The story of this early NBA season in the In-Season Tournament for no other reason than the league wants to cram it down our throats. However, this is not another diatribe about that mockery of a cup. That’s been done, so allow me to present to you the real stories at the quarter-ish mark of the season: The Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves.
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The Magic are the league’s hottest team, having won eight straight, and at 13-5, are only a half-game behind Boston for the best record in the league. The T-Wolves are just a half-game behind the pole car, with a 13-4 mark.
Because I can’t help taking a potshot at this in-season garbage, allow me to point out that Minnesota and Orlando each went 3-1 in “group play,” and yet neither advanced. If I may suggest a sensible tie-breaker moving forward, let’s go with overall records.
Anyway back to the subject at hand.
Did you know Anthony Edwards is taking 20 shots per game with shooting splits of 46/37/86? This is what taking a leap looks like. Edwards is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, and assists, and all of those shooting percentages are career bests, too.
That’s led Karl-Anthony Towns to finally accept reality as a No. 2 option, and he’s a legit contender for the 50/40/90 club at 49/39/91 right now.
The caveat is you can’t count on Rudy Gobert to stay on the floor in the playoffs, and ditto for Towns, who commits some of the dumbest fouls on a nightly basis. That said, despite fouling at the fifth-highest rate in the league, the Wolves possess the NBA’s best overall field-goal defense, holding opponents to a lowly 43 percent.
Minnesota also has the second-best scoring and three-point defense in the league. They’re middle of the pack in turnovers forced, but the results speak to a unit that’s cohesive and doesn’t need to gamble for steals and blocks to get stops.
If Towns and Gobert didn’t constantly give fans ammunition for insults, they might take the tandem a bit more seriously. That’s an easy fix though. Just jump Draymond Green during the next Warriors bout, and hope the subsequent suspensions are over before the playoffs.
As for the Orlando Magic, they’re having so much fun that Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony re-created LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s iconic alley-oop Wednesday night.
Even though I guarantee the Suggs-Anthony combo won’t have anywhere near the impact or influence that Wade and James had on Florida basketball, good chemistry is always fun to watch. An injury to Markelle Fultz allowed Jamahl Mosely to discover a guard rotation naturally, with rookie Anthony Black keeping Orlando’s brand of signature goofy, lanky and effective players intact.
Reigning Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero is taking fewer shots this season than last, but showing improved accuracy, and also a proclivity for playmaking. He’s the Magic’s leading assist man at four and a half per outing. Although he’s still learning ball security, whatever team-first philosophy Mosley is preaching, it’s working.
Franz Wagner actually leads Orlando in field goal attempts and points per game. If he can improve his efficiency, and hit the three-ball at levels we’ve seen previously, he’ll finish the year averaging well over 20 points per game. The team has a nice mix of veterans and youth, with plenty of assets to flip if they so choose.
There are not enough minutes for Jonathan Isaac, Goga Bitadze and Wendell Carter Jr. with an already crowded frontcourt, and the same goes for Fultz regarding the backcourt. How much they get in return depends on the level of desperation for suitors. (Currently, the only desperate win-now team is Golden State, but that could definitely change before the deadline.)
There’s plenty of irony to Minnesota and Orlando’s hot starts so I’ll do their fans a solid and forgo those reminders. What I will say is it’s crazy that we’re almost a quarter of the way through the season. Are these two exciting teams peaking too early? Maybe.
However, twenty or so games is a pretty good sample size, and given the talent, the Magic and Timberwolves feel like the legit contenders for home court in the first round.