Orlando Magic must stop drafting best available athletes

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

It is finally time for Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan to draft players who fill needs rather than the best athlete.

As the 2016 NBA Draft draws near, general manager Rob Hennigan needs to once and for all shun his Oklahoma City East project. The process of drafting high-caliber athletes and worrying about fitting them into a working rotation later, has yet to yield any tangible results.

Since Hennigan’s first draft back in 2012, he and his staff have yet to uncover the next Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden or Serge Ibaka. Selecting the aforementioned studs is easier said than done, but it is not like the Magic have not had the prime position of picks to potentially do so.

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Since 2012, the Magic first round picks were Nos. 19 (Andrew Nicholson), 2 (Victor Oladipo), 4 (Aaron Gordon), 12 (traded for Elfrid Payton) and 5 (Mario Hezonja). Not only have these picks not resulted in a single All Star, it is fair to say not a single player used through these picks has the necessary skill set to excel adequately at their respective position.

There certainly is no foundational building block.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume the Magic stand pat with the majority of their current roster, do not make any major draft day trades and even re-sign Evan Fournier. That leaves them with three picks on June 23, number 11 in the first round being the most pressing to get correct.

The club is currently stocked on the wings at shooting guard and small forward would reign supreme. Meaning that drafting the likes of this year’s NCAA Tournament darling Buddy Hield is out of the question. As is California’s Jaylen Brown, Washington’s Dejounte Murray, and Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine.

In the post at power forward and center, adding a complementary stretch-4 to the equation, and a banger off the bench to spell Nikola Vucevic would play in well in Frank Vogel’s system. A prospect such as North Carolina’s Brice Johnson could fill the former void, but he is not a lottery pick.

More appropriately, this year offers a plethora of back-to-the-basket big men with soft hands, solid rebounding skills and consistent mid-range jumpers. The top three men who stand out above the rest are Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis, Marquette’s Henry Ellenson, and Utah’s Jakob Poeltl.

The other glaring hole of the rotation is the point guard position. Someone needs to be brought in to push Elfrid Payton to respectability, or out of the proverbial door. Guys like Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis, Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson and Oregon State’s Gary Payton II would be upgrades, and one of them could be had in the second round of the draft.

Sure, the Magic would love to see a Providence’s Kris Dunn or Kentucky’s Jamal Murray fall down the rabbit hole, but that is a stretch.

If you are looking for the inclusion of Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere, Washington’s Marquese Chriss or Kansas’ Cheick Diallo, you can forget it. All these former freshmen are projects in their own right, who could have seriously used another year in school to further develop their games.

There are options, but the Magic need a player who can help then reach the playoffs this season, not next. They need someone who can contribute now to take that necessary step forward.

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When you break it all down using the old “eye test,” it looks like the Magic should draft that interior presence they are currently lacking among the more experienced group. Because just like those Oklahoma City Thunder showed in this year’s deep playoff run, versatile big men can still impact a game on both ends of the floor.