Orlando Magic's bench gaining comfort, dominating again

The Orlando Magic have settled on a strong starting lineup. Now the bench is picking up its pace to give the Magic a lethal lineup as the playoffs approach.

Markelle Fultz has started to find his place in the Orlando Magic's bench group once again as the Magic assert themselves with their reserves.
Markelle Fultz has started to find his place in the Orlando Magic's bench group once again as the Magic assert themselves with their reserves. / Rich Storry/GettyImages

The Orlando Magic have not had a ton of lineup stability this year. Injuries have again short-circuited part of the roster at various points this season.

Their original starting lineup for the season got knocked off-kilter just four games into the season when Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter both left the lineup. Just as they got some stability and players back, injuries and illnesses forced the team to stay afloat through December and January.

But the team had the opposite effect of last year -- a strong start allowed them to weather the storm of the injuries to come. It gave them the confidence to keep climbing and building.

What has been amazing then for the team is that they have still fought their way into the running for the 3-seed in the Eastern Conference despite not having lineup stability. The team has found its footing.

Of late, the Magic have had health. Until Gary Harris left Saturday's game, the Magic have had the same starting lineup and met with tons of success. Orlando's starting group seems to have settled in.

The bench group? That needed some more time.

But even now that is starting to come around. Orlando's bench group is starting to dominate its minutes again.

The team is getting more comfortable and even Fultz is finding his groove with the bench unit. And the bench is starting to dominate games once again.

"They're continuing to develop a chemistry, knowing how they need to play off of each other, when and where," coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Tuesday. "Depending on the game, I think they are starting to do a great job of reading what the mismatch is or what they can seek both offensively and defensively, covering for each other and communicating with each other."

For the season, the Magic average 41.8 points per game off the bench, the fourth-most in the league. They are capable of getting big games from Cole Anthony and Moe Wagner on any given night. Saturday it was Jonathan Isaac who stepped up with a career-high-tying 25 points.

This is on top of the defense Isaac brings to help anchor that group and keep them competitive when players struggle offensively.

That is the central theme of that second unit.

Since the All-Star Break, the Magic have averaged 42.9 points per game off the bench (third in the league) and averaged 44.8 points per game off the bench in the last six games when the team took over with its five-game win streak.

The bench group of Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony, Joe Ingles, Jonathan Isaac and Moe Wagner has a net rating of +9.6 points per 100 possessions with a 109.6/100.0 split in 50 minutes. But in the last six games, that same group has a +39.3 points per 100 possessions in 28 minutes together.

That speaks to the power this bench can have.

"I think we are making a lot of great progress," Fultz said after practice Tuesday. "The last few games, we have made a big spark with a lot of different guys. Especially our group being able to assist our team any way we're able to as the game and as the flow is going."

Fultz has had to make the biggest adjustment going from a sure starter to the bench of late. He is already averaging a near-career-low 7.6 points per game and has struggled with his shot at 47.2 percent from the floor and 7.5 field goal attempts per game.

Fultz needed some work to adjust to a bench role and find his groove playing with a new group of players. And even though the Magic have used their depth all year and have had one of the top-scoring benches in the league, the Magic's bench group has had its struggles. But that has shifted too.

Since moving to the bench full-time after the All-Star Break, Fultz is averaging 6.3 points per game and is shooting 43.0 percent on 6.6 field goal attempts per game in 17.2 minutes per game. Fultz has had to take on a different role.

While teams are still willing to leave him open on the perimeter and often stick their center on him to allow the center to roam the paint, the Magic have still found success with Fultz in the lineup.

The Magic have a +3.4 net rating with Fultz on the floor this season with a stellar 106.6 defensive rating -- no doubt boosted by playing with Isaac often.

Since the All-Star Break, the Magic have a +8.3 net rating with Fultz on the floor, including a 102.1 defensive rating. Fultz has still helped the team out defensively (again it helps to play with Isaac a ton).

Whatever perception there is about Fultz's drain on the team, that does not play out statistically at least. And the Magic's bench has continued to dominate their minutes.

"I think we've been doing a great job bringing great energy, defending at a high level and being able to maintain where the team was when they put us in or get us back the lead or whatever we needed to do," Fultz said after practice Tuesday. "We are all finding our identity and we are all getting our chemistry ready as we continue to move forward."

The Magic have found their rhythm with their lineups. Unfortunately injuries have disrupted things again -- with Gary Harris (plantar fascia strain) and Caleb Houstan (sprained ankle) QUESTIONABLE for Wednesday's game against the Golden State Warriors. Orlando has tried hard to maintain its bench rotations in those instances.

Jamahl Mosley has ingrained defense into Orlando Magic's culture. dark. Next. Mosley defense ingrained 03.26.24

That has proven to be something successful because the Magic's bench typically wins their minutes. And that has put them in a position to climb the standings.