Just more than a week from now, the Orlando Magic will make one of the biggest decisions in the team’s history when they pick first in the 2022 NBA Draft.
It is not going to be an easy decision with three top prospects in Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith and Paolo Banchero all worthy of being the number one pick.
The Magic could not really be blamed for selecting any of them. All have their respective strengths and concerns. But, crucially, all have the potential to be among the best players in the league someday.
But while Smith and Banchero’s shooting and offensive creation would seemingly address the team’s scoring struggles, the Holmgren’s unique skillset could well prove too difficult to turn down for the Magic front office.
Especially when you look at recent history.
The Orlando Magic front office have shown a preference for drafting length in the NBA Draft and Chet Holmgren presents a massive opportunity to continue that trend.
Holmgren is listed as 7-feet tall with a 7-foot-6 wingspan. He has all the tools to become an elite shot blocker in the NBA and his length and versatility mean he can switch onto smaller matchups on the perimeter and more than hold his own.
While not as advanced as the other two names at the top of the draft when it comes to creating his own shot, he still has plenty to offer. Holmgren is an excellent finisher and can stretch the floor thanks to his ability to shoot from 3-point range.
Holmgren averaged 14.1 points per game, 9.9 rebounds per game and 3.7 blocks per game in his lone year at Gonzaga. He shot 60.7-percent from the floor and 39.7-percent from beyond the arc, punishing defenses both inside and out.
Ultimately, he does things a player of his size should not be able to do. His defensive versatility and his ability to handle the ball and shoot well are not typically seen from someone with his physical makeup. The possibility of what Holmgren could eventually be is mouth-watering.
There is no player in this draft that has much upside or unique potential as Holmgren. This is not a generational draft but Holmgren has the best shot of any player to change the league by his presence.
When you look at president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond’s recent draft history, the more you realize the possibility of drafting Holmgren might be too big to turn down.
The pair have shown a preference for big men and length since joining the Magic. The very first pick of the Jeff Weltman era was Jonathan Isaac back in 2017, a defensive-minded player with incredible size and versatility.
Isaac’s injury problems have meant his career has not yet panned out as hoped. He has shown flashes of being one of the league’s best defenders but there are huge doubts around whether he can ever become what the Magic hoped he would.
A year later, Weltman again opted for length with the selection of Mo Bamba — who recorded the largest ever wingspan at the NBA Draft Combine at 7-foot-10. Like Isaac, Bamba has not been what the Magic hoped he would be so far and his future with the team is still uncertain.
It was clear to see the vision the front office had for the team, but the problems Bamba and Isaac have had since entering the NBA means we have not really been able to see that vision in practice.
Holmgren offers this front office a chance to continue pursuing that vision, as well as a shot at redemption from the (so far) failed picks of Bamba and Isaac. He could become what the Magic had hoped from Isaac and, especially, Bamba.
If Weltman and Hammond were to draw up the type of player they love, it would look like something extremely similar to Holmgren.
When the pair worked together at the Milwaukee Bucks, they took a chance on an unknown, skinny and extremely young Greek prospect in Giannis Antetekounmpo. They saw beyond his skinny frame and were persuaded by the physical tools and potential he possessed.
A lot of the concerns around Holmgren are due to his similarly skinny frame. No one is for a second suggesting he can grow to become Antetokounmpo’s size. But he will get stockier as he gets older. And drafting Antetokounmpo while at the Bucks showed Weltman and Hammond are willing to wait for a prospect to become more physically ready for the NBA.
Smith and Banchero would immediately provide a boost to an offense that is in need of more creation and scoring. But a similar player to Holmgren in Evan Mobley has demonstrated just how big of an impact that type of player can have on a team.
This is an enormously tough decision for everyone involved with the Magic. It represents the opportunity to propel the team back into playoff contention and, hopefully, more in the years to come.
Recent history shows Holmgren is the type of player those making the decisions prefer, and we’ll soon find out whether or not that continues into this draft.