Over the next few weeks Orlando Magic Daily will be taking a look at the things that went right and wrong this season as Orlando ended its season with its first Lottery season in six years.
Except for a few shining examples, the Magic's drafting history is not so stellar.
We remember, Shaquille O'Neal, Dwight Howard and Mike Miller. Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott were great picks in the early years. Between them though you have an organization that has constantly swung and missed on young players.
During the Tracy McGrady years, the Magic were unable to stock up on cheap, young talent to try and stem the tide when Grant Hill was hurt. Often the players Orlando drafted in this era were not able to contribute.
It is not easy to find great draft picks in the middle of the draft, but John Gabriel certainly could have and should have done better than the combination of Keyon Dooling (traded to the Clippers on draft night), Courtney Alexander, Steven Hunter, Jeryl Sasser, Curtis Borchardt (traded to the Jazz for Ryan Humphrey on draft night) and Reece Gaines.
All of those players either never contributed or struggled to contribute to the Magic during an important time in Magic history.
Under Otis Smith, the Magic seemed more interested in dealing their draft picks for veteran players to stay in the championship hunt. Only J.J. Redick and Courtney Lee contributed to the team in the drafts after Howard.
Then came Rob Hennigan and this year's Draft. Orlando picked up Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn in their first two picks, two players with experience from the college game and pretty refined games entering the league already. Then Hennigan acquired rookie Maurice Harkless, Philadelphia's first round draft pick. He also picked up second-year player Nikola Vucevic. Later in the season he grabbed second-year forward Tobias Harris.
For once, the Magic mined young talent and struck gold.
This was all part of the plan for the Magic. When Hennigan was hired he and Alex Martins talked about creating a sustainable model for continued Magic success. The best way to do that was to be diligent in evaluating young talent and making sure these young — and cheap — players are able to grow and contribute.
Particularly in these first few years after Dwight Howard, developing the young players and giving them the chance to learn on the job and make mistakes in a low pressure environment.
Still, it was a surprise to see just how well it all worked out for the Magic, especially years after missed Draft picks and frustrating young players.
Vucevic was Mr. Consistency for the team, posting the third most double doubles in the league and averaging a rock solid 13.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. He turned in the Magic's all-time single game rebounding record with 29 rebounds against the Heat, breaking a record Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard fought over. Considering how little he played in Philadelphia as a rookie, it was shock at just how good he was when given the opportunity.
The same could be said for Tobias Harris. He went from riding the bench in Milwaukee to exploding onto the scene as Orlando's primary scorer in the last stretch of games. He unofficially led the Magic in scoring with 17.3 points per game in the final 27 games of the season. He was seemingly setting a career high in scoring every night, culminating in a 30-point revenge game performance agains the Bucks at Amway Center.
Again, it was shocking to think how the Bucks did not see Harris had this in him.
Nicholson was solid too. A player with a strong offensive game, he has a lot to learn defensively and still some growing to do. But he was able to contribute almost immediately and provide a nice touch off the bench. He figures to be a good piece to have around for the future.
Harkless showed tremendous growth throughout the season. He started off as a seemingly scared rookie and turned into a player look for his touches and looking to attack the basket. The growth was incredible to watch from a 19-year-old should-be sophomore. Harkless had moments where he truly took over games and he did it while still taking what the defense gave him.
Kyle O'Quinn was everything he was advertised to be. He worked hard and used effort to make up for any physical shortcomings. He was immediately a fan favorite and he warranted that praise.
It would have been one thing if two of these guys hit. Three would have been incredible. But it seemed like every young player that Rob Hennigan found worked out for the Magic. It just has not happened to this extent in Magic history.
It was a great base for the Magic to begin building from. a lot of people see these players making up the Magic's new core. That is not likely to happen. Some will have to move on and none would be confused for a superstar right now.
With the way things worked out this season though, who is to say that will not change?