The Whiteboard: Orlando Magic are building a special frontcourt

Orlando Magic, The Whiteboard

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The Orlando Magic have to love what they’re seeing from Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr. so far this preseason.

The Orlando Magic have gotten off to an impressive preseason start, winning three of four games and notching wins over the Mavericks and Grizzlies. You obviously need to take all preseason results with a grain of salt but the Magic are seeing impressive things, especially from their ultra-big starting frontcourt — Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero and Wendell Carter Jr.

In Tuesday night’s win over the Grizzlies, that group combined for 49 points, 26 rebounds and, most interestingly, 17 assists. All three are strong passers for their positions and the Magic made a point of running a lot of their offense through the frontcourt in this game, showing some fascinating wrinkles and generating plenty of highlights along the way.

That frontcourt trio is averaging a combined 11.3 assists per game during the preseason, with all three playing around 24 or 25 minutes per game. And Banchero, who may be the best passer and have the most creation upside of the three, has been the least productive of the three (1.8 assists per game) as he works through reps and gets more comfortable with the speed and athleticism of NBA defenders.

The Orlando Magic have multiple offensive hubs in their new frontcourt

What was most exciting about the 17 assists they combined for against the Grizzlies was that 10 of these assists when to each other. Wagner found Carter Jr. for two alley-oops within the first six minutes of the game, including on the Magic’s first possession of the game with Wagner coming off a double drag and Carter Jr. slipping the second screen.

Carter Jr. and Wagner have already developed a pretty decent pick-and-roll chemistry from their time together last year. Wagner recorded 53 assists to Carter Jr. last season, more than any other player on the team, and he also received an average of 6.2 ball screens per game from him, more than from any other teammate. The Magic scored an average of 1.04 points per possession when Carter Jr. screened for Wagner, a relatively uninspiring number, but they’re still just scratching the surface of its potential.

In the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, in an extremely tight game, the Magic again got plenty out of the Wagner-Carter Jr. two-man game — a dunk for Carter Jr., slipping the screen after a dribble hand-off, and then an open 10-footer from the wing on a pick-and-pop. Wagner’s step-back 3-pointer to seal the win was mostly created by his jab step and the threat of his drive, but Orlando used a dribble hand-off with Carter Jr. to set it up.

This grouping is incredibly flexible because of their combination of size, passing ability and awareness, and as Banchero and Carter Jr. become more reliable outside threats it will only open the defense more. But the play below should perhaps inspire as much optimism for Magic fans as anything else.

Carter Jr. screens for Wagner with Banchero on the wing. Brandon Clarke has to stay home on Carter Jr. in the lane, in part because of the lob threat the Magic already established early in the game. Wagner’s pull-up shooting is enough to occupy John Konchar’s attention in the corner as Banchero back cuts to the basket. Wagner delivers a pinpoint bounce pass through three defenders and Banchero gets an easy lay-up.

There are a million other tiny details here worth appreciating — like the way the shooting ability of Cole Anthony and Terrence Ross on the weakside holds their defenders and keeps the paint clear for Banchero. But you can also see how the skill in this Magic lineup is capable of countering if the Grizzlies defend differently.

Wagner could have hit Carter Jr. with the pocket pass, leading to a tough layup or a forced rotation and then an open 3 or an opportunity to attack a close-out for Ross in the opposite corner. If Banchero couldn’t get separation on the back cut, Wagner has the step and length to simply take it all the way to the basket with Carter Jr. holding Clarke back from challenging at the rim. If Clarke rotated to Banchero more quickly, there’s a dump-off pass to Carter Jr. available, or a kick out to Anthony at the top of the key who is wide open after Ja Morant collapsed into the lane. And this whole thing could be run with a different configuration — Banchero handling the ball and Ross or Wagner in either corner.

The most important point is that in each case the Magic can feel confident in the skill and ability of each of the five players on the floor to execute on two or three different versions of the same play. The Magic have been collecting young talent for a few years but it finally feels like they’re in a place where there is enough depth and overlap for them to really beat defenses with system and structure rather than just repeatedly winning individual matchups.

The Magic might not be a playoff team this season but they’re a lot closer to that level than they were in either of the last two seasons, winning less than 30 percent of their games. Things are definitely looking up in Orlando.


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Draymond Green’s time away from the Warriors is already over

Last we heard (yesterday), Draymond Green was facing disciplinary action for punching Jordan Poole at practice, an attack that Poole had, understandably, not yet forgiven him for. In a public apology, Green said he was taking some time away from the team. Which will apparently last … [checks calendar] … one more day. What you need to know:

  • Green has been fined but not suspended for the punch. He will rejoin the team Thursday and is expected to play Friday.
  • Steve Kerr spoke with the media after Tuesday’s win Blazers and said Poole is “willing to move forward and willing to get back out on the floor with Draymond and go to work.” Kerr also said “we’re going to lean on the experience that we have together and trust that this is the best decision for our team. We have a lot of work to do. All of us.”
  • Steph Curry has also, reportedly, been doing a lot of work behind the scenes to smooth things over between Green and Poole.

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