Orlando Magic’s future tied to their stars stepping up

Franz Wagner has had some big swings this year. But his development with his aggression is key to the Orlando Magic's future. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Franz Wagner has had some big swings this year. But his development with his aggression is key to the Orlando Magic's future. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Monday is still rattling around for the team. A pair of off days before a featured matchup in Mexico City against the Atlanta Hawks gives a team time to think and stew over what went wrong.

The correct answer to this question is that it came down to the Magic’s poor shooting. Orlando got its share of good shots — all 16 of the team’s 3-pointers in the second half came with the closest defender four or more feet away with 10 of them coming with the closest defender six or more feet away — but made only one 3-pointer in the second half.

That is a tough thing to overcome against an elite offense from Dallas. The Magic were more frustrated with how their defense slipped because of the missed shots rather than the missed shots themselves.

Even with all that frustration, the Magic trailed by two points with 5:31 left to play. They had their chance to win.

What happened to end the game saw the Magic completely unravel with frustration. What they saw too was two stars take over the game.

The Orlando Magic are still developing their stars and Monday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks was a clear example of how Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner are learning to take over games.

If there is a lesson in all of this — and why the Magic have not yet caught like wildfire around the league despite a top-five defense in the early part of the season and a 4-3 record to start the year — stars still make the league. And Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner still go into the “budding” stars category.

They have not yet taken completely over or done all the things the Magic will need them to do to win games down the stretch.

For whatever it means to be a star and whatever it means for the Magic to have a goal to play “by-committee” the Magic still need their star players to be the constant drumbeat and calm in the storm. That is what the stars ultimately do.

Dallas never wavered despite trailing by 15 points and its two star players started to control the pace and bend the Orlando defense to their will by the end of the game.

In the end, Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic proceeded to spearhead an 18-5 run to close the game and put the game completely out of reach. Irving and Doncic combined for 16 of the final 18 points in the game and they combined to take all but two of the Mavericks’ final eight field goal attempts came from the two stars.

The Magic got frustrated — a technical foul from coach Jamahl Mosley with 3:30 to play and the lead slipping way to eight points after Dwight Powell blocked a Paolo Banchero drive and shot — and that led to the whole game unraveling. Everyone lost their cool.

Irving and Doncic did not.

For the Magic, Banchero and Wagner took four of the Magic’s final eight shots (the team had two turnovers during this critical run of play). Banchero took three of them and made one of them (happening with 1:40 to play with the Magic down 15 at that point). Moe Wagner and Cole Anthony took as many shots as the Magic’s stars.

It was a rough game for everyone on the Magic in the second half. But it continues to highlight how the Magic are still waiting for their young players to fall into the right pecking order, make the right decisions and take over the game.

It is instructive that the Orlando Magic’s one clutch win this year came with Paolo Banchero carrying the team down the stretch, including the game-wining basket to defeat the Utah Jazz.

This is all a learning process. And how quickly this team learns these lessons is going to determine how quickly they grow.

ESPN’s NBA crew released their rankings of the Top 25 players under 25 (subscription required) earlier this week and (disappointingly?) ranked the Magic’s two young budding stars at No. 16 (Franz Wagner) and No. 14 (Paolo Banchero).

The biggest complaint from fans was who was ranked around them — Scottie Barnes came in at No. 15 despite a frustrating sophomore year even with a solid start this year and Chet Holmgren came in at No. 13 despite missing all of last season. Wagner and Banchero have certainly done more in the league than either of those two players and still project to get a lot better this year.

Every other player ahead of them (aside from perhaps Evan Mobley at No. 13) are players who have established themselves as All-Stars at one time or are major players on contending teams. Winning is still the currency.

In other words, despite some minor quibbles, Wagner and Banchero are probably exactly where they should be in these rankings. Only Victor Wembanyama is younger and ranked higher than Paolo Banchero and only Wembanyama, Banchero, Cade Cunningham and Chet Holmgren are ranked higher and younger than Franz Wagner.

Banchero and Wagner are right on track. But clearly there is still more for them to learn and do. They are still finding their place in the league.

The write-ups included clearly see both Banchero and Wagner on a star path. And so the question is how fast do they get to that point? How do they step up to the plate and do the things that stars do?

That is part of what this season is for figuring out very clearly.

Banchero has stepped up and taken at least some of the shots at the end of the games. And he did a big part of the ball-handling late in Monday’s game. But he still made a lot of mistakes. He struggled with turnovers as he tried to overpass at times. Without good spacing and shooting, he can struggle to get his shots at the basket.

Wagner completely disappeared throughout the game. After taking a career-high 28 field goal attempts in the win over the Los Angeles Lakers, Wagner managed only 13 shots in Monday’s game. He made only five of those shots and 1 of 4 3-pointers.

Orlando has to find a way to keep its stars involved. But clearly the Magic will also go as far as both of these players try to learn how to impose themselves on the game. Ultimately that is why the two are still not knocking on the door of stardom and national recognition.

This will be a learning process. For Wagner, he is trying to assert himself more. For Banchero, he is trying to balance his playmaking and his scoring, knowing when to attack or not. And the team is going to go through a lot of these growing pains.

Next. Orlando Magic have an opportunity to make waves in Group C. dark

How far the Magic go will be determined by how fast this development happens.