I can't help but love a good rebuilding basketball team.
Maybe it's the romantic MyLeague player in me, who spent hours trading 2026 draft picks and using Untapped Potential camps (if you know, you know) to turn a roster of under-25 players into a dynasty. But watching a young core struggle, learn and adjust to the NBA game never gets old. When those glimpses of the future sneak out, they make every loss seem worthwhile.
That's where I'm at with the Orlando Magic, who have become one of the most fun bottom-feeders in the NBA. The Magic, at 2-8, aren't exactly lighting up the league. But three prospects in particular have stood out in surprising fashion, giving fans even more optimism that this core can contend down the road.
Second-year guard Cole Anthony is the first and most obvious young talent on breakout watch. Anthony has been a simply phenomenal shot-maker — even beyond what I realized.
According to NBA Stats, the 2020 No. 15 pick is shooting 48.4% on pull-up threes — tops in the entire league among players with at least 20 attempts. Among 119 players with at least 20 pull-up attempts from anywhere on the court, Anthony's Effective Field Goal percentage is tied for fourth-best with Darius Garland (59.8%).
Overall, Anthony's perimeter game has taken a dramatic leap. He's shooting 7.7 threes per game compared to just 3.7 as a rookie, and his three-point attempt rate (the percentage of his shot attempts that are threes) has skyrocketed from 31.2% to 50.7%. Anthony has whittled down his rookie mid-range game and traded it in for a three-point fireball.
Per Cleaning the Glass, Anthony has jumped from the 19th percentile among guards in points per shot attempt as a rookie to the 66th percentile this season. That's massive. And even though Anthony himself is not massive (6-foot-2), his 7.5 rebounds per game rank fourth-most among all guards, behind only Russell Westbrook, Luka Doncic and Dejounte Murray. Altogether, it's been an extremely fun start for Anthony, and he's still very much a work in progress.
Anthony shares the starting backcourt with No. 5 overall rookie Jalen Suggs, who is enduring his fair share of bumps as he adapts to the NBA. But Orlando's other rookie lottery pick has come out firing.
Franz Wagner has already made 20 total catch-and-shoot threes per NBA Stats, which is tied for the 10th-most in the entire league. He's done so at a very respectable 40.8% clip, and is shooting 39.6% from three overall. Wagner is also finishing an impressive 71.4% of his attempts at the rim, and to the delight of analytics folks, has not attemped a single long two-pointer all season.
He's not Mikal Bridges, but Wagner can very clearly fill a Bridges-like offensive role as a sharpshooter who can effectively attack the basket off-ball. Orlando is 17.1 points per 100 possessions better when the eighth overall pick is on the court. Sects of Draft Twitter were extremely high on Wagner throughout the summer. I concede I was not, and am happily wrong so far.
Speaking of efficiency... Mo Bamba, everybody.
NBA players finishing at over 70% in the restricted area and 40% on threes (min. 20 attempts of each):— BasketballNews.com (@basketbllnews) November 3, 2021
- Mikal Bridges (87.5%/44.0%)
- Nikola Jokic (78.0%/40.6%)
- RJ Barrett (77.8%/42.9%)
- Mo Bamba (77.8%/40.6%)
Some elite efficiency 🔥 pic.twitter.com/iv1d9rS8eX
Bamba has made 40% of his catch-and-shoot three-pointers. And while he's technically dipped under the original stat, the 23-year-old is still canning 39% of his career-high 4.1 three-point attempts per game. The former fifth overall pick also continues to be a forceful rim-protector; his 3.4% block rate is in the 86th percentile at his position, per Cleaning the Glass.
There's a level of surprise to all three of these breakouts. The public had come pretty close to slapping the "bust" label on Bamba after three seasons glued to the bench behind Nikola Vucevic. Anthony appeared to be much more of a long-term project after last season, and Wagner was frequently overshadowed by his pre-draft counterpart in Suggs.
But all three are delivering, particularly as scorers. It's an exciting development for an Orlando franchise that has lacked shooting depth for the better part of a decade. In fact, Orlando hasn't yielded an above-average offensive rating (by Cleaning the Glass standards) or a top-10 team-wide eFG% since 2011-12.
Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz are still working to get back into the fold. Chuma Okeke and Wendell Carter Jr. are finally stringing some healthy contests together. The Magic have turned me from "intrigued" to "Christmas morning excitement" with this season's early developments, and the best should be yet to come.
THE OUTLIERS (a.k.a. other random interesting numbers I find in the void):
- One more thing on the Magic: Orlando led the league in three-point rate for five straight seasons from 2007-2012 — when Dwight Howard was on the team! Props to Ryan Anderson, Hedo Turkoglu, JJ Redick, Mickael Pietrus, Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis.
- Malcolm Brogdon continues to fly under the radar. The talented Pacer point guard drives 23.2 times per game and dishes out 3.5 assists per game on drives — both tops in the NBA. He's even leading the league in passes made per game (68.8)m and is fourth in potential assists per game (16.3).
- Stealing this one from our own Jackson Frank: 96% (49 out of 51) of Julius Randle's assists this season have been on at-rim makes or threes. That's a testament to many things: Randle's improved facilitating, the Knicks' improved perimeter presence and perhaps an overall stronger offensive focus. Go read his story for more on this because it's phenomenal.
- Congrats to Owen Phillips (@owenlhjphillips) on getting a job with the Knicks' coaching analytics department! He's been my gold standard of stats gurus; I highly recommend you check out his Twitter and Substack. Phillips creates relevant, unique, understandable data visualizations, which is all you could ask for.