Orlando Magic 2022 NBA Draft Preview: Making the case for Jabari Smith Jr.

AUBURN, AL - JANUARY 19: Jabari Smith #10 of the Auburn Tigers shoots during the second half against the Georgia Bulldogs at Auburn Arena on January 19, 2022 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
AUBURN, AL - JANUARY 19: Jabari Smith #10 of the Auburn Tigers shoots during the second half against the Georgia Bulldogs at Auburn Arena on January 19, 2022 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic have a huge opportunity to address one of the team’s long-standing weaknesses in the 2022 NBA Draft.

With three excellent prospects at the top of the board, the Magic have a hugely difficult decision to make. You could not really fault the team for taking any one of Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren or Jabari Smith Jr.

But with the team having long struggled to shoot the ball well, both before and since the decision was taken to rebuild the team, drafting Smith could finally provide the Magic with a reliable shooting presence on the court.

The Orlando Magic have long struggled with shooting from deep and a lack of reliable shot-makers is an obvious area of weakness on the roster, something Jabari Smith Jr would address.

Orlando ranked third worst for 3-point shooting percentage last season, making just 33.1-percent of their attempts. That is despite the team taking the 11th most threes per game at 36.9 per game. The three-ball was a big part of the offense despite it not being one of the team’s main strengths.

A lack of shot creation often meant the team settled for contested threes, but clearly head coach Jamahl Mosley wants perimeter shooting to be a focus of his offense. Something which makes sense in the modern NBA.

And with his ability to shoot the ball from deep, Smith addresses an obvious area of improvement for the team.

He shot 42.0-percent from three last season on 5.5 attempts per game. At 6-foot-10, his jump shot is pretty much unblockable when he rises up and he showed he could make contested jumpers from deep.

It is not just from beyond the perimeter that Smith is effective. He showcased a wide array of shots at Auburn last season, making tough fadeaways and contested attempts from mid-range. He was a go-to bucket on an Auburn team with poor guards. He is the one who lifted Auburn into national title contention.

Putting the ball through the hoop is the most important thing in basketball, and the Magic roster still has an evident lack of players who can consistently do that. That might improve as this young team gets better over time. But even factoring in the ceilings of the Magic’s young core, they could still do with some more scoring power.

It is clear to see how he could improve the team right away.

Smith’s shooting ability would space the floor for players like Markelle Fultz and Franz Wagner to thrive and get into the lane. It is not just Smith’s own scoring ability that would improve an offense that desperately needs a boost. The Magic averaged the second-fewest points per game last season and were near the bottom of every major offensive statistical category.

That is the most apparent and obvious area the team would get a boost. But Smith does a whole lot more. And that potential is what has lifted him into the top pick conversation.

He was also a really good defender at the college level. The Magic have prioritized good defense with their draft selections. It is key to the identity the team is trying to build.

Drafting Smith would mean a continuation of that strategy while ensuring there is not a weak link on that end of the floor.

The same could not necessarily be said for Banchero. And while Holmgren offers more defensively, he does not provide the same level of offensive output as Smith.

With Franz Wagner having nailed down the 3-spot and with uncertainty surrounding Jonathan Isaac given the amount of basketball he has missed, there is an opening at the 4-position. Smith could slot straight in and looks a great fit for this roster.

There is the argument that fit does not matter at the top of the draft. The teams selecting there are usually the worst in the NBA. It is usually more important to get the best player possible and make it work rather than selecting someone who can fit the current roster.

And while that is a strong argument, there is a lot to like about this current Magic team despite last season’s struggles.

Wagner has tons of potential. Fultz was excellent after returning to the team last season. Wendell Carter has committed his future to the Magic. The list goes on.

Smith’s skillset filling the Magic’s biggest need could help to make those guys, and therefore the team overall, better by providing something it does not currently have — a knockdown shooter.

There are concerns of course. Smith’s scoring is primarily done away from the basket and he is not effective at either driving or finishing at the rim. He is much more content with doing his damage from three and from mid-range. That would not be so much of a problem during the regular season, but the playoffs is where weaknesses are often exposed.

Banchero and Holmgren have a wider skill set than Smith at present. Holmgren’s shot-blocking, versatility and finishing are hugely appealing. And Banchero has all the tools to go right to the top with his ability to handle the ball and create his own looks.

But when you are so good at one thing, do your weaknesses really matter that much?

Smith is such a good shooter at such a big size that there is not really going to be anyone that can stop him from scoring, even in the NBA.

Much of the narrative around this draft has concerned Smith being a higher floor but lower ceiling prospect than his competition. But that is not necessarily true. When you watch Smith’s highlight reel and the shots he makes, you realize how big of a risk it would be to pass on someone that has that ability.

Not to compare the two, but look at someone like Kevin Durant. He is a player who does most of his damage away from the basket as one of the best players in the NBA. He gets to his spots and makes tough shots, and he will go down as one of the greatest scorers ever.

Next. Orlando Magic's 2nd round picks will become about balance. dark

It is easy to get caught up in a player’s weaknesses before the draft. But Smith’s strengths are so big that his struggles might not even matter that much. He is unlikely to become as good as Durant, but by maximizing his strengths he has the potential to become of the NBA’s elite scorers for years to come.