Cole Anthony said he has missed playing with Franz Wagner.
The nature of the preseason and the Orlando Magic’s approach to lineups in the preseason have prevented those two from playing with each other in preseason games at least.
That is OK. Orlando can platoon and still find ways to grow and improve in these preseason games. And Anthony has a new friend.
He wanted to make sure we all know he loves Joe Ingles. He repeated it three times.
The bench group is already getting very comfortable playing together.
There are plenty of new lineups and player combinations the Magic will be trying in the next few weeks as the regular season begins. But the point of the whole thing is that the Magic have options. Lots of options.
The Orlando Magic believe they have a lot of depth. And they believe it will be a major strength for the team as they look ahead to the start of the season.
That may be the Magic’s biggest strength. Their bench groups have performed well in the preseason, showing their versatility defensively, their size and their shooting ability. Mosley has had the ability to mix and match and test out a few different groups in a hypothetical 10-man rotation.
And everyone has to like their options.
"“I think we just have a lot of guys on this team who are versatile and can play multiple positions,” Cole Anthony said after practice Thursday. “I think we have a bunch of dudes who are ready to play, who are high IQ players and are ready to play hard. I think we are all raring to kind of get out there and get to the regular season. We obviously have one more game before that.”"
That versatility is certainly a big feature for the Magic. They like they can play Jonathan Isaac anywhere on the wing or Anthony Black at either guard position or Joe Ingles at either forward position. They like that Moe Wagner can step out beyond the 3-point line — something Goga Bitadze has already shown he can do some this preseason.
Despite Cole Anthony joking he probably cannot play any other position besides point guard has played alongside Jalen Suggs and Markelle Fultz in his career and works well as an off-ball guard because of his shooting ability.
This is a feature and not a bug of the way the Magic do things and one of the strengths the Magic see in their rotation and bench players.
"“We’ve had guys in different lineups and different rotations,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Thursday. “It keeps breeding that competitive nature with each guy not knowing where they are going to be in certain situations and playing with different teammates. We’re going to have a ton of different lineups throughout the year. I want our guys to know it’s how we play not necessarily who you play with.”"
Magic fans have not seen these lineups yet. Orlando has leaned on platoons and largely kept their starters together and their bench players together. Any experimentation with lineups has happened behind closed doors in practice.
It is here that it is important to remember that preseason games, for as public as they are, are an extension of training camp and taken as part of the whole for the team. Practice is just as important — if not more important — than these exhibition games.
But more than any time in recent memory, the Magic have a lot of depth they can lean on. They have seen their bench group play effectively throughout the preseason. If anything fans are frustrated that the team is so deep that some key players — especially the team’s two rookies — might be left out of the rotation when the season begins.
There will be a lot of unknowns as far as the combinations and lineups the Orlando Magic use in Wednesday’s opener against the Houston Rockets.
For the Magic, they really want their lineups to be about the players playing the same way together regardless of who is out there. That is a hallmark of the way the Magic are trying to play.
"“The feel has been great,” Isaac said after practice Thursday. “I know we can be a highly skilled defensive unit. Also, Cole [Anthony], Joe [Ingles], Gary [Harris], we have shooters on the floor. We have size with me and Moe Wag[ner]. I think it will be a great unit to disrupt and come into the game and hold the line and progress the lead.”"
Orlando’s bench was surprisingly strong last year. The Magic averaged 36.8 points off the bench per game, the 11th most in the league. Orlando’s bench players had a net rating of -0.5 points per 100 possessions according to NBA.com (solid considering the starters ended the season -1.9).
After Dec. 7, the Magic scored 38.8 points off the bench per game (seventh in the league) with a +0.9 net rating according to NBA.com.
Even by those small metrics, it is clear how important the bench and the Magic’s depth will be this season.
"“I think it’s going to be really important,” Anthony said after practice Thursday. “We have a lot of able bodies who are ready whenever their name is called. That’s me included. As I said, we’re ready to get to that regular season and we’re ready to hoop and play some meaningful basketball.”"
And that will be what is ultimately important: Depth will help the Magic sustain a high level of play and withstand injuries as they arise. The Magic are healthy now, but no team makes it through an entire season without injuries.
Everyone on the roster will get an opportunity to play. They will all be called upon at some point. The Magic are certainly hoping that they will be ready to withstand those injuries and those struggles.
Certainly in a way the team did not last year.