By taking care of business against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, the Orlando Magic remain unbeaten in the young 2020-21 season. They are one of only two teams in the league yet to lose a game, the other being the Atlanta Hawks.
For the first time in Magic history...😎 pic.twitter.com/OmheQffaLo- Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) December 30, 2020
The Magic have made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, but them getting off to such a strong start this season was ... unexpected.
Here's a few reasons behind their early-season success and why there's still room for improvement.
Fultz redemption tour
After a turbulent first two years of his career in Philadelphia, Markelle Fultz has been a different player in Orlando.
The change in scenery helped him put together a solid season in 2019-20, leading to the franchise offering him a three-year, $50 million extension in the offseason - something nobody could have predicted a year earlier. And so far this season, he's living up to that extension.
Through four games, Fultz is averaging career-highs of 18.3 points, 5.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds on 43.1 percent shooting from the field. The season is still young and four games is a small sample size, but he currently ranks 12th in the league in clutch scoring.
In arguably the team's most impressive win so far - a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback against the Washington Wizards - Fultz was Orlando's leading scorer with 26 points.
By the numbers, Fultz is making an early bid for the Most Improved Player award, but no No. 1 pick has received the honour in league history. Will Fultz be the first?
Only time will tell, but it's certainly encouraging to see a young player regain their confidence and start living up to their potential.
Good 'ol Vooch
The only Magic All-Star since Dwight Howard in 2012, Nikola Vucevic has been a reliable double-double machine for the team over the past three seasons. He's been the piece the franchise has built around, resulting in back-to-back playoff appearances following a six-year drought.
The start of this season has been much of the same for Vucevic. Through four games, he is averaging 20.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists while shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 45.0 percent from 3-point range.
Vucevic's time with the Magic has been so overlooked that he's become underrated, and it's easy to forget how long he has been with the franchise. In the team's most recent win at Oklahoma City, he rose to the top of the charts for most made field goals in franchise history.
Congrats, @NikolaVucevic 👏- Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) December 30, 2020
With his last three, Vooch passed Nick Anderson for No. 1 on our all-time FGs made list. pic.twitter.com/FTnvqJUAD6
If there's anything the last few seasons have taught is, it's that the Magic can always rely on Vucevic.
Red-hot Ross carrying bench
The Magic's bench is currently one of the best in the league. Averaging 44.0 points per game, the fourth-highest mark in the league, the Magic's reserves are the owners of the second-best net rating in the league (11.1).
The main reason for those numbers is Terrence Ross. Again, it's only been four games, but the 6-foot-6 guard is averaging a career-high 21.0 points on .518/.435/.941 shooting splits in just 28.0 minutes of action.
The Magic have a net rating of 15.0 when Ross is on the court and -3.9 when he's on the bench.
Per @Sportradar, @OrlandoMagic guard @TerrenceRoss is just the fifth #NBA player in the last 25 seasons to score 70+ points off the bench through his team's first three games.#HumanTorch🔥#MagicTogether pic.twitter.com/hd7Pym8eHq- Orlando Magic PR (@Magic_PR) December 29, 2020
Rookie Cole Anthony, the No. 15 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, has also made an impact off the bench to the tune of 8.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 17.8 minutes per game. Michael Carter-Williams, who provides some veteran support, and Khem Birch are the other regular members of the team's second unit.
Still room for improvement
Starting off the season with a home win over the Miami Heat and following that up with a 17-point comeback win over the Wizards a few days later, the Magic have shown a lot of character and grit through the season's first four games.
Going 5-0 will be difficult as the Philadelphia 76ers come to Orlando on New Year's Eve, but it's not impossible. Either way, the team must continue to get better to carry this momentum forward.
The Magic must find more reliable contributors off the bench, as Ross' hot-hand is bound to cool off at some point. All four of their games so far have gone down to the wire, their wins being fueled by their red-hot offence. Ranked 12th on the other end of the court, their defence stands to improve.
There's still a long way to go in the shortened 72-game season, but the early returns from the Magic's historic unbeaten start are a welcome change.
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