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Who Should the Orlando Magic Draft?

The Orlando Magic have two lottery picks in the 2014 NBA Draft. Cody Taylor explores what Orlando should do on draft night.

Cody Taylor

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The Orlando Magic enter next week’s draft as one of a few teams that have at least two first-round picks, and the Magic have plenty of options as June 26 approaches. As it’s been stated before, the Magic are in a position where they could potentially trade up or down in the draft. Or, the team could stand pat with the No. 4 and No. 12 picks and draft players who could fill in some holes.

One of Orlando’s biggest needs seems to be at the point guard position, as the Magic have been linked to Australian point guard Dante Exum and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart. The Magic may be in the market for a point guard because Jameer Nelson’s contract is only partially guaranteed for next season and the Victor-Oladipo-at-point-guard experiment was met with mixed results. The Magic are also rumored to covet a big man with one of their two lottery picks. Reports have surfaced recently that the Magic were really impressed with Noah Vonleh’s workout and now hold him high on their board, which could mean Orlando goes with a big man at No. 4 and a point guard at No. 12.

We learned this week that projected top-three pick Joel Embiid needs surgery to repair a bone in his right foot and will likely be sidelined for four-to-six months. There was a lot of uncertainty in the air as far as who would get drafted first overall, but Embiid’s injury will really throw a wrench in the first few picks. Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Embiid’s broken foot is Exum. A lot of experts had Exum falling to the Magic at the fourth pick, but now some have Exum going as high as the second pick to the Milwaukee Bucks. It was thought that some combination of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Embiid would make up the top three selections, but now the top three could be Wiggins, Exum and Parker.

Prior to the news on Embiid’s injury, the Magic may have been looking to take Exum with the fourth pick and a big man with the 12th pick. Now that it seems unlikely that Exum will be on the board at number four, Embiid’s injury could enable the Magic to seriously consider Vonleh with that pick and then look at a point guard with their second first-round pick. There may be a number of talented point guards on the board at No. 12, including Elfrid Payton and Tyler Ennis.

With Exum likely off of the board at the fourth pick, the Magic could target Smart, Embiid or Vonleh. The Magic brought Smart in for two workouts and were rumored to be very high on him prior to those workouts. The word was that if Smart had not returned to school last season, Orlando would have taken him second overall. Following Smart’s workouts in Orlando, the Magic reportedly have moved on from him after a sub-par showing.

Embiid’s foot injury will most definitely move him down the board, but the question is exactly how far down will he fall? Embiid hasn’t been playing basketball for that long and has already suffered a back injury, a knee injury and this latest setback with his foot. As Alex Kennedy pointed out in Thursday’s PM report, how will Embiid’s body react once he adds more weight and starts playing against NBA-sized players? Knowing his injury history, the Magic may not want to gamble with health concerns at this point in their rebuild. Given how deep this draft is, the Magic may choose to pass on Embiid.

That leaves Indiana power forward Vonleh. The Magic are said to be very impressed with him following his workout and the idea of pairing Vonleh up with center Nikola Vucevic has the Magic seriously considering the Hoosiers product. Teams are impressed with Vonleh because he rebounds well, his work ethic is second to none, his wingspan measures 7’4 and his hands are the second-largest in combine history. The Magic’s best bet at the fourth pick appears to be Vonleh, unless a miracle happens and one of the projected top three fall into their lap.

Adding frontcourt depth in Vonleh will allow the Magic to consider their options at No. 12. At this point, general manager Rob Hennigan will decide if he wants to take the best player available, or if he wants to address the point guard position. Hennigan has long been described as a guy who will stockpile assets, and a take-the-best-player approach would fit that criteria. At No. 12, the best player available could be Michigan’s Nik Stauskas. The Magic finished this season tied for 19th in the NBA in team three-point percentage and could look to Stauskas to help improve the team in this area. Stauskas is viewed as one of the best shooters in the class and he proved in his sophomore year that he is more than a shooter as he showed the ability to handle the ball and get to the rim.

Kentucky guard James Young is another player who could be available to the Magic at the 12th pick. Young helped his draft stock in this year’s national championship game, despite being overshadowed by Julius Randle. Young proved in the NCAA Tournament that he is a capable scorer, something that could intrigue the Magic. Young could especially be an option should the Magic decide to trade away Arron Afflalo either on draft night or during the summer. Afflalo was mentioned in many rumors at the trade deadline, and should continue to be linked to rumors in the upcoming offseason.

Perhaps the most-pressing need for the Magic is at the point guard position. At No. 12, it’ll be highly unlikely that Smart is available so it would likely come down to Payton. The Magic’s draft could be determined by which point guard they like the most after Exum. If the Magic view Payton as guy with higher potential than Smart then that would allow them to take Vonleh at the fourth pick and Payton at the 12th pick. The Magic are said to be high on Payton following his workout out with the team. Payton possesses all of the qualities needed in a point guard: quickness, size, length, good handling and passing skills. His shooting ability leaves much to be desired, but something that can be improved on over time. Adding Payton to the backcourt with Oladipo would certainly prove to be a problem on the defensive side for opposing teams. With Vonleh and Payton, the Magic might have the players who fill needs and ultimately become cornerstones for the franchise going forward.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Lessons From The 2018 NBA Draft

After a wild 2018 NBA Draft, here are four lessons and storylines worth watching over the next few years.

Ben Nadeau

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Now that the dust has settled on an unpredictable NBA Draft — what exactly have we learned? In amongst the unrelenting rumors, refused workouts and surprise reaches, there are a few key takeaways from Brooklyn. Of course, some of these are one-off instances, but others are definitely part of modern-day draft patterns. While draft night may sometimes seem like complete chaos or chance, each scenario on this rundown has been boiling over for weeks. Between passing on a talented prospect to letting an injured one slide, here are four important lessons from the 2018 NBA Draft.

Luka Dončić… Not The No. 1?

For months and months, it appeared as if Luka Dončić was poised to become the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Even today, it’s hard to believe that somebody with Dončić’s age and resume wasn’t the top selection. In 2017-18 alone, the Slovenian took home EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP plus ACB MVP, with championships in both leagues to boot — but here we are. Dončić averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals over just 25 minutes per game, quickly transforming into the most well-rounded overseas prospect of all-time. But as impressive as Dončić was throughout the spring, the potential ceilings of both DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III eventually won out.

At 7-foot-1, Ayton’s 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were undeniably worthy of a top selection too, pairing well alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson for the foreseeable future. While the jury is still out on Bagley III — his defense needs some major fine-tuning — he won’t take key touches away from De’Aaron Fox either. More or less, nobody wants to be the organization to miss on such a franchise-altering pick. The Suns, Kings and even the Hawks may eventually regret passing on Dončić, but when general managers’ entire careers can depend on making the right choice at the right time, it’s not difficult to understand why the top of the draft unfolded as it did.

Playing Hard To Get Doesn’t Always Work Out…

As draft boards began to take shape, there was one particularly interesting situation sitting at No. 4 overall. Jaren Jackson Jr., solidly leading the second tier of prospects, was looking like a lock at the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick — but with one major caveat: Jackson Jr. reportedly didn’t work out or give his medical information to the franchise. After he was drafted, Jackson Jr. called those rumors “a tad out of context” — but, obviously, those are some massive red flags. Either way, Memphis went with their gut and selected the talented forward anyway.

But beyond all that, Memphis absolutely made the right move by sticking to their guns. Putting a modern three-point shooting, defensive-minded athlete next to Marc Gasol should prove to be an absolute nightmare for years to come. Naturally, Jackson Jr. will get plenty of easy looks from the stellar Mike Conley Jr. too — so if the draftee was once apprehensive, surely that will pass soon. Still, it reflects on a larger NBA pattern, wherein which prospective athletes sensibly look to mold their own path out of college. With players trying to control their draft narratives more than ever, it’s reassuring to see that some franchises will take their target first and then figure out the rest.

We may never know Jackson Jr.’s full thought process behind not working out for the Grizzlies, but there’s a great chance that the former Spartan was made for Memphis’ tough brand of basketball — and we should all be glad we’ll get to see it.

…But Injuries Will Lead To A Slide

Michael Porter Jr. — what a year for him, huh?

After missing out on much of his only collegiate season due to back surgery, Porter Jr. promised that he was feeling better than ever. But over the last month, scouts and front offices were treated to canceled workouts and hazy uncertainty. And, at the end of the day, it probably scared a handful of franchises away from the talented scorer. Just this week, the Kings heavily considered Porter Jr. at No. 2 overall — but even with that sudden unlikelihood passing by, few thought he’d drop out of the top ten altogether. Outside of the guaranteed money that Porter Jr. will miss out on, redshirting his rookie year may also be on the table as well.

The inherent upside with Porter Jr. is obvious, but — similarly to the Dončić issue — it’s tough to ask franchise officials to stake their livelihood on the prospect’s health. If Porter Jr.’s lingering issues stay with him and he never reaches his mountain of potential, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The 19-year-old would fall all the way down to No. 14, where the Denver Nuggets gladly scooped him up. During the combine in May, Porter Jr. called himself the best player in the draft — but it’s now up to him to prove them all wrong.

The Mysterious Men Nearly Miss Out

Let’s rewind to early April. Villanova had been just crowned NCAA champions for the second time in three years, the NBA playoffs were soundly on the horizon and mock drafts had begun to consistently pour out. Early on, there were two athletic big men that looked like shoo-ins as first-rounders: Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson. Despite their undercooked skill-sets, both players pulled out of the combine and then waited for the hype to build — except, well, it didn’t. Williams, who was typically projected in the early teens, slipped out of the lottery entirely, only to be rescued by the Boston Celtics at No. 27. Williams is a booming, powerful prospect, but he could’ve really benefited from competing against the other top prospects in May.

Although he’s now landed in an ideal situation with Brad Stevens, Al Horford and a process-driven Celtics squad, Williams likely cost himself a whole load of money over the last 30-plus days as well.

In Robinson’s case, many believed his floor was the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 — rumors swirling that the 7-foot-1 center even received a promise from the illustrious franchise. Instead, Robinson dropped to the New York Knicks at No. 36 overall. Robinson had originally committed to Western Kentucky in July of 2017 before dropping out to prepare for the draft. After skipping the combine last month, Robinson indeed exhibited the potential to be both a steady shot-blocker and three-point maker during his individual evaluations. But with little to go off of but high school highlight reels and small session workout tapes, he understandably fell.

Sometimes the hype is impossible to ignore, but not participating in the combine and staying as mysterious as possible hurt these ultra-talented prospects.

While the 2018 NBA Draft wasn’t quite the trade-heavy, drama-laden extravaganza much of the world expected, there are plenty of narratives to reflect upon. At the end of the day, the ink is barely dry on this year’s festivities and it’ll be some time before there’s any indication of these successes or failures. Still, there are lessons to be learned from every draft, workout or injury process and these are four conversations worth considering as the NBA quickly rolls into the summer league season.

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VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Winners

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

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Insiders Video

VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Losers

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

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