When looking down this roster and the road to its potential, the Magic have four solid building blocks in Victor Oladipo, Arron Afflalo, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic.
Plan A for Orlando revolves around trying to kill two birds with one stone.
Plan A: Make Point Guard the Priority
If Orlando’s goal is to land a new stud point guard, then at No. 4, it will be looking at two specific options.
Phase 1: The No. 4 pick
Option 1: Dante Exum, Australia
Need a point guard and centerpiece? Dante Exum offers the potential to fill both needs when you take into account his strengths and upside.
At 6’6″, he’s a scoring point guard with explosive athleticism. Exum has the ability to flat out take over games with the ball in his hands, whether it’s as a facilitator or scorer from the wing.
Defensively, he projects as a human blanket on the perimeter, where he’s got the size and 6’9″ wingspan to match some lightning-quick feet.
Based on his physical tools, skill set, high IQ and basketball genes (father played for North Carolina), Exum‘s ceiling sits at least a story above Orlando’s alternative options’ ceilings (other than Joel Embiid). With Exum, we’re talking about a potential nightmare mismatch.
Exum would seemingly fit perfectly into Orlando’s lineup, where he and Oladipo could form an explosive two-way backcourt.
If Orlando takes Exum, and he turns out to be the real deal, it’ll have secured its point guard for the future and possibly the new face of the franchise.
However, Exum doesn’t have the track record or Division I production to back up the perceived upside tied to his strengths.
He’s just 18 years old, with only two FIBA World Championships and a Nike Hoop Summit showcase game on his resume.
Granted, he led Australia to back-to-back medals at those two tournaments, and he dropped 16 points at the Nike Hoop Summit against guys like Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon, but there is some risk attached to drafting a young player who’s given scouts such a small sample size of material to evaluate.
If the Magic aren’t sold on Exum‘s track record or talent, but they still want to come away with a high-profile floor general, there’s another solid option.
Option 2: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Marcus Smart isn’t the athlete that Exum is, and he doesn’t have his 6’6″ size, but he does have two years of heavy Big 12 production on his resume.
He averaged 18 points, 5.9 boards and 4.8 assists his sophomore year, while limiting his turnovers to just 2.6 a game.
At 6’3″, 227 pounds, Smart is a bully in the backcourt built like an NFL running back. He blends athleticism and overwhelming strength with phenomenal passing instincts and a devastating attack game.
Defensively, he’s finished top three in college basketball in steals in back-to-back years. He might actually hold more value as a ball-stopper than facilitator.
But Smart shot below 30 percent from downtown and below 43 percent from the floor in both college seasons. At this point, he’s a mediocre shooter with poor shot selection.
And in a lineup with Oladipo, Harris and Vucevic, the Magic could use some shooting.
Still, you won’t find many safer options than Smart in this year’s draft.
“Orlando Magic executives love Smart’s intangibles,” reports Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. “They value his leadership, toughness and competitiveness so much that they might select him fourth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft on June 26.”
Smart isn’t the home-run prize that Exum might be, but he’s a better bet to make the more seamless transition and contribute early on.
Phase 2: The No. 12 Pick
Having secured a point guard at No. 4, the Magic will now have a young, promising piece at the 1, 2, 3 ,4 and 5 positions.
At No. 12, they should really just be looking to grab the best player available regardless of what shape he comes in.
Here are some potential options that might be available to Orlando with its second lottery selection:
Aaron Gordon, Arizona
He’s a long shot to be there, but if Marcus Smart and Julius Randle go No. 6 and No. 7, it’s possible that the Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Hornets target shooters at No. 8 and No. 9. That leaves the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that could draft-and-stash at No. 10, and the Denver Nuggets at No. 11, a team that really needs a 2-guard.
Gordon is the top athlete amongst the bigs and arguably the most versatile defender in the draft. He’d give this Orlando lineup a shot of above-the-rim explosiveness it doesn’t get from Afflalo, Harris or Vucevuc.
If Gordon is on the board, he’s the obvious answer. But I wouldn’t bank on it. He could go as high as No. 5.
Dario Saric, Croatia
With Gordon off the board, the Magic probably aren’t going to find an immediate upgrade at No. 12. That’s why they draft-and-stash Dario Saric, one of the most productive players overseas and an incredibly promising NBA prospect.
At 6’10”, Saric does it all, from ball-handling and facilitating to scoring, shooting and rebounding.
The Magic aren’t looking to realistically compete in 2014-15, anyway. This gives them a chance to continue developing their core, while Saric can get heavy minutes abroad playing at a high level.
Nik Stauskas, Michigan
At this point, not only is Stauskas arguably the top prospect on the board, but the Magic could use that lights-out 44 percent three-point stroke. He’s also a high-IQ presence who can handle the ball, run the pick-and-roll and get to the rack (took 204 free throws this year).
He’s pretty much a lock in terms of his ability to bring something to the table. Stauskas‘ upside is debatable, but there’s no doubt his offensive game should translate in a supporting scoring role.
Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia
Like Dario Saric, you take Jusuf Nurkic with the idea that nobody else on the board is going to help too much. At 6’11”, 280 pounds with quick feet and soft hands, Nurkic has big-time upside at center. If he’s still there and Gordon, Saric and Stauskas are off the board, the Magic might want to invest in a longer-term project for the future.
Rodney Hood, Duke
There’s no rhyme or reason to taking Hood at No. 12 other than that he’s a highly skilled small forward with excellent size and shooting touch. At 6’8″, he knocked in two three-pointers per game at a scorching 42 percent clip. And Hood can score in the mid-range, whether it’s with the stop-and-pop off two feet or a runner off one.
He projects poorly defensively, but he’s a pretty sure bet as a shot-maker.
Adreian Payne, Michigan State
I’m not sure how much upside is left in Payne’s 23-year-old tank, but at 6’10”, he can really shoot the rock. And if you’re the Magic, you draft him for his ability to stretch the floor and finish above the rim—two strengths guaranteed to translate in the pros.
Plan B: Go Big, Then Small
With Plan B, the Magic decide to pass on Smart and Exum at No. 4, and instead, they target a different position.
If they decide the top prospect on the board at No. 4 is actually a forward or center, they could always take a point guard at No. 12, where there will be a few nice ones to choose from.
Phase 1: The No. 4 Pick
Option 1: Noah Vonleh, Indiana
You wouldn’t know it from the coverage or Indiana’s record, but Noah Vonleh is coming off an awfully impressive one-and-done season.
At 6’9.5″ with a massive 7’4″ wingspan and 247-pound frame, Vonleh stands out as a man amongst boys. Only he’s 18 years old and one of the youngest prospects in the draft.
That didn’t stop him from leading the Big Ten in rebounding playing less than 27 minutes a game. And youth and minimal touches didn’t keep him from flashing a textbook back-to-the-basket game and a promising outside jumper.
The only question to ask about Vonleh revolves around the length of his developmental timetable. He’s young, he played a minimal role in Indiana’s offense, and he’s still got some work to do with regard to his conditioning and footwork.
Option 2: Joel Embiid, Kansas
He’s out with another injury—this time it’s his foot, and it’s going to require surgery, per Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. But prior to the injury, Embiid was the clear-cut No. 1 prospect in the class.
Is he worth the risk at No. 4? Maybe to some teams, but with Nikola Vucevic there and Vonleh, Exum or Smart on the board, I’m not sure he is to Orlando.
Still, it’s something to think about for the Magic, who don’t have a true centerpiece to build around. If Embiid can hold up physically, he’s got the potential to be that guy.
Phase 2: The No. 12 Pick
Having taken a big man in Vonleh or Embiid at No. 4, the Magic can now focus on securing a point guard, and they should have three fairly strong options to choose from.
Option 1: Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Tyler Ennis is the purest point guard in the field if we’re evaluating based on passing and facilitating instincts. He knows how to run an offense, and though he’s not going to blow you away with athleticism, he’s a high-IQ guy who gets to his spots on the floor.
Option 2: Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette
Payton is soaring up draft boards after a year in which he averaged 19.2 points, six boards and 5.9 assists. At 6’4″, he’s quick, shifty and athletic, and he gets to the rack at will. Defensively, he’s a star, thanks to his size and length for the position. The only question with Payton stems from his jumper—it’s fairly incompetent for a junior.
Option 3: Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Napier would be a reach at No. 12, but if Orlando is looking for an NBA-ready point guard, this is the guy to target. Having won a national title as a freshman role player and one as a senior star, his track record is as good as it gets. Unfortunately, his upside is limited as a 6’1″, 175-pound under-the-rim guard turning 23 years old.
The Magic simply have to pick whoever they believe is the No. 1 prospect on the board at No. 4, whether it’s a point guard or power forward.
If it were up to me, I’d go Exum at No. 4 and look to pair him with Gordon, Saric or Stauskas. If Exum is gone, I’d go Vonleh and look to pair him with Ennis, Payton or Napier.
If Exum and Vonleh are both gone, than I’m going with Smart at No. 4.
Regardless, with two picks, the Magic can’t come out losers on June 26.
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