If the early parts of preseason are about trial and error, it sounds like the Orlando Magic are going to have one of the more interesting experiments over the next couple of weeks.
The Magic tip off preseason exhibitions Monday at the Memphis Grizzlies and based on how players and coaches have talked about camp, it seems as if Orlando could throw out several different lineups — even ones that feature three big men.
“We’re going to play a bunch of combinations throughout the preseason,” coach Jamahl Mosley said Sunday, “just to see what guys are capable of, how they gain a comfort level for one another just so we can continue to get that chemistry no matter who we put on the floor.”
Monday’s game tips off at 8 p.m.
Mosley said all 17 players on the Magic’s preseason besides Markelle Fultz (fractured left big toe), Gary Harris (recovery from left knee surgery) and Jonathan Isaac (recovery from left knee and right hamstring surgeries) will be available.
Bally Sports Florida won’t be broadcasting the game, but fans with NBA League Pass should be able to watch the Grizzlies’ broadcast via Bally Sports South on NBA League Pass. The game can also be listened to on Magic Radio (96.9 FM The Game).
Bally Sports Florida will broadcast the Magic’s two preseason home games vs. the Grizzlies (Oct. 11) and Cavaliers (Oct. 14).
“It’s going to continue to throw things against the wall; I really do believe that,” Mosley said about trying out different lineups during the preseason. “We’ve talked about making these guys decision-makers from each position, so we’ll find out what combinations work and what combinations we’ll have to continue to improve on.”
Here are six potential lineups to look forward to during preseason play, and possibly beyond:
1. Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Bol Bol/Caleb Houstan/Chuma Okeke, Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr.
A focus during training camp has been some of the bigger lineups the Magic could use because of the abundance of versatile, bigger forwards/centers they have.
If you’re trying out bigger lineups, why not go all out?
Bamba told reporters Sunday that the team tried out a lineup that had Banchero at the 1, Wagner at the 2, Bamba at the 4 and Carter at the 5 during Saturday’s practice.
The fifth person in this lineup could be a few different players to maintain this lineup’s size and versatility. Bol, Houstan or Okeke could slide into the 3 spot.
“It’s actually a little easier defensively than people would think because it’s just straight-up switching,” Bamba said of playing in bigger lineups. “It’s fun to go out there and make plays people would scratch their heads [at]. Defensively, that’s where we can make an impact: altering shots, sliding our feet, guarding guards and making them uncomfortable at the rim.”
2. Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, Bol Bol and Wendell Carter Jr.
Another bigger lineup, but one with a natural guard.
This unit played alongside one another in Friday’s practice, matching up against Bamba, Okeke, Cole Anthony, Terrence Ross and Admiral Schofield in five-on-five action.
The latter team won 8-2, according to Anthony, showing there are growing pains these bigger lineups will go through.
“It was a little difficult just because we’re all used to playing a certain position,” Carter said. “But Coach wants to go into this year with people knowing we can all be position-less. That was kind of tricky, especially for me because I kind of fit into a certain role but I’m ready to learn and try to pick up on the different things he wants us to do. It’s going to be a good thing once we get a hang of it.”
A Banchero-Suggs inverted pick-and-roll with Banchero as the ballhandler, Suggs as the roller and Wagner, Bol and Carter spacing beyond the arc around them would be an interesting action to run with this group.
3. Jalen Suggs/Cole Anthony, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr.
A modified version of last year’s starting lineup, with Banchero stepping in for Anthony or Suggs.
The Magic will maintain their rim protection with the combination of Bamba and Carter, and should have enough ball handling/playmaking to make this lineup work offensively.
A focus of these bigger lineups is having Banchero at the 3 and not the 4, which is viewed by some as his more natural position defensively.
The Magic are confident Banchero will more than hold his own on that end of the floor.
“Paolo can guard 1-5,” Carter said of the No. 1 pick in June’s NBA draft. “That’s something he probably didn’t get to showcase as much as he could in college. Especially on this team with the optimism and coaching staff, they’re going to try a lot of different defensive schemes. He’s definitely going to get a chance to showcase how good of a defender he is and how he cannot only get steals but disrupt shots, clog up the paint and things like that. He’s a hell of a defender and he wants to win.”
4. Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr.
This lineup, last season’s starting and most-used group, was one of the league’s best quintets early in 2021-22.
They outscored opponents by 11.4 points per 100 possessions (39 points in 163 minutes) in 15 games across October and November because of elite defense (94.2 defensive rating) before Anthony and Suggs started to miss significant time with injuries.
The unit’s defense wasn’t as stout once Suggs returned from a broken thumb in mid-January, further exposing the lineup’s scoring struggles (99.8 offensive rating in 19 games in 2022) because of turnovers and a significant dip in 3-point shooting.
How will they look after a full season and another training camp behind them?
5. Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, Wendell Carter Jr.
Another iteration of last year’s starting group with Banchero replacing Bamba.
The offensive versatility for this group should stick out with everyone having the skillset to be used as a ballhandler in actions.
It’s smaller than most aforementioned lineups but still has good size with Wagner, Banchero and Carter all being listed at 6-10.
Similar lineups with Harris, Okeke or R.J. Hampton in Banchero’s place last season performed well, albeit in small samples.
6. Jalen Suggs, Terrence Ross, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero and Wendell Carter Jr.
It’d be surprising if this lineup didn’t play significant minutes at some point during the preseason or regular season.
Even during a down year (career-low 29.2% 3-point shooting), Ross commanded a level of attention from defenses in 2021-22 as a movement shooter that was unmatched by most of the roster.
The Magic ran inverted pick-and-rolls with Banchero as the ballhandler and Devin Cannady — another good movement shooter — as the roller/popper during the Las Vegas summer league.
It was an effective action, with Cannady creating space for an open look or defenses switching smaller players onto Banchero.
Ross could fill the Cannady role.