Orlando Magic 2023 NBA Draft Preview: Kobe Bufkin is making a late push

Michigan guard Kobe Bufkin (2) dribbles against Toledo guard Ra'Heim Moss (0) during the first half of the first round of the NIT at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, March 14, 2023.
Michigan guard Kobe Bufkin (2) dribbles against Toledo guard Ra'Heim Moss (0) during the first half of the first round of the NIT at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. /

Who is the one prospect nobody is talking about? Or maybe who is the one prospect everyone quietly likes but will not put higher in their draft prospect?

Who is the player that NBA scouts have higher than all the Internet scouts and media draft experts?

There is always someone who throws a wrench in the league’s draft plans and everyone’s mock draft. Good luck figuring out who that is.

It is just more proof that the whole draft process is just educated guessing. It is poring over film and trying to find the indicators of what makes sense in the league. Nobody really knows. And nobody really knows why there are supposed risers besides leaks and smoke screens.

We try to follow the signals and hope it does not lead us into a back alley or right into the fire itself.

In other words, this is the time of year when you ask what is real. All you can really do is trust the tape and try to figure out who these players are and make your best guess in what they can become.

Still, those risers are hard to ignore. And few players have risen from their spot late into the Lottery into a position where even the Orlando Magic could draft them at sixth than Michigan guard Kobe Bufkin.

Kobe Bufkin is a late riser in this draft process after going through a tear in the final month of the college season. The Michigan guard has all the skills the Orlando Magic seem to need.

And we know how much the Magic love their Michigan men.

Bufkin averaged 14.0 points per game as a sophomore last year with 2.9 assists per game and shooting splits of 48.2/35.5/84.9. He got his first meaningful minutes of his career last year, jumping from 10.6 minutes per game as a freshman in 2022 to 34.0 minutes per game last year.

He really ratcheted up his game in the final months of the season, averaging 17.4 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game and 3.3 assists per game on 52.0/45.1/88.9 shooting splits in the final 12 games. That included a 28-point game in a win over Wisconsin and 23-point effort in Michigan’s NIT loss to Toledo.

That run is probably why we are talking about Bufkin as a potential top-10 pick.

That stretch was Bufkin putting everything together and showing what he could really become with NBA spacing — Michigan runs a very NBA-based offense under Juwan Howard and we saw how quickly Franz Wagner took to the league.

Bufkin measures out too. He is not just some small guard.

At the NBA Draft Combine, he measured at 6-foot-4.25 without shoes with a 6-foot-7.75 wingspan. His size certainly helps his case to enter the league even if he had not shown the playmaking chops that teams normally look for in a point guard.

Still, it is hard not to be impressed with Bufkin and see why scouts like him.

The place any guard prospect starts for the Magic is with their shooting. And that is where Kobe Bufkin stands out over both his point guard contemporaries in Anthony Black and Cason Wallace.

There should be no waiting around for Bufkin’s shot to come full circle. He should be able to hit from deep fairly quickly in the league.

But he also has a lot of the skills that had scouts buzzing earlier about Black and Wallace.

He certainly does not have the size that Black does — he is not a 6-foot-7 point guard — and so he will not be the same defensive terror. But all indications are that Bufkin has the athleticism and slinkiness to get through the lane and create chaos.

For Bufkin, success will come down to whether he can learn to make reads out of his drives to get to open shooters or teammates or can finish around the basket or in the mid-range for it.

That is not to say he cannot do those things. It may not be at Black’s level, but Bufkin is creative getting to the basket and finishing around the basket. He shot 71.1 percent at the rim which is crazy for a guard.

He is not explosive off the bounce, but he uses his body really well to shield the ball and get himself set up for shots. He may not be 6-foot-7, but he uses his 6-foot-4 frame well to take advantage of smaller players.

He uses that size well defensively too, especially when he extends pressure on smaller players on the perimeter. That is something the Magic have put some emphasis on with their guards as a way to slow down pace and get teams out of their basic offensive sets. He also totaled 23 blocks as a guard, a good sign of his defensive length and timing.

On top of this, he showed several instances of being able to whip passes to open shooters along the baseline off the bounce. When he gets rolling downhill and plays at his pace, Bufkin can make some incredible plays either as a passer or

That driving and pick-and-roll versatility helps him a lot. But he would be equally capable of playing off the ball because of his shooting too.

He showed plenty of times where he could step back and hit a jumper or set up his jumper off a stand-still dribble, even introducing some shooting on the move to his game too.

The question then is why are his numbers so low? Is it a combination of Michigan being a more egalitarian offense and the peculiarities of the college game? Is it because he actually is a young player who needed some time to develop? Was it a matter of the coach giving him his full trust to run the show?

It feels like a combination of all of those things with him. He is not the preternatural scorer, especially for a guard with score-first instincts. He has a lot of tricks in his bag but has not mastered enough of them to be a consistent impact player in isolation.

He does not turn the ball over a lot, but he can get enveloped by pressure enough to close him out and force him to reset rather than read the defense. His playmaking numbers were simply not that strong to hand him the ball and let him work.

Some of this will certainly get better with experience and practice. It is hard to forget that he is 19 years old and played the first significant minutes of his college career. He did not really figure things out until the end of the season and then Michigan turned him loose.

If that is the trajectory he seems to be headed, then there is plenty of reason to believe and invest in him.

So much of what Bufkin needs to improve on is just getting more consistent with everything — his pick-and-roll reads, his offensive decisionmaking and his defensive attention to detail — he overplayed screens a lot and that put him far out of position. So much of that just comes from experience and being in a good developmental environment.

For the Magic, among the guards in this class, Bufkin seems like a perfect fit.

Andy Katz of Big Ten Network has taken to comparing him to former Michigan guard Jordan Poole, a former rumored free agent target for the Magic. Beyond some of Poole’s other problems, if that skill set matches then the Magic would be able to get a potential secondary playmaker, shooter and scorer to bolster their roster.

In a lot of ways, that sounds like exactly the kind of guard support the team needs.

Next. Keyonte George adds scoring element. dark

Bufkin clearly made a good final statement and that has led to a late push to get him into the Lottery and now possibly into the top 10. He has a lot of skills that would suggest he is worthy of that consideration, even if consistency remains the big thing for Bufkin to achieve.