The 2021-22 NBA season is set to tip off on Oct. 19 (ET). In preparation for the upcoming season, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.
Up next is the Orlando Magic.
2020-21 season record
21-51, 14th in the Eastern Conference
Jalen Suggs, No. 5 pick in 2021 NBA Draft
Franz Wagner, No. 8 pick in 2021 NBA Draft
Robin Lopez, free agency
Otto Porter Jr., free agency
|PG||Jalen Suggs||Cole Anthony||Michael Carter-Williams|
|SG||Gary Harris||RJ Hampton||E'Twaun Moore||Markelle Fultz*|
|SF||Terrence Ross||Franz Wagner||Ignas Brazdeikis||Admiral Schofield|
|PF||Chuma Okeke||Moritz Wagner||Jonathan Isaac*|
|C||Wendell Carter Jr.||Mo Bamba||Robin Lopez|
* Isaac is still recovering from a torn ACL and meniscus suffered in the 2020 NBA bubble. He is making good progress but still has no timetable for return.
* Fultz is rehabbing from a torn ACL suffered on Jan. 6 and it is unclear when he'll return to action
3 key storylines
Will Jalen Suggs win Rookie of the Year?
The Magic ended up with a steal in the 2021 NBA Draft when the Gonzaga standout freshman fell into their lap with the No. 5 overall pick. The consensus was that Suggs would land with the Toronto Raptors at fourth, but when they passed on the 19-year-old, it made the decision easy in Orlando's war room.
Suggs is the definition of a winner and leader, and he will be handed the keys to the franchise from Day 1. Orchestrating the Magic's offence, Suggs will often have the ball in his hands as an elite playmaker. He'll have as good of an opportunity as any player in his rookie class to put up big numbers, making him a likely candidate for the 2022 Rookie of the Year award.
Going up against tough competition as part of an extremely talented draft class that includes the likes of Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green, Suggs will have to stuff the stat sheet across the board in order to take home the hardware. But as a player who can score the rock, set up teammates, attack the glass and dig in on the defensive end to come up with steals, he shouldn't have any issue posting impressive stat lines.
The youth movement
With Suggs being the focal point of Orlando's rebuild, the franchise is in good hands. He headlines a list of at least 12 players who will make the final roster and have three or fewer years of experience in the NBA. The majority of their rotation will be players under 25 years old, diving headfirst into a youth movement that should benefit the team in the long term.
Isaac and Fultz have already proven to be promising talents. Bamba has displayed flashes to be excited about when given an opportunity. 2019 first-round pick Okeke came into his own last season after missing his entire first year in the league with an injury. 2020 first-round pick Anthony showed spurts of being a productive scorer and playmaker during his rookie season. Trading for two other former first-round picks in Carter Jr. and Hampton at the trade deadline last season added two more players with untapped potential.
Bring Suggs and another top-10 pick in Franz Wagner into the equation, and the Magic are starting to put together a well-rounded roster that could be a problem in the Eastern Conference in a few years time if players continue to progress at this rate, and they'll receive plenty of opportunity to improve this upcoming season.
The return of Jonathan Isaac
Isaac, one of the key pieces in this rebuild, looked like he could be one of the best defensive players in the NBA during a breakout third season back in 2019-20.
Prior to a knee injury that derailed his season, Isaac was averaging 11.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.6 steals per game, making a strong case to make an All-Defensive Team. When he was getting closer to a return, the NBA season was put on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. Four months later when play resumed in the NBA bubble, Isaac returned for one game before suffering a torn ACL and meniscus in his second game back.
The injury kept the 24-year-old sidelined for the entirety of the 2020-21 season and it appears it will also trickle into the 2021-22 season. The latest report suggests that Isaac has returned to some on-court action wearing a knee brace but has not been cleared for full contact. He remains without a timetable for his return, but it appears it will come at some point during this upcoming season.
It will be very interesting to see if Isaac can return to being the defensive stopper he was prior to a devastating knee injury.
5 games to watch
Oct. 29 at Toronto Raptors
Every time Suggs and Scottie Barnes take the floor against each other it's going to make headlines. The Raptors were expected to select Suggs with the No. 4 overall pick but passed on him for Barnes, leaving a chip on the shoulder of Orlando's rookie. You won't want to miss this first regular-season matchup.
Nov. 29 at Philadelphia 76ers
The Fultz-76ers storyline may have run its course now that the former No. 1 pick has spent two full seasons in Orlando, but you have to imagine this game always means something to him. Fultz has revitalized his career since being traded to the Magic, and if he's back in action by then, he'll take the Wells Fargo Center floor with something to prove.
Dec. 1 vs. Denver Nuggets
The Magic traded Aaron Gordon to the Nuggets at the trade deadline last season, ending a seven-year run in Orlando after being selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. He faced off against his former team in Denver last year, but this marks his first game back in Orlando since the trade.
Jan. 8 at Detroit Pistons
As the two clear rebuilding teams in the Eastern Conference, this will serve as a good litmus test for where each franchise is at. Suggs versus Cade Cunningham is also a prime rookie matchup between the two best point guards in their class.
Jan. 23 vs. Chicago Bulls
The Magic sent franchise cornerstone Nikola Vucevic to the Bulls at last year's trade deadline, solidifying their direction to a rebuild. After nine remarkable seasons with the Magic, it will always be a special game when Vucevic returns to Orlando.
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