Playoffs highlighting how key second round picks are to Orlando Magic

Herbert Jones has been a revelation for the New Orleans Pelicans and a multiplier for their playoff hopes. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Herbert Jones has been a revelation for the New Orleans Pelicans and a multiplier for their playoff hopes. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Orleans crowd was raucous on Sunday night, whipped into a frenzy by the effort and energy their team was playing with.

What the Pelicans have — anchored around the first overall pick in Zion Williamson, a superstar trade that netted them a young star in Brandon Ingram and a low-risk all-in trade to add CJ McCollum — is what every small market team wants.

That is not why the team won Game 4 and evened its series with the Phoenix Suns. That is not what had the crowd whipped into a frenzy.

Instead, it was the Pelicans’ duo of rookies — a defensive wunderkind taken with the 35th overall pick in Herbert Jones and an undrafted defensive ace who started the year on a two-way contract in Jose Alvarado. Both of those players helped give the Pelicans some needed energy and a boost to a team that could easily be stretched thin — especially with three high-priced players on the roster.

This is how young teams have to build. They spend on their stars, but they supplement with smart drafting and young players who can contribute immediately. These players are multipliers as much as they are cult heroes to fans.

Think how Courtney Lee (22nd overall pick) helped gas up the 2009 Magic on their way to the NBA Finals. Finding valuable role players later in the draft is just as important as finding stars at the top.

This is how teams suddenly become great.

Second-round picks and late first-round picks are multipliers for teams eager to make the Playoffs. The Orlando Magic have constantly punted on these opportunities.

But this is something the Orlando Magic — to some ridicule — have passed on throughout president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman’s tenure in charge.

The Magic have struggled to gain this multiplier and not having that could very well have helped put a cap on their playoff teams in 2019 and 2020 just as much as it has failed to squeak the wheels of the current rebuild, in its infancy as it is.

Orlando has simply passed on second-round picks repeatedly and missed out on opportunities (not certainty) to add talent. The repeated passing on these opportunities have probably been the most consistent frustration of his tenure.

Since Weltman took over, the Magic have traded away six second-round picks out of eight they had — they drafted Wesley Iwundu and Melvin Frazier.

To his credit, Iwundu proved to be a solid fill-in role player for the Magic in 2019 and 2020. But the team did not feel confident enough to re-sign him and he was out of the league a year later after a season with the Dallas Mavericks.

Frazier barely played for the Magic in two seasons. At least he had a strong season in the G-League this past year.

They also swapped second-round picks, trading Jarred Vanderbilt (currently a starter for the Minnesota Timberwolves) for Justin Jackson and another pick. Jackson never played for the Orlando Magic and the Lakeland Magic have traded away his G-League rights, signaling he was not going to get the call-up to the main roster.

Additionally, the team also acquired a future first-round pick from the Philadelphia 76ers in trading the 25th pick (Anzejs Pasecnicks). They would later send that pick back to Philadelphia in the Markelle Fultz trade. That pick became Tyrese Maxey.

Some of these second-round trades Weltman has made just look awful in hindsight.

The Orlando Magic gave Talen Horton-Tucker to the Los Angeles Lakers for cash and a future second-round pick. . . that they would later trade to the Philadelphia 76ers for James Ennis, a solid contributor for the Magic in 2020 to solidify that playoff run.

In the 2020 Draft, the Orlando Magic traded their second-round pick (selecting Jordan Nwora) to the Milwaukee Bucks for two future second-round picks. One of those became the 35th pick in the upcoming 2022 NBA Draft.

Finally this past year, the Magic picked Boone High School alum Jason Preston only to trade him to the LA Clippers on draft night. He did not play this year as he dealt with a foot injury. This was still a curious move for a team in rebuild mode that would seemingly want to collect young players.

This is not to say the Magic necessarily missed on picking or trading these players. Objectively, outside of Horton-Tucker and Vanderbilt, Orlando simply moved picks around and kicked things down the road.

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But there are still missed opportunities there too. It is hard to say the Magic could not have used Kyle Kuzma (27th pick in 2017), Derrick White (29th pick in 2017), Dillon Brooks (45th pick in 2017), Monte Morris (51st pick in 2017) and, yes, Herbert Jones (35th pick in 2021).

Every draft has players that were clearly mis-scouted or missed completely. And a lot of these players’ success may very well be situation dependent.

At the end of the day, second-round picks are more guesses than first-round picks. There are reasons guys slip this late.

Other considerations also come into play.

Weltman rightly gets pilloried for his “draft flattening out” remark after the 2017 draft when the team traded Pasecnicks. But he also had an issue of balancing out his roster that still remains. There is not room to add too many players.

The Magic currently have nine players under contract for next season. Three of their veteran players are potentially out the door and the Magic will certainly want to add a veteran player to support this extremely young group. The Magic have three draft picks — their first-round pick plus pick Nos. 32 and 35.

And any player a team picks should be picked with an aim of carving out playing time for that player — whether in the present or in the future. That is the part the Magic have failed to do with any of their late-first or second-round picks under Weltman.

Iwundu is the only player who carved out a role on any of his teams.

Orlando will have to figure out how to add all of these pieces to the roster. So it would not be surprising to see the team consider trading or consolidating these later picks once again.

In reality, any selection in the second round is more about faith in the person a team is drafting. That is really what any draft is about. The team has to have belief in the players available in the draft.

Ultimately a draft pick is a show of faith and belief in the player they are picking.

This has hit Weltman and his staff pretty hard. But he deserves credit for finding Khem Birch and bringing him into the fold. He was a key player for both the 2019 and 2020 seasons. The Magic also found Isaiah Briscoe out of obscurity and used him well before an injury cut off his 2019 season.

There should be perhaps some faith the front office knows how to scout overseas prospects and veterans and bringing them into the fold.

There are other ways to add players beyond the draft.

But these are still missed opportunities. And, especially in a rebuild, no team should be in the business of skipping opportunities — especially one with as little risk as a typical second-round pick.

It is one thing to miss on a pick, it is certainly another to punt on the opporutnity.

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And as the Playoffs continually show, punting on that chance could be the difference between a perpetual rebuild and the spark to make a playoff moment.