Markelle Fultz may be in jeopardy of losing his starting spot because of the Magic’s promising young guards, Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony
After selecting Jalen Suggs 5th overall, the Orlando Magic appear to have a logjam at the guard positions. Their guard depth now includes Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony, RJ Hampton, Gary Harris, and Michael Carter-Williams. However, with a couple of moves, this team could platoon into something special.
Battle of the Backcourt: Cole Anthony or Markelle Fultz
Jalen Suggs’ minutes are all but guaranteed because of his high potential. Who his starting running mate will be is still uncertain, though. Markelle Fultz is expected to open the season on the sideline as he is returning from yet another big injury. Therefore, Cole Anthony will likely slide onto the starting lineup because of his experience and comfortability with the Magic and NBA.
Once Fultz returns though, I predict Anthony will fill the role of a Louis Williams type. His instant offense and three-point shooting make him an ideal off-the-bench energizer. Despite this, giving Anthony starting minutes could prove to be ineffective as he still needs to improve his shooting splits. In particular, Anthony needs to work on finding better, less difficult shot attempts. If he can attack the basket more, thereby attempting more free throws, as well as become more of a consistent deep threat, Fultz’s starting job could be in question.
To earn back his starting job, Markelle Fultz will need to continue upon his brief time last season. Fultz utilizes his long wingspan, his quick change of pace, and his high IQ to attack downhill and get easy layups. If not, he is likely drawing a foul and going to the line. Although it is a small sample size, Markelle Fultz showed incredible improvement from the charity stripe, making 17 of 19 in his 8 games.
Additionally, Fultz’s defensive identity is as strong as anyone on the team. Yet again, his length gives him the ability to steal, block, and defensive rebound, all of which can get the Magic out running in transition. This should be a big part of Orlando’s offensive identity since they are a smaller lineup without an abundance of knockdown shooters. Pairing up Suggs and Fultz would have the Magic on the move. Whereas pushing Fultz onto the bench with RJ Hampton could make their offense static.
What’s Next for the Orlando Magic?
The immediate action Orlando should take is to find a trade partner for Gary Harris. Although Harris brings some defensive integrity, he’s struggled to remain on the court recently. His production and value have been diminishing since 2018. Since then, Harris has only played an average of 50 games a year, with him only appearing in 39 last year. He is averaging 29.6 minutes per game and only putting up 11.2 ppg, 2.1 apg, while only splitting 41.7% from the field and 33.7% from deep.
While these are not the most atrocious numbers ever, they are not much, if at all, better than the Magic’s younger, cheaper options. Moving his minutes onto someone like RJ Hampton would be much more beneficial in the long term. The Magic are clearly entering a rebuild, and the best, fastest way to do so is giving your young talent the opportunity to flourish. Having them sit behind an expensive, aging veteran will not do much for their development.
Ultimately, Harris will likely begin the season with decent playing, but only to increase his trade stock. If his injury woes continue, as well as minimal production, the Magic may have a hard time finding a team interested. Therefore, I would fully expect an eventual buyout because of their need to develop their young talent behind him.
The Orlando Magic’s Roster Outlook
Overall, this is an extremely young and deep frontcourt with boatloads of potential. Although there is a lot of promise with this roster, there is a lot of uncertainty too. Specifically, the Magic’s unproven three-point across all positions could become an issue. Last season, the Orlando Magic has the fourth-worst 3-point shooting (34.3%) in the NBA. This is not something the Magic drastically improved upon in the offseason either. Their current roster has a very similar 34.2% career 3pt percentage.
If you include Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner’s college stats, their percentage drops even more (34%). This will become a problem in the new era of NBA basketball. However, this is still an extremely young team. Their average age is just 23.8 years and they only roster two players over the age of thirty (Terrence Ross & Robin Lopez). Therefore, the amount of growth this team still has to come is immense.
Specifically, with some improved deep shooting, this squad has the potential to be great. For being so young, they already contain several willing defenders. This next season may end up being a buffer year, though. Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz will need to build their bodies back into consistent game speed. Whereas their young players will need to grow their games onto the NBA level. If both of these can come to fruition, together with some future marquee free agent signings, the Orlando Magic can rapidly become a top-tier Eastern Conference team.
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