Paolo Banchero will turn 21 years old on Sunday, a number that is shocking because of all that he has done in the NBA in one season and nine games and a number that foretells how much more he still has to do.
There are still all these reminders of how young this Magic team is and how much they still have to grow. Their last outing, a one-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday, seemed to remind everyone that this is a young group that still is learning how to win.
Yet, this team is also young enough and confident enough to know they can win regardless of that inexperience. And they have played like it through this early phase of the season.
The group needed a marquee win against a team like the Milwaukee Bucks. They need more than that to get back on track after a pair of frustrating losses. That is what good teams do more than anything else.
Orlando needed to get back to what it does best to win.
The Orlando Magic are winning more and more and controlling what they need to do to win more and more. The Magic have a formula and are executing it more often.
That is perhaps the biggest thing the Magic are still figuring out about themselves. That formula to win and how to do it every night.
The Magic still have lots of work to do, but they are getting there. They are building up their resume and their confidence in what they do. They are starting to do it more often than not.
With a 112-97 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Orlando Magic got a marquee victory — even with the Bucks missing Damian Lillard. They shut down one of the top offenses in the league, stifling and frustrating it. And they stopped a losing streak before it potentailly got out of hand before a weeklong road trip.
The Magic are learning and executing well enough to put their foot down when they have to. Winning and losing is not something they stumble into anymore, it is something in their hands.
And it is something that is increasingly repeatable.
The defense is obviously a big part. That is the backbone of who the Magic are and what they do. Everything starts there. They want to be disruptive, forcing turnovers and getting deflections.
In this way, it does not matter how well a team shoots, only that they work hard to get those points. The Magic are good at slowing the pace down and limiting possessions, making every turnover or miss feel that much bigger.
Saturday against the Bucks, the Magic gave up 97.0 points per 100 possessions. This was despite the Bucks shooting 49.4 percent from the floor. Giannis Antetokounmpo got his with 35 points on 15-for-22 shooting, but the rest of the Bucks shot only 41.8 percent from the floor. This where the pressure Orlando puts on teams matters so much.
The Magic forced 19 turnovers for 20 Bucks points. They added seven deflections for good measure (a low mark for this team).
Their defense goes beyond that. Orlando has done well this year defending the 3-point line.
Milwaukee made only 9 of 29 3-pointers. With the Magic’s own shooting struggles, that is enough to keep the team in the game. But after giving up the second-most 3-pointers in the league last year, Orlando is giving up only 32.8 attempts per game, the seventh-fewest in the league this season. Opponents shoot 34.6 percent against them.
That is in the middle of the league and that might have killed the Magic’s defense last year with all the attempts they gave up. But this year, on fewer attempts, that helps the Magic stay in the game.
The Magic’s defense is where everything starts without a doubt. Orlando aims to win the paint as much as the team’s 3-point defense has improved. The Bucks ended up winning the paint battle in this one 50-40, a rare defeat on the interior.
But they more than made up for it thanks to the Bucks missing 13 free throws — Antetokounmpo was 5 for 12 from the game. The Magic know what those self-inflicted wounds feel like. They can be tough to overcome, killing momentum.
That is an area Orlando still can improve on. But when the Magic do prevent their own mistakes, they can be pretty tough to beat. They can do enough to put pressure on defenses and find gaps to score.
They do this first, of course, by not turning the ball over.
The Magic still had 16 turnovers, but they led to only seven points for the Bucks. Orlando this year is 13th in the league giving up 17.2 points off turnovers per game. The team gives up only 12.8 fast-break points per game (fifth-fewest in the league). The Bucks, a team that can feast on fast breaks, scored 15 in the game.
So how did the Magic make up for losing the paint and losing fast-breaks?
They controlled the glass. Orlando outrebounded Milwaukee 43-36. That included grabbing 15 offensive rebounds to Milwaukee’s five.
This has been the biggest change to the Magic’s offense. They are first in the league scoring 18.2 second-chance points per game and fifth in the league with a 32.8-percent offensive rebound rate. Orlando was 15th in the league last year.
Orlando made only 42.9 percent of its shots, but the team took seven more field goals than Milwaukee. That is a big difference maker for this team.
The Magic are consistently working to make up for their lack of 3-point shooting. Last year they did that by getting to the foul line — the Magic and the Bucks were top two teams at getting to the foul line and did not disappoint with the Magic getting 35 free throws. This remains a big part of Orlando’s offensive attack and key for the team to make the most of its possessions.
Through nine games, Orlando has had some ups and downs already. There have been youthful mistakes and missteps. There are sure to be some more this year.
But there is an unmistakable formula to winning. There are things the Magic have to do and perhaps a wider margin for error. They do not have to do all these things to win. They can make up ground elsewhere.
That might be what was most impressive for the Magic on Saturday night. They did not do all of these things. And yet they still won running away.
They have their formula and checked off a lot of boxes. But they did not check them all. And they still won against a quality opponent.
That is a positive thing for this Magic team. They looked back at their loss against the Hawks and, as Paolo Banchero said, saw they did not play well at all and still had a chance to win. Instead of resting on that fact, they took it to focus on what they needed to do to win the next game. And they delivered.
That is a sign of maturity and a sign of a team that knows what it has to do to win games. That is something Orlando is continuing to build and grow confidence in.
This team is young for sure. But not too young to know what it has to do to win.