Orlando Magic’s goals have changed, just look at how they use their rookies

Even paying in end-of-bench lineups, Jett Howard has shown signs of why the Orlando Magic leaned into his shooting skill. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Even paying in end-of-bench lineups, Jett Howard has shown signs of why the Orlando Magic leaned into his shooting skill. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

It is an NBA season, and so everyone is upset about something coach Jamahl Mosley is doing. Everyone wants to see some rotation change or lineup shift. They want to do everything they can get to make sure rookies get their time.

Rookies are always a thorny subject and difficult to manage. Especially when a team is trying to win.

Still, the most popular suggestion for the rotation coming from fans is finding any way to get rookie Jett Howard into the lineup. Everyone wants to see the rookies play. They are the new toys in the chest and the team drafted them for a reason.

That is not quite how things are supposed to work. Not for teams competing for playoff spots.

For a long time, this team was about finding ways to get young players experience on NBA floors, allowing them to make and grow from mistakes and living with the results.

If you are looking for a reason why this now 8-5 Magic team feels so different, look no further than how the Magic have used their rookie players. Both were out of the rotation to start the season and Anthony Black did not even start sniffing playing time, let alone starting, until the injury to Markelle Fultz pressed him into action.

The Orlando Magic’s goals and outlook has changed. Just look at how their rookies are fighting for playing time and how they are going to have to develop behind the scenes.

Howard has not yet played any minutes during meaningful action on the court. Jamahl Mosley has gone to Caleb Houstan over him when the team’s depth has been stressed.

Now, Howard will get some extra work and a few games likely with the Osceola Magic to try to stay sharp and get some playing time with the Magic home for their next few weeks. The team announced Monday it was sending Howard to the G-League for the time being:

This is not necessarily a reflection of Howard or his potential — although he certainly has not earned his playing time quite yet. It is more of a reflection of where this Magic team is at.

If Orlando sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference and eyeing advancing in the In-Season Tournament entering Thanksgiving week does not signal it, this team’s goals and potential are very different. This is not a team relying on its rookies to lift the team up. The Magic are trying to win and their rookies are trying to find their place on the team.

Howard has not quite found his place yet — with most of the reason behind that happening behind the scenes in practices.

He has played in only 23 minutes across five games making just one of his 10 shots, and that was a putback late in the loss to the LA Clippers. He has yet to make a 3-pointer.

Granted his minutes have been limited. Sending him to the G-League during this week-and-a-half long homestand will get him an opportunity not only to practice with the Osceola Magic (they practice at the Amway Center’s practice court) but play in games too.

It is unclear if he will play this week with Osceola playing on the road at Rio Grande on Wednesday and Friday along with Austin and Oklahoma City next week.

The plan might be to get him playing time during this stretch and have Howard back with the team when they hit the road. Or maybe the Magic just want him practicing with Osceola the next few days while the Magic play their busy Thanksgiving week schedule and he rejoins the team for Tuesday or Wednesday’s game.

The point is to keep getting Howard on the floor when they can.

That is certainly part of the thought process with Black too.

His counting stats have not been stellar, especially since he has cooled off as a shooter of late. He is averaging 5.6 points per game and shooting 51.1 percent form the floor and 29.4 percent from deep. Since joining the starting lineup, Black is averaging 5.6 points per game with 40.0/26.7/70.0 shooting splits with few other counting stats.

The Magic certainly value Black more for his defense — and that is why he is playing and Howard is not. He plays physically and does not back down from anybody and the Magic have put him on a lot of elite offensive players without thinking too hard about it.

Still, Black is not getting a ton of clutch minutes unless it is a defensive possession. The Magic are still being careful to keep the rookie’s role simple and fairly small.

Orlando is still a developmental outlet first. And the team is letting players like Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs play through some mistakes. But those players have also established what they are good at in the league and do a lot of good to overshadow those mistakes.

Even though rookies need their time, the Magic do not necessarily have the time to give them. There are plenty of other players to develop and the team is ostensibly trying to win. Or foster the development of key players while still pushing the team forward.

It has been a tricky balance to be clear and one the Magic will have to continue to balance throughout the year. The rookies will need their time. But the reality might be that they are going to have to do a lot of learning on the sidelines with this deep team and do most of their work behind the scenes.

Clearly the Magic have changed. And the fact that neither Black nor Howard are assured minutes is a big part of why things have changed.

Orlando still want to develop its young players and give some room for mistakes. But the reason why Black plays is because of his defensive contributions. Howard is still trying to prove what skill can get him on the floor and build trust with the coaching staff.

That is what is supposed to happen with rookies. They are supposed to find their niche, carve out a role and slowly get better. They do not always get thrown into the fire to sink or swim.

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That is what Orlando had to do the last two seasons. But things have indeed changed for this group. And the Magic having their rookies find their way behind the scenes is something quite different for this team.