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The NBA’s Biggest Surprise Story this Season

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Quinn Harris
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The following represents the opinion of the student reporter and does not represent the views of Loyola University Maryland, the Greyhound, or Loyola University’s Department of Communication.

Although we are still very early in this NBA season, there has been one team that has taken the league by storm. This is a team that has shocked the entire basketball community with their play in the opening months of the season, specifically because it has contrasted to their level of play in the past. At the time I am writing this, Orlando Magic is atop the eastern conference in the No. 2 seed bolstering a record of 12-5. The Florida-based group is arguably the hottest team in the league, and coming off of a huge 113-96 win over the No. 1 Celtics at home the morale and hype behind this team could not be higher.

This turnaround has been very surprising but did not just come out of nowhere. The past three seasons for the Magic have been extremely disappointing for these fans posting consecutive seasons of 45 plus losses with 2021-22 reaching a high of 60 losses. This has been a common theme for the Orlando Magic as they have posted this type of performance for most of the 2010s. There was a two-year stretch of playoff entrance through the lower seeds (seventh and eighth) from 2018-2020. These teams were led by All-star center Nikola Vučević and 18 points per game guard Evan Fournier. These playoff appearances were short-lived as these teams were bounced in the first-round 4-1 back-to-back years. The front office took a good look at their team and realized what was in front of them if they continued to stick it out with this current group.

All over the league, many front offices have trapped themselves in a constant cycle of average or mediocre results in fear that if they try to rebuild or make a change, it will make things even worse than they were before. We have seen this with several mid-level/ seed teams that year after year stick it out with the same group first-round exit after first-round exit. Some teams that come to mind for most of us fans are the Portland Trailblazers and how long it took them to move from the guard duo of All-NBA Damian Lillard and multiple-time all-star CJ McCollum, after disappointing results time and time again.

The front office did not want to put their franchise through this as well and blew up the well-rounded playoff roster they had in front of them in hopes of starting fresh. They traded star center Nikola Vučević for two first-round picks and young center Wendell Carter Jr to fill up the hole being left. This was a huge and risky move, but it accomplished something that other franchises in the NBA failed to do.

For the Magic to get the most out of their rebuild they would have to “tank.” Tanking is when an NBA team loses most of their games to increase their probability of getting the highest picks. They successfully tanked during their three-year stretch of seasons with 45 plus losses as mentioned before leading them to draft young contributors like guard Jalen Suggs, forward Franz Wagner, guard Cole Anthony, and more that developed gradually.

The tanking paid off to the highest degree when the Orlando Magic were granted the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 off-season. The Magic used this pick to draft Duke stand-out forward Paolo Banchero who went on to have a fantastic rookie year averaging 20 points per game, becoming the final piece in the rebuild.

Fast forward to today, and the decision-making from the front office mixed with the development of the young players has this team looking better than ever. Now, the question is how long they can keep it up?

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    AbelDec 3, 2023 at 11:07 pm

    Jacob’s deep understanding of NBA culture and sharp analytical skills are clearly showcased in his detailed discussion of the Orlando Magic’s recent success. His insights into the team’s rise to the top of the Eastern Conference, following a series of disappointing seasons, highlight a keen grasp of team dynamics. Jacob’s analysis of the Magic’s strategic rebuild, including key trades and draft picks like Paolo Banchero, demonstrates a thorough understanding of NBA team management. His ability to connect these strategies to broader league trends, including the concept of “tanking,” further emphasizes his expertise in basketball analysis.

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