When the Orlando Magic stepped off the floor and stepped out into the Amway Center corridor after Sunday’s season ended, they did so with an energy not reminiscent of a team with a 22-60 record.
It helped that Magic finished the season, leveling his record in a single game with 3 points (23) in a 125-111 win over the Miami Heat in which both teams spent most of their starts.
But the spirit of Orlando, which closed the season, was the epitome of what Magic coach Jamal Mosley had been saying for the first year since he was hired in July.
“Our guys realize there’s a bigger picture than just this moment,” Mosley said Sunday. “Our guys appreciated every moment; every day gets better in every game. That’s how you keep this energy, and we have a special group of young people. They care about each other so much, they continue to encourage each other and fight for each other. “
This concern manifested itself in small and large moments during the seven-month regular season: from entertaining post-game interviews and celebrating each other’s personal awards, such as Franz Wagner’s “Newbie of the Month” award in December to Markelle Fultz t-shirt clothing when the end February he returned after a rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee.
Ultimately, The Magic realized that the 2021-22 season, their first full season since the March 2021 reconstruction began, was more dedicated to the development of their young players than their latest record.
In terms of development, progress has been made.
Wendel Carter Jr. actually became a Magic a year after being traded to the Orlando of the Chicago Bulls, scoring career-high averages in points (15), rebounds (10.5) and assists (2.8) and a percentage. real shooting (60.1). %), this is a formula that includes free throws and 3-point throws of greater value.
Wagner, the No. 8 pick in last year’s draft, played with resilience, versatility and efficiency unmatched by most young players, averaging 15.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 79 games (mostly among beginners).
Second-ranked guard Cole Anthony averaged records for points (16.3), assists (5.7) and rebounds (5.4). Mo Bamba also put the best career points (10.6), rebounds (8.1) and blocks (1.7) in a bigger role.
When he was available, Jalen Sags demonstrated a presence in defense and a vision of passes that made him the choice of №5 in last year’s draft.
Fultz came back after the injury, seemingly not missed, averaging 10.8 points (47.4% shooting), 5.5 assists and 1.1 interceptions in 20 minutes.
RJ Hampton and Chuma Okeke have also taken steps forward in their development, especially in defense.
Defensive rating “Magic” from January 1 to the end of the season – their last 46 games – 111.3 became the 10th best award in the league.
“I know the record doesn’t always show that it has grown and progressed, but this group of young people have stuck together. There was a spirit on the field every night, and it will only reach another level when we come next year, ”Mosley said. “Our guys are thrilled with it, and fans should be very excited about it because they see these young people playing with each other and fighting no matter what.”
On Sunday, several players used the common phrase: “The sky is the limit.”
“Because we’re so young, it gives us the opportunity to truly shape everyone,” Carter said. “We are in a perfect position when everyone understands what everyone is capable of and we all like each other. No one hates each other. None of this is happening. This is rare. We got the opportunity to be really special. “
Sags was one of the players who repeated these words while talking to the media.
“I mean it wholeheartedly,” Sags said. “I don’t say this with fake confidence. I say that because I really believe in it. “
But Magic also knows that more steps will need to be taken.
And for so many young talents who have seven lottery elections on their list since 2017, reaching the level next season will be harder than this year.
Help will be the fact that the Magic will have a 52.1% chance of taking the top four in the draft on June 23, which will give Orlando even more talent that can be built next season.
Orlando’s odds on the draft will be: 14% optional № 1; 13.4% for No. 2; 12.7% for No. 3; 12% for No. 4; 27.8% for No. 5; 20% for No. 6.
But, as Wagner said, “Potential is just potential after all. It is up to us to get better and move forward. ”
Fultz added: “It will be quite difficult. We all understand that. We may be something special, but it will not be easy. It will take a lot of hard work, a lot of trust, [and] learn a lot. We are all ready for this challenge. “
When Magic made the final touches of the season, they were confident that next year and subsequent seasons would bring more success because the foundation they laid during 2021-22 was strong to build.
“One thing we talked about with these guys is the foundation,” Mosley said. “Now it’s about the little things, the little details that they need to understand what we’re trying to do. Raising the level yet. “
Or, as Carter said, “We’ll be on fire next year.”