The Orlando Magic won only 21 games last season and finished second to last in the Eastern Conference. Believe it or not, though, Orlando took steps in the right direction after a decade of mediocrity (at best).
The Magic finally pushed the little red button on a franchise rebuild last year, trading away franchise stalwarts Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic in addition to starting guard Evan Fournier. Part of Orlando’s return came in the form of additional draft picks, and the Magic also acquired the ability to free up cap space.
And, in a rare piece of luck, the first-round pick the Magic received from the Chicago Bulls in the Vucevic deal ended up landing at No. 8 in the lottery. Orlando’s own selection at No. 5, coupled with the Bulls’ pick, gave the Magic two selections in the top eight. And they didn’t waste them.
The Orlando Magic finally shifted strategies for the 2021 NBA Draft
Orlando has taken big swings the last few drafts. According to Basketball-Reference, the franchise’s most recent first-round picks were Cole Anthony in 2020, Chuma Okeke in 2019, Mo Bamba in 2018, and Jonathan Isaac in 2017.
Anthony is the most skilled of the bunch, but all those players have one major attribute in common: athleticism. The Magic front office has subscribed to the idea that drafting athletes first and developing their skills second is the best way to build a team.
Well, last season Orlando finished in the bottom five in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency, according to NBA.com, so perhaps that plan isn’t working. Luckily, things changed in the 2021 draft.
The Magic’s selections of Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner bring much-needed skill to the franchise
Orlando has a — lets’ be nice and call it unlucky — draft history in the lottery.
With its own selection at No. 5, Orlando picked Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs. With the pick it received from Chicago, the Magic took Michigan forward Franz Wagner.
Suggs is a fantastic athlete, but he brings plenty more to the table. He’s an intelligent playmaker and has spades of intangibles Orlando’s most recent selections lack. Suggs led the Bulldogs to an appearance in the NCAA Championship Game as a 19-year-old freshman. He also showed his clutch gene, drilling a game-winner against UCLA in the Final Four to bring the Zags to the title game.
Wagner rose into the draft’s top 10 as a shooter, playmaker, and intelligent, versatile defender. He also brings a feel for the game that no one on Orlando’s current roster has.
Suggs will compete for, and likely win, the Magic’s starting point guard spot on day one. Wagner’s unique skillset may also earn him a spot in the starting lineup. At worst, the 6-foot-10 forward will play a ton of minutes off the bench.
The Orlando Magic’s rebuild is off to the right start
According to RealGM, Orlando has won five total playoff games in the last decade. It hasn’t won a playoff series since the franchise’s brief foray into relevancy during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 campaigns.
The selections of Suggs and Wagner bring completely contrasting skills to the rest of the Magic’s roster. But, when coupled with the pure athleticism of Isaac, Okeke, and to a lesser extent Bamba (who has yet to find his footing in the NBA), Orlando might have something brewing.
The Magic also have more future picks coming in the next few years, and will have cap space to go along with them. The Magic’s altered draft strategy brings new elements to the team, and as the pieces come together, the franchise may finally be headed in the right direction.