carter or Markelle Fultz with a fully healthy offseason to build on or Jalen Suggs having a healthy offseason.

There are plenty of young players the team can expect to take important next steps.

The Orlando Magic are expected to take a major step forward individually this season. But how they use those individual improvements to improve the team will be the challenge to meld.

That is the contradiction though.

Orlando fans know as well as anyone what having too many young players who are trying to prove themselves can do to a team. They are often all fighting for the ball and attention and their individual forays and desire to showcase what they have worked on and improved upon to get their next contract.

So how do you manage a team that is clearly still growing individually and make everything fit as a team? How does a team manage to get better both individually and as a group?

"“It’s definitely a balance with it,” Wendell Carter said after practice Friday. “You go into the offseason, you always want to make sure you get better and improve on your skills. But at the same time, you want to make sure those skills are for the team. There’s a time and place for everything. That’s what makes the NBA so exciting in my opinion. You find what you’re good at and you get really good at it. You just continue to do it over and over again.”"

Everyone has their tasks they are given during the offseason. Coach Jamahl Mosley said the team does give players a list of things they want them to work on. But Mosley said it is also about meeting players where they are. They want to allow players to work on parts of their game.

Where players might improve is “baked into” how the Magic ultimately want to play. There is definitely some flexibility.

Still, the team dynamics are part of the equation. How do all these pieces of the puzzle fit together? What happens when one piece changes some?

In this respect, the team’s continuity and selflessness plays a role. Everyone already has a relationship and has a sense of how the others like to play. They already know how the puzzle should look when it fits together or what could make that puzzle fit together.

That could come in encouraging Gary Harris to take more shots, as Wendell Carter gave as a for-instance during his media availability Friday. It could come from Paolo Banchero encouraging Franz Wagner to embrace his own stardom and to be the best player on the court as he was during the FIBA World Cup.

Everyone has something they can get better at.

For Carter, he said he hopes to improve his shooting this year after shooting a career-best 35.6 percent from beyond the arc last year on a career-high 3.9 attempts per game. This is a way that a player knows how to improve based on his role from last year.

Carter also said he hopes to improve his playmaking — perhaps even to the point of being able to bring the ball up the court when needed.

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That has been at least some emphasis for the team overall. The Magic are hoping to improve their marks in pick and rolls — where they were 17th in the league with the ball-handler (0.91 points per possession) despite being ninth in possessions per game and 22nd with the roll-man (1.09 points per possession) according to NBA.com’s tracking stats — and handoffs — where they were 29th in the league with 0.84 points per possession with the sixth-most possessions per game.

These are both areas where Carter plays a key role. He knows how important he is to holding this team together — on and off the court.

Banchero too got a chance to work on things that would not otherwise be clear to work on. His experience with Team USA forced him to improve his defense and put his focus on parts of his game that were not of the highest priority coming off his season.

"“The things I learned there were all team-centered, team-oriented skills,” Banchero said after practice Friday. “Nothing that would really go outside what we’re doing here. The stuff I did there, I feel like I can bring over to the Magic and do it pretty seamlessly. I don’t think that’s something I need to monitor. Tam defense, team rebounding, those things are universal for basketball. I think I was able to bring those over no problems.”"

Of course, coming off of that, Banchero said Mosley has put a lot of emphasis on Banchero improving his defense throughout training camp. Now that Banchero has shown he can play defense at a higher level, that is something the team now expects from him.

This is the kind of growth and development the team is trying to get out of everyone. The maturity the team has shown is knowing that individual growth and team development go hand in hand.

Of course, everyone has to see how it all actually comes together when the preseason begins Tuesday. Nobody really knows where the team is at until they get that challenge.

For now, the team is trying to make the most of camp.

"“That they’ve grown,” Mosley said of team’s progress through training camp. “Their ability to embrace the things that we’ve asked them to do. Their maturity level has gone up. You talk about their age being young, but their experience together has grown a ton.”"

This is a different group than previous young groups. There is clarity of purpose and confidence they can achieve some goals. The culture Mosley has helped build where players are improving and working for each other is paying dividends with so many players starting to make good on their potential.

The goal is to find consistency. That is as much as anything what the Magic are after. And that is the growth the team really needs to make — mastering the one thing they are really good at, as Carter put it, and doing that over and over again.

Next. Orlando Magic must gain in short-term to understand long-term needs. dark

Orlando has likely seen its inidividual players get better. The team is now seeing how it all comes together. Fortunatley much of that individual growth will make the team better too.