Finding a premier scorer should be Orlando Magic’s top priority

Paolo Banchero made his case for stardom as he led Duke to the Final Four. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Paolo Banchero made his case for stardom as he led Duke to the Final Four. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports /

They say defense wins championships. But offense gets you wins in the regular season. And eventually, the playoffs become an exercise in offensive brilliance beating good defense.

In this league, good offense beats good defense every time

Every team needs a scorer who can get a basket when the team is struggling on the offensive end. This player can bail a team out when they have played a lackluster game. He is also capable of pulling out a victory when defeat seems inevitable.

The Orlando Magic are lacking this type of scorer and should make this a priority for the offseason — whether it is through internal development, through the draft or through some other offseason acquisition.

The Orlando Magic’s biggest need is abundantly clear. The team needs a premier offensive player to get the team to the next level and raise the ceiling for their future.

With the building pieces Orlando has added the last couple of seasons, a go-to scorer could be the missing piece to the puzzle coach Jamahl Mosley and the Magic desperately needs.

It is no secret the Magic are in desperate need of some offensive push.

Orlando averaged 104.2 points per game this season which was the second-worst total in the league. The team averaged 103.9 points per 100 possessions, also 29th in the league.

In addition, their leading scorer, Cole Anthony, had the lowest scoring average of any player in the league who led their team in scoring. Hunting for offense and consistent scoring was a constant chore for this team.

With the rule changes that have taken place in the league during the last 15-20 years, scoring in this league is at a premium. No longer can you win games by a score of 95-90 with regularity anymore.

This brings the need for the Magic to do everything in their power to get a premium scorer this offseason.

The Magic have had only one 20-point scorer since Dwight Howard left a decade ago in Nikola Vucevic. And the team has not had a wing player average at least 20 points per game since Steve Francis in 2005 — Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson are the only other two that came close.

While Cole Anthony and Wendell Carter are decent scorers, it would be hard to make the argument that either one would project to become a premier scorer.

Franz Wagner scored the team-high this season with a 38-point effort against the Milwaukee Bucks in December. But there are still a lot of questions about Wagner taking on a bigger scoring load and whether he can take on that leading scorer mantle.

This lack of reliable perimeter scoring has been a constant weakness for the Magic. It is something the team needs to put its focus on this offseason.

By the draft

There are a few players in the upcoming draft who fit the mold of a bona fide go-to scorer. And this would seemingly be the Orlando Magic’s best chance to add that kind of offensive threat to the roster, even in what many are considering a fairly weak draft at the top.

By finishing with the second-worst record in the league, Orlando has positioned itself for a top pick in this year’s draft. This will allow them to draft one of the top scorers and there are several to choose from.

The three premier scorers Orlando should focus on are Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero and Jaden Ivey.

Projecting the pro careers of young college prospects is difficult to do. Every few years it seems like a player is drafted in the top five who drops out of the league a few seasons later. It is never an exact science.

But the future looks very bright for the three players previously mentioned.

Jabari Smith is a skilled 6-foot-10 forward with tremendous upside. His athleticism, combined with his size and versatility on the offensive end will give NBA defenses nightmares for many years.

He is the type of prospect who will come in from day one knowing how to score the basketball. Smith also has the potential to become a very good defensive player on the next level.

The only knock on Smith in his only season at Auburn was being too passive. This is a criticism that many freshmen face. As he gains more experience, his aggressiveness should improve.

Paolo Banchero has an NBA body at 6-foot-10, 250 pounds. Despite his young age, Banchero has a good low-post game and a very high basketball IQ on the offensive end.

He led a star-studded Duke team in points and rebounds and had a strong NCAA Tournament run averaging 18.8 points per game. Banchero already has 3-point range but does have significant room for improvement on the defensive side of the ball.

Jaden Ivey might not have been able to showcase his full potential in his two seasons at Purdue while playing in Matt Painter’s offense, which was geared towards big men Zach Edey and Trevion Williams. However, Ivey managed to average more than 17 points per game in his sophomore season.

Ivey was also the go-to player for the Boilermakers at the end of games. He is a dynamic player who can finish with power at the basket and work in between the paint to get to the basket or hit mid-range jumpers.

Player comparisons are likening Ivey’s game to that of Donovan Mitchell and Anthony Edwards. He has premier athleticism and is devastating in the open court with the ball in his hands.

Ivey will have to become a better decision-maker if he ends up playing the point guard position in the NBA. At 6-foot-4, Ivey can play either guard position and has the potential to become an elite scorer in the league.

By Free agency or Trade

Free Agency remains an option as well for the Orlando Magic to bolster their roster and add a premium scorer. The Magic will enter the offseason among the teams with the most salary-cap space.

But two things might not make this option realistic.

No. 1: Orlando is not a premier destination for the most in-demand free agents at this time. Most of the highest valued players who will be on the market are looking to join a team that is in win-now mode, not the rebuilding phase the Magic are in.

No. 2: The Magic do not want to overspend on a player to fill a need that could be resolved through the NBA Draft for much cheaper. There are a few teams who find themselves in salary cap hell as a result of giving out huge contracts which came back to bite them. Orlando needs to be cautious in looking to add talent via free agency.

No. 3: This is not a strong free-agent class and many of the best players — like Zach LaVine, Deandre Ayton and Miles Bridges — are expected to re-sign with their current teams.

The Magic have a lot of money to spend this offseason, but there are few players worth spending it on.

Orlando could still look to trade for a No. 1 scoring option this offseason, using their draft capital and promising young players to help a team looking for a reset.

In the current climate of the league, we are seeing big-name players shipped around frequently. Perhaps Donovan Mitchell, who has been rumored to be fed up with his situation in Utah could be an option.

The price might be steep for a player of Mitchell’s caliber, but he would instantly provide the Magic with the elite scorer the franchise has lacked the past few seasons. Mitchell is only 27 years old and just finished his second consecutive season averaging more than 25 points per game.

The Magic would be wise to at least consider making a move for Mitchell or another player of similar scoring prowess.

This is not the clearest path for the Magic. But it might become more attractive if the Magic end up losing the Draft Lottery. The team has to be thinking of ways to continue pushing the team forward. They cannot simply wait for Lottery luck to turn in their favor.

There are plenty of options.

In the draft, Bennedict Mathurin, Johnny Davis, Shaedon Sharpe and Keegan Murray are four more prospects who should have their names called early in the upcoming draft. Thus, this draft is loaded with great future scorers. The Magic should draft the player that is the best fit for their needs and roster.

Unless they find a trade deal that is too hard to pass, the Magic should follow their past philosophy and continue to build the roster through the NBA draft.

This offseason will be pivotal in the rebuild of the Orlando Magic and coming away without an elite scorer could set the franchise back for years to come. Orlando gained momentum with the strong play of several of their young players this past season.

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A strong offseason would position the Magic to be competitive in the Eastern Conference for many years.