The Orlando Magic have a problem.
The problem is Wendell Carter left the game in the final seconds after fracturing his third metacarpal in his left hand. He has officially been ruled OUT for Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers in what is sure to be a prolonged absence.
This is a huge blow to the 3-2 Orlando Magic as they prepare to enter one of the most difficult parts of their schedule — and the In-Season tournament to boot. The last thing this young team needs is to lose key contributors.
The Orlando Magic have are back above .500 after a close road win against the Utah Jazz. Now the team must adjust to Wendell Carter’s absence and maintain their strong defense amidst this major absence.
Carter started off the game flawless hitting corner threes and he scored the Magic’s first five points of the game. He was due for a good game and he ended up with 14 points and six rebounds at halftime.
It was his best game of the season in what has been a difficult offensive start to the year. Carter is averaging 9.4 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game with an icy 43.3 percent effective field goal percentage.
His biggest value has come defensively.
The Magic have a 101.6 offensive rating with Carter on the floor this season (their full season average is 103.6). Opponents are shooting only 13 for 33 against Carter at the rim according to data from Second Spectrum. That ranks sixth in the league among centers who average at least 24 minutes per game so far this season.
Carter may have been rounding into some offensive form. But the play that he got hurt on was a key defensive play where he skied for a rebound to secure a two-point win over the Utah Jazz.
The Magic will be missing a lot for what could be 3-6 weeks. Orlando’s coaching staff must be creative and find ways to limit opponents scoring centers.
Paint defense has been the core of the Magic’s defense. Orlando is holding to that, giving up 46.0 points in the paint per game, eighth in the league entering Friday’s game.
It has to be a next man up mentality for however long Carter might be out.
Moe Wagner is likely to land in the starting lineup. But he does not have the same defensive reputation as Carter. Wagner has come a long way defensively, but there is certainly an adjustment coming for this team with Wagner as the main center and backstop defensively.
Moe Wagner has been excellent offensively as a roll man, particularly working with his brother Franz Wagner. He averaged 9.4 points per game while shooting 66.7 percent from the floor. He has averaged only 3.2 rebounds per game.
Moe Wagner’s issue has always been on defense. Last year, he had the worst field goal percentage at the rim of any center who played at least 24.0 minutes per game and appeared in 41 games at 75.5 percent. This year, opponents are shooting just 4 for 11 (36.4 percent) at the rim against him. That percentage is better than Carter’s for the early part of the season.
On top of that, Wagner has already recorded five blocks — he had 13 total blocks in each of the past two seasons. He has also drawn three charges already this season (he was at 17 last year, second among all centers in the league).
It is a different kind of defense for sure. And Wagner will have to step up his defense and continue this positive trend.
The Magic’s next man up into the rotation to fill in the bench minutes is Goga Bitadze.
Bitadze has not played much so far this year — just 10 total minutes in three appearances this season. Bitadze averaged 5.8 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game in his 17 appearances with the Magic last year. His biggest impact came on defense.
He is a big body whom coach Jamahl Mosley can put on Anthony Davis. He played one minute against Anthony Davis in the Lakers’ 106-103 victory on Monday night. Not that it mattered against Davis, who scored 26 points and 19 rebounds in that game Monday.
The Magic will have a choice to make on how they manage their rotation and who will ultimately get those minutes. Both will certainly see their minutes and their roles increase.
This is not a bad thing.
Teams should would want its depth to have experience. And what better way to get some experience when the person who started over you is no longer available to go?
This will allow guys like Bitadze and Wagner to get valuable minutes they probably would not have gotten if Carter was healthy and playing well. The schedule is not that bad with Davis as the only notable starting center the team will face:
- vs. Lakers (Nov. 4) – Anthony Davis 26 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 3.2 APG
- vs. Mavericks (Nov. 6) – Dereck Lively 8.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG
- vs. Hawks (Nov. 9, Mexico City) – Clint Capela 10.4 PPG, 10.8 RPG
- vs. Bucks (Nov. 11) – Brook Lopez 10.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG
The Magic will have their hands full guarding these centers in the near future but should not double any of them except for maybe Davis. All of theses centers are probably better tha Bitadze and Wagner (although Wagner has been giving the Magic some pretty good minutes off the bench this year).
Hopefully Carter makes a speedy recovery and the Magic do not have too much of a drop off with his absence.
Carter’s impact goes well beyond his averages. The team is really going to miss his presence on the perimeter that creates spacing to drive to the basket.
Only time will tell how the reserves do when they play starter minutes.