The 16th pick presents new challenges to Orlando Magic’s draft process

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 27: Indiana Hoosiers guard Romeo Langford (0) drives to the basket against the Duke Blue Devils on November 27, 2018 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC.. (Photo by Brian Utesch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 27: Indiana Hoosiers guard Romeo Langford (0) drives to the basket against the Duke Blue Devils on November 27, 2018 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC.. (Photo by Brian Utesch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are in a new spot drafting 16th in the NBA Draft. That will force them to balance their desire to build for the future and the present.

The NBA Draft is one of the biggest days on the NBA calendar. Bringing in a new group of players to the fold, infusing teams with new talent. While there is always excitement the day after of adding a new player, the reality is not all of them work out.

Especially getting later down in the draft.

The pressure to “get the pick right” is greater at the top. The teams that finish with the top picks in the draft are obviously in more need of the influx of talent. They get the first shot at the players many consider to be the best.

The Orlando Magic have been down that road.

For much of the past six years, Orlando was picking at the top of the draft. The team was trying to collect the high-end talent to fill the core of its team.

To some extent, the Magic did this. Victor Oladipo (second overall, 2013) eventually became an All-Star after Orlando probably gave up on him too soon. Aaron Gordon (fourth overall, 2014) is starting to come into his own and has secured an important role on this growing team.

Missing on Mario Hezonja (fifth overall, 2015) put the team in a big hole as it continued to build and search for talent.

Jeff Weltman’s draft picks of Jonathan Isaac (sixth overall, 2017) and Mohamed Bamba (sixth overall, 2018) still have a lot of development to take advantage of their raw talent and physical attributes. But both seem to be on the right track.

At the top of the draft, it is much easier to take big swings on talent. The hope is that the players the team is drafting at the top of the draft will have enough cushion to still be a complementary and contributing player even if they do not realize their full talent.

The calculus is much different at pick No. 16.

There are still those diamonds in the rough who can develop into starring players. There is still plenty of talent at this point in the draft.

But the odds of that player turning into that are low. And usually, they fill a role first, using a defined NBA-level skill to get on the court, and then grow into a better player. These players are not expected to come in and be the starter immediately. They are more expected to fill a specific supporting role as they develop.

It is almost more important these players have a defined skill they can add in support as they grow their game off the court. They will not have the same latitude given to guys taken at the top of the draft.

Of course, a team is still bound by the players available to them. At all stages of the draft, the debate about whether to take the best player available or a player who fits some need persists.

Typically the team finds some need the best player can fit. But it is usually good practice to take whoever is on top of the draft board and figure out the best fit from there. The best players will always sort themselves out.

The choice that will be presented to the Magic at this year’s draft is going to test a lot of their draft principles.

Fans are already focusing on players like Indiana Hoosiers guard Romeo Langford, North Carolina Tar Heels forward (and Orlando Christian Prep alum) Nassir Little and USC Trojans guard Kevin Porter Jr.

All three have Lottery-level talent but struggled to different degrees to reach that potential. They all had some flaw that has caused them to slip to the late-Lottery and beyond.

Their potential to solve the Magic’s playmaking and creation problem is a big part of the appeal. They are all very good. But players like Langford and Porter had to have the ball in their hands a lot to be successful. Unless they reach their full potential, it is hard envisioning them in some supporting role.

Then there are “safer” picks in guys who could fill a role.

Virginia Tech Hokies guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker is a solid shooter and defender, but not someone who projects as a high-end starter. He will likely always be a supporting player but that can be valuable.

The same could be said for Kentucky Wildcats guard Tyler Herro, who might be the best shooter in the draft.

Then there are several interesting project players who are probably more advanced defensively than on offense — fitting the Magic’s m.o. in the last few years — in Stanford Cardinal forward KZ Okpala, Iowa State Cyclones forward Talen Horton-Tucker or North Carolina Tar Heels forward Cam Johnson.

It is easy to see there are a lot of different options and a lot of different directions the team can go. Each player has their benefits — both from their physical attributes and their skills — and their risks.

What is more important now drafting this late in the draft is to stick to their process and evaluation and come to the best decision for them to fill the needs they want.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

They should always have the principle of taking the best player on their board. But how they come up with that board and what they emphasize will become vital to sorting out the best player.

The choice will not be easy. Nor will it seem like it has a guarantee. These are players that probably have to fit a specific role to find success. If they find the wrong team or the wrong situation, their careers could flounder some.

Adding to all this pressure, the Magic probably need to find a player who can contribute quickly to the team.

With little cap room to spend and few ways for the team to add new players and improve, hitting on a rookie who can contribute something (even if it is a small role). If the Magic have to spend most of their cap room to re-sign their own players — or find their replacements — the draft is a tool the team cannot squander.

The team needs to get some kind of production from their rookie in all likelihood.

And so their pick at 16 will be a balance between finding the player who can become the best player on the board and someone who can contribute quickly and provide some value immediately.

The Magic are still a developing team. They are not wholly focused on their present. They want to amass talent still and find players who can grow with their young core.

But they are also looking to maintain their playoff spot too. And those considerations have to be part of their thought process when it comes to the draft.

Orlando Magic did not waste Mohamed Bamba's rookie year. dark. Next

The Magic have three weeks to sort through it and refine their list.