Magic Will Have Plenty of Options With 16th Pick

by John Denton

ORLANDO – Unlike in recent years, when they have had a major say in the direction of the NBA Draft by picking second, fourth, fifth, 11th, sixth and sixth with their first selections, the Orlando Magic will be at the mercy of half the teams in the NBA by drafting 16th overall in Thursday’s first round.

It’s actually a good problem to have for the Magic because it means they are coming off a season that ended in a run to the playoffs. Now on the heels of their first postseason berth since 2012, the Magic can be more talent-specific and selective in adding a piece that can bring value to an established playoff team. Or, if they so desire, a Magic team already loaded with young talent can potentially use the No. 16 pick in a trade for a veteran player ready to contribute right away.

``The nature of the draft is the pyramid effect, so the higher you are the fewer guys you are generally considering,’’ said Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman, who will be conducting his third draft with Orlando. ``That being said, you need to do work on the work draft because you never know where you’re going to end up picking that day. So, for sure, as the pyramid widens out at 16, there are more players to consider. With that comes more work and diligence, but I like to think that we’re doing the same amount of work regardless of where we’re picking.’’

New Orleans has the No. 1 selection and is reportedly poised to select massive forward Zion Williamson, who will become Duke’s third No. 1 selection and tie it with Kentucky for the most top overall selections ever produced by a school. Murray State point guard Ja Morant is the likely No. 2 pick to Memphis, owners of the second pick for the fifth time in franchise history. From there, there’s much debate about the direction the draft will head with the Knicks, Lakers (likely transferred to the Pelicans via trade), Cavaliers, Suns, Bulls, Hawks, Wizards and Hawks again rounding out the top 10.

Minnesota (No. 11), Charlotte (No. 12), Miami (No. 13), Boston (No. 14) and Detroit (No. 15) will pick just prior to Orlando at No. 16.

Coming off a 42-40 season where they had the NBA’s biggest win-improvement total (17 more victories than the previous season) and closed with a stirring 22-9 run, the Magic are hopeful of carrying the momentum they build into a critical next few weeks. Orlando has the Nos. 16 and 46 picks on Thursday. Then, the franchise will quickly turn its focus to the NBA’s looming free agent period, which will begin at 6 p.m. on June 30th this season. Key cogs Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross are set to become unrestricted free agents, while reserve center Khem Birch can be a restricted free agent if the Magic offer him a qualifying offer, as expected. Vucevic was Orlando’s first all-star since 2012, Ross became the first player in NBA history to hit at least 200 3-pointers without starting a game and Birch filled in admirably when Mo Bamba suffered a season-ending stress fracture injury in his left leg.

Weltman acknowledged the importance of the days and weeks ahead for the Magic on Monday.

``This is the time of year where rosters are shaped, so it’s very important,’’ Weltman said of the draft and free-agent period. ``Thursday being the draft and then we pivot quickly into free agency, which (begins) the following week. So, there’s a lot of prep work being done for both of those (events). This is a very busy time and an important time and a time when a lot of rosters get shaped. It requires a lot of work and a lot of planning.’’

The first challenge for Weltman, GM John Hammond and the Magic’s army of scouts and talent evaluators is deciding what to do with the No. 16 pick. Weltman said his group is ``excited’’ about potentially picking at No. 16 because of the deep talent base available at various positions. Weltman did hint that trading out of the No. 16 is a possibility for a Magic team that already possesses a young core of Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba, Markelle Fultz and Wes Iwundu. Weltman said that several teams have indicated a willingness to trade picks on Thursday night – both to move up in the draft order and to move down.

Next up for the Magic is deciding which player makes the most sense for their roster if they keep their pick. Does the team address its obvious need for outside shooting by drafting a wing such as Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker or Kentucky’s Tyler Herro? Do the Magic look to fill their backup point guard position with Virginia’s Ty Jerome? Or do they opt for lengthy big men such as Mfiondu Kabengele (6-foot-10), Rui Hachimura (6-foot-8) or Bol Bol (7-foot-2) as a means of insurance in case they lose Vucevic in free agency?

Or do they gamble on more of a long-term project type of player, knowing full well that a teenager will likely have trouble cracking the rotation of a team that has strong aspirations of making the playoffs again next spring. Weltman and Hammond did just that six seasons ago with the Milwaukee Bucks, taking a gamble on lanky forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who would ultimately evolve into being one of the NBA’s best players.

``It’s always a sliding scale with (picking for need as opposed to simply picking the best player),’’ Weltman said. ``I don’t know how good we are, and we have to reestablish everything this summer to even be as good as we were last season. Then, it becomes more difficult to expect a rookie to play for you. We’ll approach this as we always do – looking for the best player that we can add to our team. And the best person – someone who cares about his teammates and cares first and foremost about winning. Those are the sorts of things that we’ll look for.’’

The Magic at least head into the night with options. No longer picking early in the draft and desperate to shake out of the throes of rebuilding, the Magic should be in an enviable spot to uncover a player who can help them going forward.

``Our group is excited about this draft and we’re in a place in the middle of the first round just outside of the lottery where you’re swimming upstream to draft a player who turns out to be a career rotation player,’’ Weltman said. ``I think we’re looking at several guys who could do that and hopefully even more. So, we’re very excited about our draft spot.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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