The Orlando Magic are back in business.
This year’s NBA Draft will mark the fourth time in franchise history the organization will pick number one overall. In the past, the Magic’s first overall selections brought major changes to the franchise. The kind of players who led the team to its golden ages and its two NBA Finals trips.
Fans are hopeful that this year will be no different.
The No. 1 pick certainly has the power to transform a franchise in sudden and dramatic ways.
There is undoubtedly a lot of talent in this draft. But the draft is also a product of what is available.
The consensus top players in this year’s NBA Draft are all big forwards. But the Orlando Magic are seeing that wings and guards are winning. That presents a difficult choice for the Magic’s top pick.
The consensus top three that have emerged in Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren are all very good players. But they do not fit the type that is succeeding in the league. Centers, despite Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic’s run to the MVP award this season, are not the ones leading teams deep into the playoffs or winning titles.
Orlando can only take the best player the team can. But the team also has to consider what will help it win in the long run.
In this year’s Conference Finals, wing players are the dominant forces. Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler, Stephen Curry and Luka Doncic are all dazzling scorers who are able to spread the floor with their jumpers and attack the paint.
The centers for these title-contending teams are more interchangeable — their focus put on their ability to defend the rim and switch onto the perimeter.
Yes, centers dominated the MVP discussion with both Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid finishing first and second for the award. But the goal is to win a title. And both of them are sitting at home watching to see who lifts the trophy.
That has been the case for the last several years.
In 2020, it was LeBron James who hoisted up the Larry O’Brien Trophy. In 2019, it was a wing in Kawhi Leonard leading the Toronto Raptors to a title. And in 2017 and 2018 it was a wing player with a deadly pull-up jumper in Kevin Durant and the deadly range of Stephen Curry who were the key players.
It is certainly different from the situation — and the league — the Magic found themselves in when they previously had the top pick in the Draft.
In 1992, the Magic had the first pick and selected Shaquille O’Neal in a draft everyone understood would be a generational draft.
The Magic continued to build around the superstar big man by trading the first pick in 1993 to the Golden State Warriors to get a superstar point guard in Anfernee Hardaway. They filled their roster with shooters around O’Neal so that the team could be an inside-outside threat.
The Magic reached the finals just two years later.
In 2004, the Magic had the first pick and selected Dwight Howard — after a heated public debate about taking the high schooler or experienced collegiate big man Emeka Okafor. That proved to be the right choice.
The Magic again built around a superstar big man, trading for the draft rights to a point guard (Jameer Nelson) in the same draft and placing shooters all around Howard.
Five years later, Orlando was back in the NBA Finals once again with another Hall-of-Fame-caliber center leading the way.
In those days, picking a center was the obvious choice. It was a league built around big men and they were vital to team success, even if big men take a little bit more time to develop fully.
These were not only the best players available in that draft, but a center was essential to success in the league. The league had not downsized and become reliant on 3-point shooting in the way it does today.
The game has indeed changed since those days. Most teams are not looking forward to drafting a big man with the first overall selection. Now the game is won on the perimeter and in recent history, the wing players are usually the best players on a championship level squad.
That presents at least some questions for how the Magic should approach this draft.
Yes, they should take the best player. At the end of the day, the Magic need top-end talent more than anything else. But they also want to set themselves up to win — and eventually win the big prize.
That should have them considering at least some off-the-wall prospects, even if they end up going with the conventional thinking. Wings and guards are what wins in this league.
President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said after the Draft Lottery the team will explore every option. They may not go the way everyone expects. They certainly have to consider what matters in this league.
That is why Purdue’s Jaden Ivey should get his fair consideration for the top pick. The Magic at least should put him in the group of players they plan to interview and work out.
He is the most athletic and the most exciting player in the draft and would instantly become a face for the franchise. A potential driving force from the perimeter, giving the team a scorer it has not had in a long time.
Ivey averaged more points per game than any of the other top players, averaging 17.3 points per game and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 46.0-percent from the floor and 35.8-percent from beyond the arc.
In Big Ten play, a conference known for its slower pace and defense, Ivey averaged 17.5 points per game and 2.9 assists per game while shooting 42.6-percent from the floor and 30.9-percent from beyond the arc.
There are still concerns about Ivey’s ability as a point guard. He was not a great passer at the collegiate level and his shooting was wildly inconsistent. It speaks to how little depth there is in this year’s guard draft class.
Still, selecting Ivey could potentially swing momentum for the franchise and entice the role players to step up their games.
Jaden Ivey has drawn comparisons to Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant. He is not a better collegiate scorer than Morant according to the numbers, but his upside is tremendous and the Magic young core would instantly become deeper and more athletic than they are today.
The Magic organization will have a wealth of talent at guard in a guard-centric league and can play multiple guards at once, similar to the Golden State Warriors’ scheme of playing Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole together.
The conventional pick is not always the best pick too. The Magic should not overthink things and do their best to pick the best player, but the guy who goes first does not always turn out to be the best player.
This year’s Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes, was selected fourth overall. The year before that LaMelo Ball was selected 3rd overall and won the Rookie of the Year award.
In 2013, the Magic selected Victor Oladipo. That was considered a good pick. But no one could see Giannis Antetokounmpo, CJ McCollum and Rudy Gobert outperforming him. Oladipo did become an All-Star, but long after the Magic lost patience.
The same happened in 2014 when the Magic traded up for Elfrid Payton. They did that over Zach LaVine and, of course, Nikola Jokic.
Sometimes the player who people think is the best player in the draft isn’t the best in their class and that’s the reason the Magic should take their chances with Jaden Ivey.
All these players are really good and have worked their tail off to be in the position to call themselves a top-five NBA Draft pick. And while guys like Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren are solid picks, Jaden Ivey may have the biggest upside in the draft.
It is something the Magic at least have to consider.