Sitting in the basement of the Eastern Conference with just 14 games to go in the season, the Orlando Magic find themselves on their way to a fifth consecutive last-place finish in the Southeast Division.
After a slew of questionable moves over the last two years, the 2017 offseason will be a critical one for general manager Rob Hennigan, as this may be his final chance to right the ship.
GETTING IT RIGHT ON DRAFT NIGHT
Looking up and down the Magic’s roster, you find a lot of potential and a few talented players that can definitely contribute if given the right opportunities.
What you don’t find, though, is a superstar, and in a rebuilding situation, that type of player is an absolute necessity.
If Orlando keeps going down the path it’s going to finish out the regular season, odds are it will land a top-five draft pick in this year’s draft at worst. In addition to that, the team will receive a pick in the low-to-mid-20s from the Los Angeles Clippers or the Toronto Raptors, pending on which pick is less favorable.
Fortunately for the Magic, it’s a class loaded with playmakers. When a situation like that presents itself, draft the best player available. Depending on the outcome of the lottery, they could have the pick of the litter.
Assuming they’re awarded the fifth overall pick, here’s a list of names a few different mocks have them taking:
SF Josh Jackson, Kansas
PG De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
PG Dennis Smith, N.C. State
Anybody out of that group will do regardless of position, but how about killing two birds with one stone?
That option would be Lauri Markkanen, a seven-foot scoring assassin from Arizona. Based on his style of play, the 19-year-old Finn would be used as a stretch four in the pros, a position the Magic are sorely lacking on their roster.
In 34 games this season, Markkanen is averaging 15.6 points and 7.1 rebounds in 30 minutes of action. He’s shot 49 percent from the field overall, including a 43.2 percent clip from beyond the arc on nearly five attempts per game.
Adding somebody with those skills improves an Orlando team that’s severely underwhelmed in the perimeter shooting game. In today’s NBA, it’s paramount to have at least one of those types of players.
Whoever it is, whether it be Markannen, Fox, Jackson or even Jayson Tatum if they’re lucky, the Magic absolutely have to hit on this pick.
HIT A SINGLE, NOT A HOME RUN
Impatience is a big reason why the Magic are in this situation in the first place. The surprising acquisition of Serge Ibaka on 2016 draft night came at a hefty cost. Not only did Orlando give up Victor Oladipo, but also the draft rights to Domanatas Sabonis and contract rights to Ersan Ilyasova, who had been with them for just 22 games.
To make a young, up-and-coming two guard with an improving jump shot the center piece of a deal is understandable, but not so much when it’s in exchange for a player with an expiring contract who would’ve likely been a rental. Of course, it’s unknown whether Ibaka would’ve signed back with the Magic as a free agent, because Hennigan already dealt him to the Raptors for Terrence Ross and a first-rounder after only half a season of basketball with the team.
After the aforementioned draft day deal, Orlando was an active player in free agency, re-signing Evan Fournier to a five-year, $85 million contract and bringing in Bismack Biyombo on a four-year, $72 million deal. They also added Jeff Green, signed veteran point guard D.J. Augustin and acquired Jodie Meeks.
The hefty payday for Biyombo was risky and perplexing, especially considering he wouldn’t be starting for the Magic with Nikola Vucevic and then-power forward Ibaka in the mix. Green, who is averaging career lows nearly all across the board, hasn’t panned out as they’d hoped. They gave him $15 million this season.
The point is, if you want to succeed, let your players grow. It’s clear that Hennigan was chomping at the bit to bring a winning culture back to the Magic franchise when he hired Frank Vogel, but it can’t happen in the snap of a finger. The odd makeup of this roster has led to uncertainty regarding players’ positions and constant changes in the rotation.
When it comes to free agency this time around, Hennigan needs to be much more calculated with his moves. Considering the Magic are only losing a handful of players this offseason and project to have just $15.7 million in cap space barring further moves, they likely won’t be able to land elite talent via those means.
Before making any moves, Orlando’s got to cut bait with Damjan Rudez. If they don’t offer the qualifying offer by June 29, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. Secondly, C.J. Watson’s five million dollar salary becomes guaranteed on July 10, so parting ways through a trade or waiving the veteran would be a wise decision.
What the Magic can do is add shooting and improve their depth.
The main target that comes to mind should be Tim Hardaway Jr. After struggling to find playing time in his first season with the Hawks, it’s been an entirely different story his sophomore year in Atlanta.
Through 65 games, Hardaway Jr. is averaging a career-best 13.7 points per game on 36.5 percent from distance. In 11 games since the All-Star break, that number has improved to 43.5 percent.
It would be a tough get for Orlando, considering he’ll be a restricted free agent and the Hawks will be able to match whatever offer he fields.
If that didn’t shake out in their favor, two more names out there that could fit the criteria are Justin Holiday and Ian Clark. Both are upcoming unrestricted free agents starved for consistent playing time, and have proved their worth when their respective numbers have been called.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE YOUNG GUYS
The contract extension deadline for Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon is on October 31, 2017. These calls will be another crucial factor that will determine Hennigan’s future with the organization.
This decision….is not easy.
Payton has been absolutely terrific as of late. In the last five games, the 23-year-old has recorded three triple-doubles and seems to really be finding his groove as a floor general. Since the break, Payton is averaging 12 points, but dishing out 8.2 assists and pulling down 7.7 rebounds per game. He’s shooting a better percentage on fewer field goal attempts and is barely taking threes anymore. He’s playing towards his strengths and eliminating a weaker element from his game.
It’s these kinds of flashes of improvement and development that should earn Payton an extension. Each year, even with inconsistencies, he’s shown steady growth in his aggressiveness. The defensive awareness is something to be desired, but remember that he is only in his third year as a pro.
As for Gordon and a potential extension, that’s a little more complicated.
At 21 years old, Gordon still has a ton of room to grow. He’s a prospect with a ton of potential and excitement. He’s a freakish athlete that’s also displayed flashes of greatness at times, especially defensively.
But by the same token, there are limits to what Gordon can do on the floor. His perimeter jump shot has been woefully bad this year. A change of position as an experiment didn’t help his case out, but he’s got to stop taking those threes and start driving. Hitting the boards needs to be a point of emphasis, as well.
There’s enough evidence there aside from those areas, though, to grant a contract extension to Gordon. It’s kind of a benefit-of-the-doubt sort of thing, but once his usage increases and he gets even more acclimated to the league, he’ll be somebody to reckon with down the line.
In order for the Magic to get back on the right track, there are going to be bumps and bruises. The most important thing on this long road to redemption is to stay the course.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Hands Makes Good Showing at the NBA Combine
Jaylen Hands made a good showing at the NBA Combine by displaying his offensive skills and defensive intensity.
UCLA has produced a few of the NBA’s top point guards over the last decade or so, including Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday. Jrue’s younger brother, Aaron Holiday, has declared for this year’s draft and is projected by several NBA insiders to be selected with a first-round pick (likely in the 20-30 range). But Aaron Holiday isn’t the only UCLA point guard who may end up taking his talents to the NBA this offseason. Jaylen Hands, who is still just 19 years old and finished his freshman season, has also entered his name into this year’s draft.
While Hands has entered his name into the draft and participated in the NBA Combine, he has not hired an agent, which preserves his ability to return to college (Hands has until June 11 to make a final decision). Considering Hands’ young age and raw skill set, he isn’t projected by many insiders to hear his name called on draft night. But he certainly helped his cause in the Combine, showcasing his offensive talents, the muscle he has added to his slight frame since the end of his freshman season and aggressiveness on defense.
Basketball Insiders spoke with Hands at the Combine about his development, going through the pre-draft process, competing against familiar faces and more.
“It’s crazy, it’s crazy because when we were younger, they said the exact thing: ‘You guys are going to see each other forever.’” Hands said when asked about competing against many of the same players over the years and now at the Combine. “And you don’t really believe what they’re saying. But now you go through high school, you’re a senior, All-Star activities and you go to the Combine, you see the same people. It’s crazy.”
Hands has a notable skill set but is a raw prospect that many believe would be better served spending another year in college. While Hands needs to continue filling out his frame, he did register decent measurements at the Combine in relation to a top guard prospect – Trae Young of Oklahoma. Hands weighed in at 1.2 lbs heavier than Young, and outmatched Young in height (with and without shoes), standing reach and wingspan. Ironically, Hands has the smallest hands of all players that participated in the Combine. While these measurements don’t mean that he is currently a comparable prospect to Young, they could address some concerns about his current physical profile and how it may ultimately translate to the NBA.
Hands proved himself to be a confident and aggressive player in his freshman season at UCLA – something that he believes has led to misconceptions about his game.
“I’m not a point guard,” Hands said when asked about what misconceptions people have about his game.
I wouldn’t say it’s common, like it’s the main thing. But I’ve heard that I shoot first or something like that. I just feel like I attack a lot. I think I attack a lot and I’m of size to being a [two guard], so I think some people get it misconstrued. I just think I’m attack first, set my teammates up, get what I get.”
Hands is clearly aware of the common perceptions and current shortcomings in his game, which is why he is working hard to improve his overall skill set and is testing the NBA waters to get feedback from teams.
“Before I came here, just being more steady working on my shot, making good reads out of the pick and roll, finishing.” Hands said when asked about what parts of his game he was working on before coming to the Combine.
Hands was asked to clarify what he believes is his best strength at this point. Hands didn’t hesitate and pointed toward his ability to make plays off the dribble.
“My best strength is getting in the paint. So I get in the paint and make plays,” Hands said.
Hands is also clearly aware of UCLA’s history of producing quality point guards and has a chance to one day develop into a quality guard at the NBA level. However, with Holiday heading to the NBA and no major competition for the starting point guard position at UCLA next season, it may benefit Hands to hold off on turning pro for at least another year.
Whether he stays at UCLA or commits to this year’s draft, there’s no doubt that Hands is going to keep pushing to develop into a quality NBA player.
“I want to be the best player I can in the league,” Hands said. “That’s my goal.”
NBA Daily: 2018 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 5/22/18
The final 2018 NBA Draft order is set and Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler offers up his latest 60-pick NBA Mock Draft.
Lots of Draft Movement
With the draft order now set for the 2018 NBA Draft, there is some sense of how the draft might play out.
The buzz coming out of the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago is that a number of picks could be had in trade include all three of the top selections. Word is the initial asking price is very high and more of an indication to the San Antonio Spurs that if they do want to part with disgruntled star Kawhi Leonard, they are open for business.
It’s also worth noting that there is a growing sense that both the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawk may be far higher on some of the domestic bigs in the draft more so than euro sensation Luka Dončić. Both teams are expected to take a long look at Dončić, so their views on him could change as we get closer to the draft, but for now, Dončić may go lower.
Here is the latest 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft, reflecting the final draft order and the latest buzz, rumors, and intel from in and around the NBA:Dates To Know:
The NCAA requires all players wishing to maintain their college eligibility, without penalty, to withdraw from the NBA Draft by 11:59 pm on May 30. That is an NCAA mandated date, not related to anything involving the NBA, and that notice must be delivered in writing.
The NBA’s draft withdrawal date is June 11 by 5:00 pm ET. The NBA’s date allows a prospect to remain NBA draft eligible for future NBA drafts and is not related to any NCAA rule or date. There are ways for college players that did not accept benefits to return to college. However, they may be subject to NCAA penalties.
The 2018 NBA Draft is June 21.
The Pick Swaps:
The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.
The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections. This pick will convey.
The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the final NBA standings.
The Phoenix Suns were owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick would only convey if the Bucks pick landed between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the final NBA standings did not convey. The Suns will now receive the Bucks 2019 first-round pick assuming it falls between the fourth and 16th pick.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey to Atlanta based on the final NBA standings.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey based on the final NBA standings.
The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick was top-five protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey
The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey
The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick was lottery protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey
Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects – http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/
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NBA Daily: Shamet Comfortable With Steady Self Going Into Draft
With a natural feel for the game, Wichita State guard Landry Shamet has more than enough of a chance to carve his own path of success in the NBA.
No matter what professional field a person wants to work in, there are multiple ways to show why they belong.
A positive attitude is everything, confidence goes a long way and honesty truly is the best policy.
Speaking with Wichita State product Landry Shamet this past week at the NBA Combine in Chicago, it’s clear that he has all three of those boxes checked off.
“It’s been great,” Shamet said of the event. “Just trying to absorb everything, soak everything up. It’s a big learning experience for sure. A lot of knowledge to be attained (at the Combine). With interviews and playing on the court, being coached by NBA guys, it’s been cool so far.”
During his three years with the Shockers, the 6-foot-4, 188-pound guard accomplished quite a few feats, but his junior season was arguably the most spectacular. Not only did Shamet lead his team in multiple ways, but he also topped out in four statistical categories in the American Athletic Conference—the school’s first year there after moving on from the Missouri Valley.
Shamet’s 166 assists (5.2 per game average) were the most in the AAC by far. In addition, his true shooting percentage (65.5) and three-point percentage (44.2) ranked number one among his peers.
From entering the program in 2015 to now, he feels that he’s grown dramatically as a player—but in what areas, specifically?
“I would say being a point guard honestly,” Shamet said. “I was recruited in as a two. But just kinda that leadership role, that accountability. Knowing that you’re gonna get a lot of scrutiny (after) a loss and you’re gonna be responsible for a win. Regardless of how the game goes, it’s your responsibility.”
Much of his development at Wichita State was courtesy of a hands-on approach with Gregg Marshall, one of the most revered head coaches in college basketball. Thanks to his guidance, Shamet feels ready, even in aspects outside of his offensive ability.
“On the defensive end, I feel comfortable with my positioning,” Shamet said. “Obviously, need to get better. You can always get better on the defensive end. That’s one thing I’ve been focusing on. Trying to get more athletic. Just be better defensively. He gave me the groundwork for sure. 100 percent.”
Shamet has kept in touch with Marshall throughout the entire pre-draft process. He was told to “smile and relax” in interviews and to be confident, which he’s certainly followed through with.
A similar message has come from Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, two former Shockers who have each made their mark at the professional level.
“Just be yourself, you know,” Shamet said of VanVleet’s pointers. “That’s really what it boils down to I think. He’s been great to have him in my corner—a guy like that who’s been through a lot of adversity on his way to the NBA, so I’m gonna listen to him 10 times out of 10.”
VanVleet’s career is already taking off with the Toronto Raptors as a part of their young and hungry bench. But with four more inches of height and a similar feel for the game, Shamet has more than enough of a chance to carve his own path of success in the NBA.
And it won’t require flash or making a daily highlight-reel to do so.
“I’d like to just say versatile,” Shamet said of his game. “Just try to stay solid. I don’t ever try to make spectacular plays all the time. Try to just do what I feel I can do—play multiple positions, both positions, on or off the ball. I’m comfortable at either spot, honestly. Whether it’s facilitating, scoring, whatever the case may be.
“I feel like I have a high IQ as well. Just a cerebral player. Not gonna ‘wow’ you with crossing people up and doing things that a lot of the guys in the limelight do all the time. But I feel like I’m a solid player. Pretty steady across the board.”
However, just because he rarely shows off on the court doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the ability to do it.
“I feel like I’m a little more athletic than I might get credit for,” Shamet said. “I think I’m a better athlete than I get credit for.”
Shamet is projected to go anywhere from the middle-to-late first round of the draft in June. Whoever lands the Kansas City native will be getting a tireless worker who does things the right way and is all about the team.
But for now, he’s soaking in everything he possibly can before that night comes.
“I don’t have all the answers,” Shamet candidly said. “I’m a 21-year-old kid, man I guess. So just trying to learn as much as I can, gain some knowledge, get good feedback—because at the end of the day, I’m not a perfect player. I know that.”