Orlando Magic 2021 NBA Draft Preview: James Bouknight is the scorer the Magic have needed

James Bouknight is one of the best scorers in the Draft class. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
James Bouknight is one of the best scorers in the Draft class. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

The NBA has historically been dominated by scorers who are masterful at just receiving the ball, telling everyone else on the court to get out of their way and using their physical skills to annihilate the opposition as they create their own offense from thin air.

Even as the NBA has shifted toward more egalitarian offenses that focus on ball movement and spacing, there is still a ubiquitous need for a scorer who has the confidence and skill to be able to score on anybody at any time.

The Orlando Magic have been in desperate need of a shot creator and scorer since Tracy McGrady in the early 2000s. And while there can only be one McGrady, the fact is the Magic have been plagued with abysmal shooting performances for the better part of the last half-decade.

The Magic have not had a guard average more than 20 points per game since Steve Francis in 2005.

Among the most glaring issues on this Magic roster, perhaps the most pressing is a source of offensive production — no matter the position.

UConn’s James Bouknight could be an option to solve the offensive maladies of the Magic. Bouknight, the 6-foot-5, 190-pound sophomore shooting guard, has been considered by most reputable draft pundits as one of, if not the most explosive scorers of this year’s draft class.

The Orlando Magic are in desperate need of a dynamic scorer and someone who can put the ball in the hoop. UConn’s James Bouknight is a simple bucket-getter and would be the scorer this team has missed.

Before etching this pick in Sharpie for the Magic, we must be wary of the college scorer archetype going into professional basketball.

Being a high-level scorer in the college ranks does not always translate into elite offensive production in the NBA. For every Devin Booker, there will be a Jimmer Fredette or Nik Stauskas that toils in the NBA drudgery.

The main appeal of Bouknights’  game is his offensive skill set and aggressive personality.

Three-level scorer

James Bouknight projects as a three-level scorer but is at his most efficient when dribbling from the top of the key and using pin-down and hesitation dribbles to drive towards the basket.

Driving is his greatest offensive strength. He has a bevy of athletic finishes at the rim with a contorting body to make tough lay-ups.

Bouknight is also not afraid of contact and will often draw fouls on his attempts toward the rim. This is complemented by impressive body control which allows him to finish through the contact,  making him a pest in transition and in close range scoring.

Bouknight has one of the best floaters in this draft class yet he is also athletic enough to power through with impressive dunks. Bouknight has been used in the past as a lob option in half-court sets.

Bouknight shot better than 60-percent when driving to the rim and about a third of his shot attempts came from drives and close-range finishes.

When Bouknight is at his best, he combines his toolkit of dribble moves to ignite from all three levels of the court.

Bouknight has a tremendous first step which initiates drives to the basket, often leaving defenders in his wake. Bouknight is able to stop on a dime and hit tough jump shots over capable defenders.

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  • In the pick and roll, Bouknight has the awareness to understand when a defender is sagging off or going under screens and is quick to take advantage of this defensive positioning.

    Bouknight has a capable jump shot and while there are questions pertaining to his subpar 3-point shooting percentage last season (29-percent as he dealt with an elbow injury), his fluid shot mechanics and his 80-percent free throw percentage seems to suggest his mechanics are not broken and his shot has the ability to improve.

    Bouknight is incredibly confident and is willing to shoot high-difficulty shots – some (like the mid-range step back) being a valuable tool in his arsenal.

    Areas for improvement

    James Bouknight is considered one of the best scorers in this draft class, yet there are still major areas of improvement that must be addressed in his development to become a complete offensive weapon at the NBA level.

    Bouknight is prone to bouts of tunnel vision while handling the ball. He has a tendency of shooting while double-teamed or ignoring wide-open teammates while operating the offense as a primary ball-handler.

    Bouknight had only 27 assists last season in his limited time on the court. He must improve his ability to operate within a system rather than as a one man isolation scorer.

    Bouknight has a tendency for settling for high difficulty mid-range shots when his drive to the basket is stalled. When met with traps or double teams, Bouknight will attempt to dribble around rather than diagnose and pass off the ball – leading to turnovers and inefficient shot selections.

    Some of this issue stems from a discrepancy between his skills as a ball-handler and his aggressive mentality. While Bouknight has some ball-handling skills, he is often unable to create separation against high-level defenders and will find himself taking tough jumpers rather than finding an open teammate.

    Bouknight must work to tighten his handle if wishes to become a primary ball-handler in an NBA offense.

    Bouknight struggled last year with catch and shoot triples which limits his immediate effectiveness as an off-ball shooter when paired with Markelle Fultz or R.J. Hampton.

    Orlando Magic
    Orlando Magic /

    Orlando Magic

    Bouknight is a very skilled cutter, however, which demonstrates some immediate use as an off-ball offensive option in any system where he operates as a shooting guard. He is willing to set screens and operate well coming off of pin downs where he can more often than not use his athletic ability for easy lay-ups.

    If his shooting becomes consistent, it is not far-fetched to see him as a late-game option paired with one of the many point guards the Magic have on the roster.

    Defensive Flashes 

    James Bouknight has the physical ability to defend adequately yet is at this stage unable to consistently show high-level defensive play for an entire game.

    One of Bouknights’ greatest strengths on the defensive end is his anticipation playing help defense which has allowed him to make timely steals and initiate transition opportunities.

    Bouknight averaged 1.1 steals per game last year and will often pester lead ball handlers when he is helping or pick their pockets when these ball handlers lose sight of Bouknight on the periphery.

    When Bouknight is engaged, he is capable of sticking to his man and has court awareness to diagnose the plays that the offense is running to anticipate actions.

    Bouknight will have to work on his engagement. He will be caught sleeping on the defensive and has been prone to losing his man on backdoor cuts and double moves.

    His inconsistency is apparent as a 1-on-1 on-ball defender, where he will go long periods of time showing low effort and allowing his primary assignment to blow by him or bait him with dribble moves.

    Fit with the Magic

    James Bouknight is an interesting prospect because he has shown he has the potential to be a high-level scorer with the ability to operate off the ball and be a capable defender for at least both guard positions.

    The fear with this line of thinking is banking on the belief Bouknight will be able to become consistent on so many facets of his game. While he does have the athletic tools and good shot mechanics, there are many nuances of the game Bouknight still needs to understand before being a full-time offensive machine.

    On a roster that is headlined by three players who have shown greater competency handling the ball and operating as primary ball handlers, it would be counter-productive to draft yet another ball-dominant guard that does not have the same level of skill handling the ball as any of those options.

    Scouts have touted his offensive potential in the past and there have been videos of him at the draft combine that have lent credence to the idea that he has been motivated to improve his weaknesses.

    Bouknight was also plagued with a lingering elbow injury sustained in the sixth game of the season which caused him to miss several weeks. Perhaps some of his shooting and ball-handling issues can be attributed to this injury.

    Even with that in mind, it is difficult to project a consistent role of Bouknight on the Orlando Magic without a commitment toward improving his catch and shoot three-pointer as well as operating as a distributor rather than an isolation scorer.

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    While I believe Bouknight would thrive in the right situation that is willing to be patient as he develops his offensive and defensive game, it would behoove the Magic to look for other prospects that have more polished games and have complimentary skills to Fultz, Anthony and Hampton.