Orlando Magic caught in middle of fit or talent ahead of NBA Draft

Dec 9, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; City Reapers guard Ausar Thompson (0) shown during the game against the Cold Hearts at Overtime Elite. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 9, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; City Reapers guard Ausar Thompson (0) shown during the game against the Cold Hearts at Overtime Elite. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

There is an age-old question when it comes to the draft but particularly in the NBA Draft where one player can truly transform a team in significant ways.

What do you focus on in the Draft? What is the primary goal coming out of the Draft?

What does the team need and how is it best to fill it? What time is there for development and patience for growth?

The draft brings up a lot of these questions. They bring it up for every team. Every team has to find a balance for its young players.

As Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman likes to say, it is important for young players to have their pathway to playing. The question then is what pathway will a team create.

That is why the Magic are in such an interesting position. And the burning question is how they balance this equation. How they answer this question will determine what they do with their two draft picks — having two picks allows them to split their focus perhaps.

The Orlando Magic are in an interesting position as the team is eager to grow quickly but still could be in a position where talent tops fit for the draft process.

Orlando is in one of the most interesting places in the draft for this reason. They have multiple draft picks to address multiple needs. But they are also a team that is still determining their goals.

Are they a team ready to push some chips into the middle of the table? Will they sacrifice some of their future or future potential to solidify a piece of their team in the present for a playoff push? Or do they still believe collecting talent is the main goal?

The Magic are going to set the terms for their upcoming season on draft night. If they believe they are close to the playoffs, they may sacrifice that long-term potential for someone who can help them immediately. If they think they need one more starter-level player, maybe they roll the dice on talent even if the fit does not make complete sense for this year’s team.

Of course, this is not a binary. A team can draft for need while betting on potential just as a team can bet on potential and develop a fit or need.

And the Magic are in an advantageous position perhaps to do both with two picks in this draft — and perhaps a clear indication they can fill that all-important shooting need at No. 11 with Gradey Dick or Jordan Hawkins.

Still, the Magic have a clear choice and a clear direction to point themselves starting with the Draft.

Their players are agitating with confidence saying next season is a playoff season. Their rise to 34 wins and the way they played the final three-quarters of the season certainly suggests they are on the cusp. But they still need to add a bit more.

Having said that, this is still a young team. They still are short on a lot of skills and could maybe use that last foundational piece to support this young group. And the No. 6 pick, especially, is an opportunity to add talent further to the roster.

So what do the Magic do? How do they balance these considerations?

Ultimately the question belongs to Weltman alone and what he envisions for his team. And perhaps just as important, how quickly he sees his team growing and developing.

The sixth pick will be the biggest focus of this question. That will point to which direction Orlando thinks it will go and what the team will value in the end.

The options at No. 6 are plentiful. But Orlando will most likely have the choice of these players: Ausar Thompson, Cam Whitmore, Taylor Hendricks, Jarace Walker, Anthony Black, Cason Wallace and Gradey Dick.

There are plenty more to consider — and judging by how many of those names are there, there is the chance one could fall to them at No. 11. Those first three are probably the biggest focus that runs the gamut of the Magic’s options.

For this team, Thompson and Whitmore represent the players with the most talent and star potential. They represent players with huge upsides who can change the game with their scoring abilities.

Whitmore is considered a bull, who can use his size to get into the paint and his athleticism to finish at the rim. While his shooting percentages are somewhat concerning, he was a good catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter who did not get the opportunity to do that a lot as Villanova’s lead scorer.

Thompson is one of the bigger mysteries of this draft because he played with Overtime Elite. While Ausar Thompson is not the athlete or finisher as his brother Amen, he is still very capable as an athlete of getting to the basket and finishing at the rim.

Ausar Thompson projects as a plus-defender immediately. So he is not some development project without any skills he brings to the table. But of all the players the Magic are likely to pick from, Thompson has the most upside.

But he also has the most questions with his jumper especially. He had a strong shooting showing in the OTE playoffs, but he was poor shooting from everywhere throughout his season.

The team could of course go in a different direction and pick safer players.

UCF forward Taylor Hendricks has been a popular pick — even in our own mock draft — for the Magic at No. 6.

Hendricks does not have the supreme star upside as some others in the draft. But he is very solid and should contribute at a high level nonetheless as a role player at minimum. He can defend in the paint and on the perimeter. He can hit from the outside and should develop an NBA 3-point shot.

Hendricks checks a lot of boxes for the Magic. But his lack of shiftiness on his dribble and ability to break down a defense may limit his role.

He would slide in perfectly for the Magic, giving them a backup forward to bolster their frontcourt and give some versatility to play instead of or alongside Jonathan Isaac.

The fit, like with the two shooters everyone has pegged for the Magic at No. 11, seems perfect.

But the upside is not completely there. And that is at the center of this debate.

The draft sometimes gets overcomplicated.

It is a truism, especially at the top of the draft, that a team should take the top player on its board regardless of fit. If a player is good enough, he will find his way into the rotation and find a way to make an impact as he grows.

At the end of the day, talent matters. And especially this high in the draft, the Magic should not turn down talent just because it is not a perfect fit.

Then again, Orlando is already heavily invested in several young players. Even though there are a few they have to make some financial decisions on — Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony are due extensions this summer or they hit free agency after the 2024 season.

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This is all part of the consideration for what the team will do in the draft. There is a lot to weigh. And this debate between talent and potential or fit and need drives every decision. How those two factors weigh in on each other is part of the ultimate consideration for this team.