The Magic X Factor For 2021-22 NBA Season, And It’s Not Terrence Ross
The Orlando Magic are entering another NBA season ready to be a potential landmine for the top teams in the East. The Florida franchise will be looking to improve on the limited success they enjoyed last season, with a somewhat revamped roster. Rather than having Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic, this roster is now led by veteran Terrence Ross and youngster Markelle Fultz. Unfortunately for the Magic, Fultz suffered an ACL injury in January of this year and, especially with his injury history, it is still uncertain how and when he will come back.
Regardless of Fultz and how he will return, the Magic will need a lot of work to make the playoffs again. Teams in the East got stronger and a record like 33-40, which secured the postseason for Orlando two years ago, will most likely not be enough. With center Robin Lopez returning to the squad and Gary Harris joining the roster as a summertime addition, Orlando will have some veteran leadership to join their youngsters in the quest for the playoffs.
The aforementioned veterans will bring their qualities and join together with scoring wing Terrence Ross to try and get the young squad far in the season. However, it will take more than the veteran additions to push the roster further. What this roster clearly needs is their young prospects to take a major step forward and assume responsibility. The first ones in line there are center Mo Bamba and forward Jonathan Isaac.
It might be a bit unfair to seek a major role from Isaac, who is recovering from a devastating knee injury that kept him from playing last season. Regardless, all reports are stating that he is ready to play and he needs to play out of his socks for this team to make any noise in the NBA. Isaac is a great prospect, taken 6th overall in the 2017 NBA Draft, and could form a devastating duo with another possible X-Factor of the roster, Mo Bamba.
Isaac was primarily drafted to be an elite defender, but in 19/20, he showed some offensive potential as well. He had career highs across all offensive metrics, other than free throw percentage, and flashed an increased shooting range. Additionally, he has the body to be a presence inside the paint as well and the mobility to cut and slash to the basket. If he has time to develop these skills and if new coach Jamahl Mosley can incorporate him in the offense, Magic fans will see the former Florida State prospect flourish.
Unfortunately for Isaac and the Orlando Magic, this is all truly dependent on his health. His knee injury was a blow to the team, especially after the career year he was having. Additionally, for athletic players such as himself, knee injuries can be devastating. However, the silver lining might be his age. Isaac is a soon-to-be 24-year-old and he can still develop different skills, that he could not develop as easily if he was older. It will definitely be very interesting to see how he will look upon his return to the court.
On the other hand, Mo Bamba did not have any major injuries to stop his potential. Unfortunately, Bamba kind of did it to himself, due to his lack of motor, which is an issue from his high-school days, until today in the NBA. While it has been mentioned numerous times before, his lack of effort on and off the court is becoming a huge issue. The most unfortunate thing for all Bamba believers out there is that there was no visible improvement in the last couple of seasons. If that changes and Bamba finally realizes his potential, there is a chance he can make an impact.
While he was never going to be an amazing offensive player, only 8.0 points per game on 47.2% shooting from the field is not going to be enough to keep him in the NBA, especially for a center. Obviously, this is dependent on how the coach uses him in the offense, but it is completely up to Bamba to expand his offensive arsenal and impose himself. Should he add a reliable three-point shot to his offensive game and increase his efficiency around the basket, former Texas big-man will be a force on the attacking end.
On the defensive end, Bamba has been solid, but that is simply not enough for a player of his defensive awareness and physical tools. The slick seven-footer with long arms can be such an impressive presence on the defensive end, but his lack of effort is keeping him from being an elite defender. He is also fairly mobile and can use his long arms to disrupt shots from guards and wings on switches. All of this, of course, is predicated on his focus on the game and his willingness to put in the work.
The Orlando Magic will not be contending for a title this year, of course, but they can still make waves in the volatile Eastern Conference. Should everything go their way and everyone contributes, the Magic can potentially make the playoffs and go the distance against one of the tougher teams in the East. A big question will also be the health of Markelle Fultz. As one of the best comeback stories in recent memory, the former 1st pick in the 2017 NBA Draft had a career year cut short by a serious ACL injury. If he comes back and plays even close to the level of the last two years in Orlando, the Magic should be just fine.
Obviously, should nothing change and they repeat the season they had last year, Orlando will be a lottery team again and it is difficult to see them contending in the next couple of years, or even being close to that status.