If the Cleveland Cavaliers decide not to take Nerlens Noel with the top overall pick in Thursday's NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic will according to Chad Ford of ESPN.com. The report appears to have some legs as both David Aldridge of NBA.com and Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld appeared to confirm the Magic's interest in Noel.
Ford and Kennedy cite sources close to the situation with Ford citing Magic sources. Considering how tight-lipped the Magic have been about all of their Draft preparations, it is difficult to weigh how much credence to give these reports or whether to chalk it up to normal Draft bluster.
Ford suggests the super athletic Noel is the top player on the Magic's Draft board. There is no doubting that Noel has some incredible defensive ability after he averaged 4.4 blocks per game at Kentucky before unfortunately tearing his ACL. It derailed a lot of the improvements he was beginning to show on offense.
That injury really threw this Draft in for a loop. And it raised the possibility that Noel would not be the No. 1 pick. If he had completed his freshman year in Lexington, there seems like there would be no doubt that Noel would be the top pick.
The Magic do not appear to be in the market for a center though. They have Nikola Vucevic and, after his strong sophomore year with the Magic, there is no reason to search for a replacement. Noel's offensive shortcomings raise some questions about whether he could play power forward next to him. Certainly, the rim protection Noel would provide would be a big boost to the team's defense.
The reality is though that the Magic are a 20-win team and do not have the luxury at this point of drafting a player to fill a specific need. Orlando is still in an asset collection mode and should be looking to draft the best player available. By most people's standards, that would be Nerlens Noel.
Regardless of the position issues, the Magic should consider Noel should he fall to No. 2.
But if the Magic are looking at drafting the best player available, it might very well be someone else.
Chad Ford of ESPN.com spoke with several NBA scouts and general managers and asked them to evaluate and rank the top-50 prospects in this Draft under the condition of anonymity. The group rated Indiana's Victor Oladipo as the top prospect in the Draft with Noel coming in second. It seems that out of any prospect in this year's Draft, Oladipo seems the most certain on what he could bring to a team. Scouts seem to agree.
While Oladipo's ranking may surprise some, I'm not shocked. The key to his ranking is that his low score is only 7. With a narrow range between his low score of 7 and his high score of 9, Oladipo is widely regarded as the safest pick in the draft. While he doesn't garner a 10 from anyone, teams believe he's unlikely to fail. A number of GMs have privately confided in me that he's their favorite player in the draft — not necessarily ranked No. 1 on their boards, but their favorite player. His range looks like it's from No. 2 to No. 5 on draft night.
So where does that leave McLemore? That is difficult to say.
No one questions the shooting ability or that he can still grow into a very special basketball player. It just seems like trouble has followed him around everywhere — whether it is the issue with his AAU coach reportedly taking money from an agent, academic issues preventing him from playing as a true freshman in 2012 or the reports of multiple bad workouts. McLemore is fighting the perception that he is a bit too naive.
It still seems like the Magic will likely make their decision Thursday between McLemore and Oladipo. I still have McLemore as my top player in the entire Draft, but the weaknesses and criticisms for his on-court performances are certainly out there and valid.
Oladipo would be a very good pick. So too would Nerlens Noel if that is the direction the Magic decide to go.
One thing is certain though: Nothing is certain in this year's NBA Draft.