Lessons from my mock draft: What I learned about 2017 NBA Draft

Jan 17, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack guard Dennis Smith Jr. (4) dribbles the ball during the first half against the Pitt Panthers at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 17, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack guard Dennis Smith Jr. (4) dribbles the ball during the first half against the Pitt Panthers at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports /

In the last week, I have participated in several mock drafts. Each one taught me a little bit of what to look for as the NBA Draft unfolds.

The NBA Draft is just a day away. All the preparation and all the maneuvering that occurs beforehand is coming to an end. In roughly 24 hours, the work will come to an end and the team will welcome in new players and perhaps some hope for the future.

The Orlando Magic have been squarely focused on the Draft since the season ended. Certainly, it is something president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has focused on since he arrived in town. With limited funds to use in free agency, the Magic have to rely on the draft and trade activity around it to improve their team.

With the sixth overall pick, Orlando has the opportunity to grab a star player. Weltman said he does not see much of a difference between the sixth pick in the first pick. That might be a little bit disingenuous, but certainly whoever the Magic select at No. 6 will be a player they believe can be a star.

Whoever they pick with the sixth pick, they should feel he can be the team’s star.

In the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to participate in several mock drafts — with Locked On NBA, FanSided and the Boston Globe. These three exercises have helped bring into sharper focus for me what to expect in the NBA Draft on Thursday.

My approach was to make the picks I would make and not necessarily what I think will happen (that will come in tomorrow’s Orlando Magic Daily Mock Draft). But it still brought some illuminating lessons.

First, though, the results of my mock drafts.

In all three mock drafts, I took Dennis Smith with the sixth pick. He was the best player on my board even with Jayson Tatum and Jonathan Isaac on the board. I always had the option between two of those three players. But Smith always was there.

I might like Smith more than others, but as I explained in the Boston Globe mock draft, I think Smith checks a lot of boxes for the Magic:

"The team desperately needs . . . just about everything. While the Magic found a bit of flair and style on the offensive end toward the end of last season after switching to a more open style, the team still needs a scoring threat at point guard and someone who can contribute fairly quickly. Orlando is not quite giving up on its playoff dreams quite yet. Dennis Smith fits that bill best. He was a prodigious and efficient scorer on a bad N.C. State team last year. Surround him with more shooters and other weapons and he should be able to navigate pick-and-rolls easier and get downhill to the basket, where his athleticism can take over."

And this might be the first lesson of the mock draft.

The Magic’s pick will turn likely on who the Phoenix Suns pick at No. 4. They could take De’Aaron Fox, Jonathan Isaac or Jayson Tatum. But, really, the rest of the draft order might be set based on what the Magic do.

Even what the Magic do at six could influence what the Sacramento Kings do at five. If the Kings believe the Magic will pass on a point guard, they may take a wing knowing they can grab Frank Ntilikina or Dennis Smith at No. 10.

The rest of the draft will fall into place more after the Magic make their pick.

But it is important to note Orlando will have several good options at the sixth pick. It is not just GM talk. In each mock draft, I had to think long and hard about who to take and felt good about both options before me — whether that was Smith and Tatum or Smith and Isaac.

The draft will get much more interesting with the 25th pick. If the Magic stay at No. 25, their decision will get very difficult.

In all three mock drafts I participated in, I sought a wing who can contribute immediately with the 25th pick and found very little to find. This is a draft that has a lot of centers and bigs that are projected in this range.

In the Locked On NBA Mock Draft, I took D.J. Wilson from Michigan, a versatile forward who can defend the perimeter and has a growing 3-point game. I felt he would be perfect coming off the bench. His prospects seem high.

As I made my pick with the Locked on NBA network, I began to think it might be easier for the Magic to take a player like Tatum or Isaac with the sixth pick and then draft a point guard like Derrick White, Frank Jackson or Jawun Evans with the 25th pick. I feel that would be a much better value.

My other 25th picks were John Collins of Wake Forest in the FanSided mock draft. He is a traditional power forward with virtually no outside game. But he is a bull in the post and can face up and drive to the basket. This was a talent grab. He should be picked much sooner than 25. I felt like the team could not pass on him if he were available this late.

In the Boston Globe mock draft, I took Semi Ojeleye, one of the few late first round wings that might be available. If the Magic got Smith and Ojeleye in the first round of this Draft, I would consider that pretty close to an A+ draft. I was very happy Tuesday.

And some of that might have to do with my growing preparation for this draft. Really studying and learning about some of these prospects later in the first round and early in the second round gave me a better idea of who the Magic should target.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

In the Locked On NBA mock draft, the first one I participated in, we opened it up to trades. I explored a few ideas, but I stayed fairly quiet. I thought big on one deal and things fell through.

My draft preparation was not quite as complete and my strategy would have changed to try to get into the middle of the first round to draft a wing. Although, ultimately, I was happy with who I picked staying put.

But, if I were doing a mock draft with trades now, I would definitely try to move up from 25, using the 25th pick and one of my second round picks to try to get into the teens.

I agree with Weltman, it would be tough to bring four rookies to camp, although the team seems prepared to do so if that is how things play out. I believe the Magic should trade up if they can. But I think it is important they target a specific player to take if they decide to trade up.

And there are definitely a few players I would target — Donovan Mitchell, Terrance Ferguson and Semi Ojeleye are the guys I would target, but definitely add Luke Kennard to that list too. I think the Magic are capable of making that trade up.

These mock draft exercises are all educated guesses. But they definitely revealed some of the interplay and what to expect as the draft unfolds.

Of course, the draft is impossible to predict. There is a lot of information teams keep private and a lot of inner workings that remain quiet. And things happen moment by moment. Trade opportunities can arise suddenly and late, forcing quick decisions.

What I know most of all from doing these projects and exercises is that the Magic will get a couple of good players. If the team makes the right picks, Orlando has the opportunity to add several strong players to its roster in this draft.

Next: 2017 Orlando Magic Draft Preview: Who is Bam Adebayo?

That opportunity is all a team can ask for as it enters the NBA Draft.