2023 Orlando Magic Draft Preview: Bilal Coulibaly rises to the top with sizable leap

LEVALLOIS-PERRET, FRANCE - MARCH 28: Bilal Coulibaly #0 of Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 drives to the basket against Josh Carlton #25 of Le Mans Sarthe Basket during the match between Boulogne-Levallois and Le Mans at Palais des Sports Marcel Cerdan on March 28, 2023 in Levallois-Perret, France. (Photo by Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images)
LEVALLOIS-PERRET, FRANCE - MARCH 28: Bilal Coulibaly #0 of Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 drives to the basket against Josh Carlton #25 of Le Mans Sarthe Basket during the match between Boulogne-Levallois and Le Mans at Palais des Sports Marcel Cerdan on March 28, 2023 in Levallois-Perret, France. (Photo by Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images) /

We all know the Orlando Magic’s draft profile at this point.

President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has a type that he looks for in the draft and the type of team he wants to build.

He values length to create positional versatility. Orlando wants to be a team that switches constantly and can smother teams with their positional size. They want forwards who can handle the ball, guards who can screen and bigs who can step out to the perimeter as capably as they can live in the paint.

Orlando does not seem like it is going to come off this focus on positional versatility. And if that is the focus for this team and what the Magic are looking for, then some of the players we have looked at so far may find themselves not on the team’s radar.

The reports that Orlando is looking to move up into the top five would suggest the league believes the team has its eyes on big point guard Amen Thompson or his brother Ausar Thompson with his size and defensive potential.

There is another player that fits this bill that has quickly risen draft boards during this draft process. And with reports that he has a promise in the top 14, the Magic are a name that keeps coming up for him.

Size. Positional versatility. Skill potential. Energy.

Knowing everything the Orlando Magic value in their draft picks, Bilal Coulibaly’s rise on draft boards should not be surprising. He is a fit for the team’s vision for positionless basketball and versatility, even if he is very raw.

These are all things the Magic value. And so it is no surprise that they are one of the teams that are seemingly connected to the draft’s biggest riser, Mets 92 forward Bilal Coulibaly.

There is the draft trope of the super long, athletic forward who is still raw with his basketball skills. There are plenty of examples of players who are similar to Coulibaly who entered the draft at 18 or 19 years old and were not quite ready for the rigors of the league.

Bilal Coulibaly looked like that player early in the season, especially since he started off on Mets 92’s development team rather than with the main squad (the same one Victor Wembanyama anchors).

But Coulibaly has developed quickly. Very quickly.

He is an indispensable part of Mets 92’s run to the LNB Pro A Finals — Game 1 of that series is Saturday afternoon and the whole series is broadcast on the NBA’s app. While Wembanyama has gotten all the headlines, he is quick to credit his young teammate for his energy and defense throughout this championship run.

For the season, Coulibaly averaged only 5.0 points per game and 3.1 rebounds per game. He has shooting splits of 53.2/45.2/59.5 (on 1.4 free throw attempts per game). He averaged only 18.1 minutes per game in 27 appearances for Mets 92.

He really did not join the rotation until January when Hugo Besson went out with an injury. This was trial by fire and Coulibaly’s improvement in that time has been truly impressive to watch.

Since he joined the rotation full-time on Jan. 18, Coulibaly averaged 7.9 points per game and 3.9 assists per game with shooting splits of 53.0/39.4/63.5 in 24 appearances. In the playoffs, he is averaging 9.1 points per game and 3.3 rebounds per game with shooting splits of 51.1/25.0/63.2.

This includes a 16-point effort in their semifinal series-clinching win over ASVEL. This is a player who is really starting to gain confidence and putting his full talent on display.

That is measurable progress for a player who is so young. And that does not get into his defensive impact, where he really puts his physical traits to good use.

Coulibaly is obviously still raw. And his free throw percentage hints there may be trouble in developing his shot. But he is so young and has come so far on such a big stage, that it is hard to ignore him.

He is listed at 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. So that checks the plus-wingspan box.

It is telling that on a floor where Wembanyama is easy to spot — what 7-foot-5 guy isn’t? — that the next person you can probably figure out is an NBA prospect or has that “whoa” size is Coulibaly.

But unlike a lot of young, raw prospects, Coulibaly already seems to know how to use that athleticism well.

He will get caught turning his head and ball watching off the ball some, but he is quick to close out and makes that space up well. He is also able to smother smaller guards with his length, leading to turnovers from players trying to pass around him.

On top of this, he has the lateral quickness to stay in front when those speedy guards try to get around him. Even when taller players try to post him up, his length can cause problems. And while he looks like a wiry, young kid, he has a strong frame that should be able to add muscle to absorb contact on the block better.

Coulibaly is very much the defensive ideal for the modern NBA — after he, like every rookie, adds the requisite strength.

Right now, his offensive game is still fairly limited.

He is a strong athlete who can get up and finish at the rim with a runway or when he is able to get around the basket. He actually has a lot of creativity in his finishes.

But his 3-point shot still needs some work. And he is not quite ready to attack off the dribble effectively. No one should be asking him to run pick and rolls or change direction too much.

This is where he fits that basic template for the super athletic wing. He works really well in transition and uses his physical tools to establish himself on defense. But he will be limited in what he can do offensively in the half court — likely being used as a baseline cutter or, in this strange inverted world the magic live in, as a screener perhaps.

His shot though needs a lot of work. Like the Thompson twins, it looks like his arms and his body are sometimes out of sync. It just does not look like a natural form to him and that leads to inconsistent — and mostly, poor — results.

Like with the Thompson twins, there does not seem to be anything mechanically wrong. It is just about improving with repetition and finding the rhythm. He just looks like he is a fairly new shooter or like a golfer still learning a new swing.

Unlike the Thompson twins though, Coulibaly does not have the consistency with his driving to the basket or the ability to protect the ball and be a playmaker.

Nobody should be relying on Coulibaly to be an outside threat. And he will need a lot of work to get the finer parts and skill sets of his game down.

I think Coulibaly can improve his shot. There are some good pieces there. But it is going to take some time.

He is just pure raw potential at this point and that has proven itself effective.

The speed at which he has improved this season though is worth taking note of. And it certainly suggests this young player can still get a whole lot better as he gets more experience and playing time.

That is exactly what happened as Mets 92 carved a role for him. And that might lead them to a championship.

The trend of drafting super long athletes, one that predates Weltman when it comes to the Magic, sometimes means taking swings on players with physical attributes and huge upsides. The wingspan thing has become a joke not only among Magic fans but throughout the league.

Orlando trusts its player development though.

So far, it seems like the team has made important strides with a big guard like Jalen Suggs or even a determined guard like Cole Anthony. Mo Bamba never turned into something consistent with his supreme length and size. But Paolo Banchero fit the Magic’s vision well. As did Franz Wagner.

The league has trended toward positional versatility. But, as one person put it during the season, the Magic were really one of the few teams that tested the limits of positionless basketball and skill-based basketball.

So when it comes to the draft, Weltman tends to look at players with physical tools he can build out. He finds body types and players who do not fit the norm. He wants players who can do that little bit extra.

Coulibaly can do that little bit extra. He will come in and be an energetic defender immediately. And that is helping his team reach the championship for the first time.

The question is how much patience would a team like the Magic have for him. He needs to go someplace that will be invested in his development. And while he has skills that will help a playoff team, he also has weaknesses that will come to the front under NBA pressure.

Next. Taylor Hendricks' stock is rising. dark

So far Coulibaly has overcome that in a championship scenario. That part is promising. As is his overall trajectory within just this year.