Orlando Magic Draft Evaluation: Redrafting the Jeff Weltman Era

Jeff Weltman has collected some solid players for the Orlando Magic through the draft. But is still seeking the big fish. (Photo by Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jeff Weltman has collected some solid players for the Orlando Magic through the draft. But is still seeking the big fish. (Photo by Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Chuma Okeke, Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic will give unsigned rookie Chuma Okeke a year to recover and get healthy. (Photo by Sean Berry/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Chuma Okeke

The Orlando Magic surprised just about everyone drafting Chuma Okeke with the 16th overall pick in last year’s draft. A lot of people — myself included — did not really have him on the radar.

Especially because the Magic had limited options to add to the team, I believed Orlando needed to add a player in the draft who could contribute immediately and fill a role. That had us focusing on other players and not a guy like Chuma Okeke who was coming off a torn ACL.

Jeff Weltman, however, seems to have made it clear that he views the draft as a place to invest in talent, not a place to cash in. They are going to take the best player on their board and give that player the time and space to grow at his pace.

I would expect as Orlando approaches the 2020 Draft, the team will be open to picking a player even at a position that does not have an apparent need and be willing to let that player develop at his pace — even if that means spending a lot of time with the Lakeland Magic.

That was the approach the Toronto Raptors took with a lot of their players. And they have become something of a development juggernaut.

Okeke is definitely an interesting player to develop and grow. He is a versatile forward who showed the potential to hit from the outside and defend at a high level.

The statistical models a lot of draft experts have absolutely loved Okeke and believe he was a steal in the draft at No. 16.

To be real, the odds of a No. 16 pick becoming an All-Star are relatively small — although not impossible. That is not what the Magic want from him.

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Certainly for his rookie year, they are expecting him to be able to fill a role in the rotation, although perhaps there might still be a fight to get him minutes and a chance he spends some time in the G-League to stay fresh and get re-acclimated to playing basketball again.

What should the Magic realistically expect? Who are the best comps for him within his class?

The players currently 16th in (or thereabouts) in win shares, box plus-minus and VORP, according to Basketball-Reference, are Goga Bitadze, Nassir Little, Tyler Herro (with a -2.3 box plus-minus) and Allen Smailagic. Not exactly a murderer’s row of prospects.

It is everyone’s rookie year, so these still feel like relatively small sample sizes.

Little has struggled to break into the rotation for the Portland Trail Blazers. Bitadze and Herro have been inconsistent but have played roles for their playoff-bound teams. Smailagic has come on strong during the New Orleans Pelicans’ tear toward the postseason.

If Okeke becomes a reliable role player — even like someone like Herro — the Magic would be very happy with his rookie year.

The players in his class that are probably most comparable are players like Nassir Little and Matisse Thybulle (who has really outperformed his draft spot for the Philadelphia 76ers).

Okeke could nestle in somewhere between those two. And that would make him a useful role player next year.

Matisse Thybulle or perhaps Brandon Clarke seems to be the biggest potential misses for the Magic at No. 16. But Okeke needs his chance to play and prove himself before we can say that with any certainty.