The Orlando Magic know they will have the sixth and 11th picks in the upcoming NBA Draft, and so the organization can now begin planning accordingly. Whether they ultimately keep the picks, or move them in favor of jumping up to select a Scoot Henderson type, remains to be seen.
But if we assume the Magic are actually going to go ahead and take the understandable risk of adding two more rookies to this young core, then it is a chance to address several of their glaring needs.
That 11th pick looks like a prime spot to select a player like Gradey Dick, who a lot of fans already feel is the answer to their long-term, sharpshooting dilemma. Keyonte George is another name that has been floated out there, and although his stroke looks lovely, his slight frame will take some adjusting to the next level.
But there is another player with a little more upside, albeit still plenty of questions, who will have a siren call for a young team like the Magic: Villanova forward Cam Whitmore.
That sixth pick is a lot more intriguing, and although one of the Thompson twins, Amen and Ausar, is likely to be on the board, the allure of Cam Whitmore for the Orlando Magic is strong.
As it should be, because a cursory look at Whitmore’s highlights online reveals a strong and driven forward, who already looks like he could be a plus defender at the next level.
In his lone season at Villanova, Whitmore averaged 12.5 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game on shooting splits of 47.8/34.3/70.3. Whitmore missed the first month of a season recovering from a thumb injury. He played in only six nonconference games in the season due to this recovery.
That could also explain some of his poorer shooting numbers. Although that will be something he has to display in his workouts through the draft process.
Physically, he is not easy to move from his spot on the court and he has the tenacity to stick to scoring forwards who typically have their way with whomever they are being matched up against. Whitmore measured in at 6-foot-5.75 without shoes and a 6-foot-8.5 wingspan. He weighed in at 235 pounds, certainly bigger than some power forwards at the Combine.
This is important because a player like Whitmore looks like the perfect foil next to the scoring punch that Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner already represent. Both of these players are also already good defenders, with Wagner’s interior defending already underrated with how important it is.
But adding Whitmore would allow those two to blossom into the All-Star level scorers we know they can be, while Whitmore spends more time locking opponents up and chipping in as the third scoring option on what it is hoped will be a playoff-level team soon.
On top of this, Whitmore is an extremely good athlete. That is something that stood out at the NBA Draft Combine, where he posted the fourth-highest max vertical leap at 40.5 inches. That is more impressive considering how big he really is.
Although the 2-guard is the one spot on the Magic’s starting five that is currently open to be taken, that does not mean Ausar Thompson should be selected if he is available. In today’s league elite scoring forwards are the most in-demand player that there is, with wings who can defend them well not far behind.
Whitmore is going to be a player who can hold his own defensively in the pros, and add over time to his offensive game. Smaller guards who can score in bunches are readily available on the free agency market. Max Strus of the Miami Heat, a player the Magic should try and sign this summer, had been just sitting there waiting for his moment for years.
But getting Whitmore on a rookie deal would be a steal with the direction the Magic are going. Having played for Villanova, that is a school that has become known for producing NBA-ready talent. Hard-nosed players like Jalen Brunson and Kyle Lowry went on to excel at the next level.
Whitmore does not look like a project in the way Jonathan Kuminga did entering the league. He has the tools to help the Magic right away, and while he will obviously go through the slumps that all rookies do, the allure of what it is he can bring to this team is too big to pass up.
Just how good a defender Cam Whitmore can be is certainly up for debate. He has the size to guard bigger players and hold his own — in a similar way that someone like Luguentz Dort does for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He also has the interior toughness to take contact on drives and finish at the rim.
He would give the Magic the opportunity to throw out some big and physical lineups, which would come in especially useful in the postseason. We are seeing now how a team like the Miami Heat can bully all manner of opponents, and the Magic would need to be ready for a rock fight series like that in future.
Shooting remains the big question for Whitmore. According to some statistics, Whitmore made 40 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. As Villanova’s main creator, as with other college stars, the quality of his 3-point shots was likely fairly poor. That might account for his low percentage from deep.
Still, watching Whitmore’s highlights, he is able to hit deep shots in a variety of ways. He is proficient as a catch-and-shoot option, but could also set up pull-up threes with step-backs and side steps as defenses close out on him.
Still, the concern exists too because of his poor free throw percentage. That is usually a better indicator of a player’s shooting potential than 3-point percentage. Just how much the thumb injury slowed him down is a question Whitmore will have to answer throughout the draft process.
Also of some concern is that Villanova failed to make the NCAA Tournament. That may not all be on Whitmore though. The Wildcats finished 15-11 with Whitmore in the lineup. He opted to sit out Villanova’s brief NIT appearance.
In that process though he had scoring games of 26 points (on 11-for-18 shooting) against Xavier in January and a pair of 21-point games against Penn and Providence. Whitmore has potential, but still a lot to prove.
Finally, Whitmore could actually solve both the 2-guard problem and reinforce the idea of starting games big if he was added to the roster. Why couldn’t Wagner play as the second guard, with Whitmore and Banchero as the forwards?
The Magic switch a lot anyway so this kind of defensive versatility would certainly be very valuable. With Wendell Carter manning the paint behind them, the defense would be terrifying. And if Bol Bol sticks around, his negative defending would be hidden some.
There is just too much sense in the Magic drafting Whitmore.
As long as they decide to hold onto both picks this summer, then the ready-made prospect from Villanova is absolutely one of the final pieces in their jigsaw. The crucial juncture between Banchero and Wagner, and the rest of the team. The missing definitive third option.