Orlando Magic accomplishing their goals at the All-Star Break, hungry for more

The Orlando Magic hit the All-Star Break with a chance to take a breath before a wild sprint to the postseason. They have accomplished a lot of their goals but remain hungry for more.

Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic have accomplished a lot already this season. They are eager to do a whole lot more.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic have accomplished a lot already this season. They are eager to do a whole lot more. / Rich Storry/GettyImages
facebooktwitterreddit

Perspective is an important thing. Just as hunger and ambition are important.

Everything has to go hand in hand. A team has to keep its initial goals in perspective just as they aim for more as the season progresses.

The Orlando Magic have reached the All-Star Break far better than anyone imagined. But they are also a team that is eager to do more. They see an opportunity ahead of them in the final 27 games to finish strong.

They have reached a lot of their goals. But the ambition to do more remains. As they said throughout the nine-game win streak in November that built their place in the Eastern Conference, it is time to get greedy.

This is a time to reflect on how far they have come, what they do well and where they can get better as the season reaches its climax. This is a team to watch the rest of the way.

"We've been talking about it since the end of last year, training camp and the start of this year how we want to improve," Paolo Banchero said after Wednesday's win over the New York Knicks. "I think that is one of a few examples of how we have improved. Considering where we were last year. We want to come out of the break and make one final push, too. I don't think we're satisfied. But definitely something we can be proud of."

The Magic have 30 wins already after winning just 34 last year. They are a half-game behind the Indiana Pacers for sixth in the Eastern Conference and avoiding the Play-In entirely. They are tied with the Miami Heat for seventh.

Barring a complete collapse, the Orlando Magic will almost certainly be in the 7/8 Play-In game, leading the Chicago Bulls by four games for eighth. They are 8.5 games up on the Brooklyn Nets for 10th and even reaching the low bar of the postseason.

At the start of the season, the Magic figured to be a team fighting to stay around .500. They have surpassed that and have never been below .500 at any point this season. The team has shown tremendous resilience and maturity through injury to find a way to keep winning.

Wednesday's win over the New York Knicks was a great example. After a disappointing loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on a national stage, the Orlando Magic responded with a dominant showing even after a poor first quarter.

That has been who the team has been throughout the season. This team has never really wavered through the ups and downs this season despite their youth and inexperience.

"That says it all, just their ability to learn and continue to grow as a group," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday's game. "Recognizing what it takes to win in this league and not being satisfied. Knowing what happened last night, but not hanging our heads too low and being able to bounce back tonight, which is something I'm very proud of this group for doing."

They have slowly carved their identity.

The Magic enter the All-Star Break ranked fifth in the league in defensive rating at 112.0 points per 100 possessions. That was building on how they finished last season when they had one of the top defenses in the league.

Asking a young team to defend at that high level is a sure ticket for them to pick up more wins. To do that with all the team's injuries throughout December and especially January is even more impressive.

Orlando certainly knows it has things it needs to improve upon -- especially with its offense (24th at 113.0 points per 100 possessions, the worst offense among teams in the playoff picture) and shooting (28th in 3-point field goal percentage). But the team knows it is a work in progress and wants to give young players a chance to grow and explore even while the team tries to win.

Despite those flaws, the Magic still boast a positive net rating. It speaks to the progress the team has made. They are competitive in every game they play at this point.

The team has been built on its continuity and familiarity. That has played well as the team has gotten great play from its starting groups but has also dominated with its second unit.

The Magic's typical starting unit of Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero and Wendell Carter has a +6.6 net rating (112.4 offensive rating/105.8 defensive rating). But the team has tons of balance. Orlando is fourth in the league in bench points per game this year. They have gotten contributions throughout the roster.

Look no further again than Wednesday's game when the Magic took advantage of Jalen Brunson being on the bench to start the second quarter for a 17-3 run to take control of the game. The Magic had the poise from that point never to let go and bottled up Brunson after he had 20 points in the first quarter.

This has been a regular occurrence this season. The Magic's bench and depth has been a strength.

"Our second lineup has done that all year," Wagner said after Wednesday's game. "I think it starts defensively with the rest of the team. I think they got stops, got out and ran, got some easy ones, and just got a rhythm. Yeah, they've been huge all year."

There is not just that too. Individuals have hit their goals too.

Jalen Suggs has grown into a 38.4 percent shooter from three after struggling his first two years. Wagner is averaging more than 20 points per game, giving the Magic a pair of 20-point scorers for the first time since 1996.

And there is no one that exemplifies that growth quite like Banchero's growth.

He elevated himself into an All-Star, averaging 23.0 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 5.3 assists per game. He is hitting 36.5 percent of his 3-pointers after shooting worse than 30 percent last year. He has become automatic in the mid-range and improved by leaps and bounds.

His trip to Indianapolis this weekend reflects his and the team's growth. That was what it meant to be honored before Wednesday's game with his All-Star jersey.

"It was special just to be able to share it with the coaches, teammates and the fans and the city in general," Banchero said after Wednesday's game. "I think it's an exciting time for everyone in general. We're on the incline right now on our way up. I think that's just a testament to that. It's just a blessing."

It is indeed an exciting time for the franchise and the team. Everyone can see the bright future that is ahead. Everyone is eager to see the team continue to grow.

Now that they are healthy, the team is picking up steam again. They have won eight of their last 13 games to climb back into the race for sixth. They seem to be picking up steam again.

Next. Franz Wagner key 02.15.24. Franz Wagner's shooting key to unlocking Magic's offense. dark

The All-Star Break is a pause to reflect on how far they have come. The Magic have accomplished a lot at this point of the season. There is still so much more to do.