The Orlando Magic’s 2022 can be defined by two words: Patient progress.
The progress wasn’t always linear, with no shortage of bumps in the road in large part because of injuries and player availability. But the Magic took significant steps forward last year.
They won 33.7% of their 83 games in 2022 (28-54) after winning 21.5% of their 96 contests in 2021 (17-79). Look even closer and you’ll see a general increase in monthly winning percentage ending with an 8-7 December.
It was the Magic’s first time having a winning record for a month since December 2020 (4-1). It also was the first time they won at least 50% of their games in a month (minimum 10 games played) since February 2020 (6-6) and won more than 50% of games in a month (minimum 10 games) since March 2019 (9-5).
The Magic are 13-24 entering Wednesday’s home game vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder. They were 7-29 when the calendar turned from 2021 to ‘22 last season, not winning their 13th game until Feb. 8.
There’s been individual progress within that bump in winning.
Wendell Carter Jr. came into his own and established himself as a high-caliber big man. Franz Wagner, the No. 8 pick in the 2021 draft, shined in his first season and is making significant strides in Year 2. Paolo Banchero, the No. 1 pick in June’s draft who was named the East’s Rookie of the Month for December, has shown early signs of being a perennial All-Star.
Several other young players impressed at certain points throughout 2022.
“Just continuing to build and grow,” coach Jamahl Mosley responded when asked if he had any New Year’s resolution for the team. “That’s the one thing these guys have to continue to understand. We’re still growing. We’re still working on getting better and creating that continuity amongst each other.”
Here are three Magic-related things to monitor in 2023:
Another winning surge?
The Magic had a strong December but ended the month and 2022 poorly, dropping three consecutive games to the Los Angeles Lakers (Dec. 27), Detroit Pistons (Dec. 28) and Washington Wizards (Dec. 30).
With multiple players making their returns in recent weeks — and a couple of more seemingly being on the verge of coming back — the Magic should be equipped to make a run at one of the spots in the postseason play-in tournament.
“We’re ready to make this run and do what we have to do,” Jalen Suggs said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’ve shown that it’s possible already. That standard is set. Now it’s about matching that every day.”
The Magic were 3½ games behind the Washington Wizards for the No. 10 spot in the East’s standings entering Tuesday. The teams in the Nos 7-10 spots compete in a play-in tournament to determine the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds in each conference’s playoff bracket.
The teams at the Nos. 9 and 10 spots in the standings — Atlanta Hawks (17-20) and Wizards — are on pace to win between 36-38 games.
With 45 games remaining, the Magic are close enough to make a push for one of those spots but will need another surge so they don’t fall too far behind. They’ll likely need to go at least 23-22 to close out the season to have a shot at the play-in.
After having the league’s most missed games because of injuries and the health and safety protocols, the Magic have started to turn a corner with player availability.
Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony made their returns from injury in late November, sparking the December run. Carter and Gary Harris made their returns in the Dec. 23 win over the San Antonio Spurs.
The Magic will have to deal with a depleted roster Wednesday because of suspensions stemming from the on-court altercation with the Pistons, but should be more whole for Thursday’s home matchup vs. the Memphis Grizzlies.
Kevon Harris, Admiral Schofield and Franz Wagner will serve their one-game suspensions Wednesday while Moe Wagner serves the second game of his suspension.
Bol Bol won’t be available after being placed in health and safety protocols. Chuma Okeke remains out and isn’t expected to be re-evaluated for at least another two weeks after having mid-December left knee surgery.
Suggs (right ankle soreness) and Jonathan Isaac (left knee injury recovery) fully participated in practices Monday and Tuesday, encouraging signs for their rehabilitation.
They won’t be available Wednesday, but Mosley didn’t rule out either out for Thursday. He said Monday there wasn’t a timetable yet for their returns.
“I’m going to give it some time to see how they respond,” Mosley said.
Suggs has only played 14 games this season while Isaac hasn’t played since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the NBA bubble on Aug. 2, 2020 — more than 28 months ago.
“We’ve got a lot of key players on this team,” Carter said. “I’m excited to be out there with us. Hopefully, we can get them on the court with us going against some other teams soon.”
The nine players who’ll be available Wednesday: Anthony, Banchero, Carter, Fultz, Gary Harris, Terrence Ross, Mo Bamba, Caleb Houstan and R.J. Hampton.
The Magic will have several decisions to make either ahead of the Feb. 9 trade deadline or during the offseason.
The 2023-24 salaries for Bamba ($10.3 million), Bol ($2.2 million) and Gary Harris ($13 million) are non-guaranteed and become fully guaranteed after June 30.
Ross is in the final season of the 4-year, $54 million contract he signed during the 2019 offseason and is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Hampton will become an unrestricted free agent in July after the Magic didn’t exercise his fourth-year option for next season, while Moe Wagner also is set for unrestricted free agency during the offseason.
Fultz will be entering the last season of the 3-year, $50 million contract extension he signed in December 2020. Only $2 million of his $17 million 2023-24 salary is guaranteed. It becomes fully guaranteed July 1.
Anthony and Okeke will become eligible for rookie scale contract extensions in July. They’ll have until the day before the 2023-24 season starts to sign those extensions. If they don’t, they’ll eligible for restricted free agency the following offseason.
The Magic also could have three draft picks this summer — their own first-round pick, the Chicago Bulls’ first-rounder (protected for selections 1-4) and their own second-round pick.
How the trade deadline goes and the 2022-23 season ends will influence the offseason decisions.