3 X-Factors to the Orlando Magic's playoff chase

The Orlando Magic know what they will get from their starters most nights. The difference for the team in their hunt for the Playoffs will be who else steps up on a nightly basis.

Jalen Suggs has shown hints of being the third scorer the Orlando Magic need. He could be an X-factor for the team in their playoff push.
Jalen Suggs has shown hints of being the third scorer the Orlando Magic need. He could be an X-factor for the team in their playoff push. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
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3 X-Factors for the Orlando Magic's Playoff Chase

Wendell Carter

Orlando Magic fans have been thinking about and pondering the team's future, perhaps getting ahead of themselves with a playoff push and (hopefully) series still to come this year. There is a lot to learn about this team in the next three months.

The Magic have always valued continuity. It seems unlikely the team is going to make drastic or dramatic changes in one offseason even if everyone can see the team has to make some major changes. Expect the team to start piecing together these changes offseason by offseason as the team grows.

Or maybe they surprise everyone and do something more dramatic.

Point guard is looking like the focus for this offseason with Markelle Fultz still dealing with injury and availability issues in addition to his shooting regression (and that he is a free agent this summer). But the Magic could easily focus on any number of needs.

Fans are already starting to think about the center position and whether Wendell Carter is the right center for the team. Whether that is a question that needs to be answered this offseason, it is a question that his play has started to raise.

Orlando knows it can get a lot from Carter. But it still feels like the team needs more as he has struggled with injuries throughout the season.

Carter is averaging 11.4 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game this season, all lows since joining the Magic. He dealt with a hand injury and knee tendinitis that has slowed him down all season -- he has appeared in only 30 of 58 games. Since returning from those injuries, Carter is averaging 14.0 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game -- while also shooting a robust 41.5 percent from three.

Still, a lot of people will decry that he should get in the paint and be a bigger force around the basket. There is a point to that. His rebounding has to improve and he has to do a better job playing tougher around the basket against the bigger, stronger players in the league.

Carter though still has a positive impact on defense, even if those numbers are down too. Opponents shoot 3.1 percentage points worse at the rim than expected against Carter, according to Basketball-Index.

Opponents shoot 60.1 percent at the rim against Carter this year according to data from Second Spectrum. That is up from 64.0 percent last year.

All this is to say, Carter makes the most of his positioning and does well to protect the rim. But nobody is afraid to drive on him. He is not a paint deterrent even if he does well to guard his area.

Everyone has to ask how much of Carter's struggles are purely about his injuries. But the Magic know he is still their best current ticket to success. He is versatile defensively, and he can defend the paint and the perimeter well. And his ability to step out and hit threes is valuable for a team with few shooters and ball-handlers who like to get downhill.

Like with so many of the Magic's young players, what they have to learn is the consistency necessary to compete at a higher level. And Carter being a better anchor defensively will go a long way to establishing the Magic as a much more dangerous team.

All eyes will be on Carter throughout the postseason. How he plays could determine how serious this team is about advancing and scoring an upset.