By: Ryan Brock
For the first time since 2004, the last time the team was awarded the first overall pick in the NBA Draft, luck was finally on the side of the Orlando Magic. A state of euphoria was set off at The Sixth Man Show’s and Orlando Magic’s official draft lottery watch party in Orlando last week, and after a decade of lottery disappointment where Magic fans would routinely see the team fall one pick short of selecting a franchise changing player, the Magic have secured the number one pick in this year's upcoming draft. While this draft isn’t considered as strong as the potentially historic 2021 NBA Draft, there are still impact players at the top that could ultimately change the trajectory of the franchise. For President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and General Manager John Hammond, the ever-important decision of selecting the right player will define their tenure as head honchos of the team, for better or for worse.
After changing course at last season's eventful trade deadline, where the Magic shipped off the Vooch, Gordon, Fournier core that helped the Magic become a fringe playoff team, the Magic front office embraced the tank in hopes of landing a top three pick in one of the highest rated drafts in recent memory. Welp, we all know how that turned out. The Magic fell two spots in the lottery and failed to get the superstar they so desperately needed to change the franchise. No Cade, no Jalen Green, no Evan Mobley. Once again, the Magic were left on the outside looking in. Yes, the Magic still had a very exciting and successful draft night, landing Gonzaga star Jalen Suggs and now All-Rookie 1st Team Forward Franz Wagner, two pieces that should be high impact players for the Magic for years to come. But the point remains, there is still a star-shaped void in Orlando.
In recent lists of the best players in the league under the age of 25 created by major outlets like ESPN and The Athletic, no Magic player was mentioned. A problem for a team that has been at the bottom of the league for much of the last decade and has been looking for a franchise player since the Dwightmare. Are these lists the end all be all of talent evaluation? Of course not. Magic fans would argue that many of the current players are vastly underrated, such as the aforementioned Wagner, Markelle Fultz, and Wendell Carter Jr., and have a place on those types of lists. But the consensus among evaluators from the outside looking in paints a picture that highlights the lack of potential star personnel that shapes the current roster.
Fast forward a year later and Orlando has an opportunity to remedy this problem, as they have their pick from a talented crop of potential star big men atop the 2022 draft. You could argue that there are no potential superstars in this year's draft, but the truth is, nobody really knows what the future holds. The fact is that the Magic don’t have to worry about being one spot too late or trading assets to secure their guy. They will be the ones setting the tone, they will be the ones receiving phone calls from other teams, and they will be the ones hosting the workouts for the best players entering the league.
They will also be the ones responsible for making the right pick. There is no consensus among draft experts and league executives about who the top player in the draft is this year, and Magic fans have already started debating who the best fit is for the team moving forward. Chet? Jabari? Or Paolo? It’s an extremely important decision that could bring the franchise to new heights, or end up setting the team back for years to come. You simply cannot miss when drafting first overall, and for Weltman and Hammond, their jobs likely depend on hitting a homerun with the pick. Now five years into their Magic tenure, their history of draft selections has been a mixed bag. Of course, draft position has a lot to do with it, but Weltham has yet to find a star in five drafts with the team. No, it’s not easy to find a star, and you need plenty of luck along the way, but it doesn’t change the fact that the search is still ongoing.
Let’s take a quick look at their draft history and examine their success rate.
2017 - 6th Overall Pick - Jonathan Isaac - Forward
The first selection they made five years ago still remains one of their best in my opinion. That may be a controversial take, seeing as Isaac has only played in 136 games in his career, but the talent remains tantalizing. Most would agree that when healthy, which yes, I know is rare, Isaac is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and a terror on the court for opposing players. In what was considered a five person draft at the time, with players such as Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson, and De’Aaron Fox all being selected before the Magic were on the clock, Weltman and Hammond were deciding from a pool of players including Dennis Smith Jr., Lauri Markkanen, Frank Ntilikina, and Malik Monk. Isaac clearly has more upside than all of those players, and seems to be the right pick in hindsight, despite his injury history. I’m aware that Donovan Mitchell and Bam Adebayo were selected in that draft as well, but neither was as highly ranked in the pre-draft process and were selected 13th and 14th, respectively. This started the trend of the Magic falling in love with plus wingspan and defensive minded players. From a talent perspective, the Magic made a good decision in drafting Isaac and there is still a realistic opportunity for him to fulfill his potential and make All-Defensive teams for years to come.
Hit or Miss - Hit (when healthy)
2018 - 6th Overall Pick - Mo Bamba - Center
Wingspan strikes again. The Magic took the alluring potential of Mo Bamba out of Texas with their second first round selection of their tenure, making their pick directly after a future star would come off the board, with Trae Young being drafted by Atlanta with the 5th overall pick after their infamous trade with Dallas. Another player who has dealt with injuries, Bamba couldn’t find his way onto the court as he played behind All-Star Center Nikola Vucevic as the Magic battled for playoff position in his first few seasons in the league. When he finally got his opportunity this past season with new head coach Jamahl Mosely, he flashed the potential that got him drafted so highly, but still struggled with his motor, defensive assignments, and contributing much offensively other than stretching the floor. Now, Bamba’s future on the team remains in question as he never quite lived up to the hype and finds himself entering restricted free agency. The Magic will almost certainly add another big to their roster with the top overall selection in the upcoming draft, and Bamba is likely the odd man out. Unless he takes a team friendly deal, and I mean extremely friendly, Bamba’s days in a Magic uniform are likely numbered.
Hit or Miss - Miss
2019 - 16th Overall Pick - Chuma Okeke - Forward
Magic fans were perplexed when the Magic selected a player who tore his ACL at Auburn and wasn’t really being talked about as a possible target with the 16th pick in the draft. Which is curious because after discovering that he has a 7-foot wingspan, it should have been assumed he’d be the obvious selection. After missing his entire rookie season rehabbing from his knee injury, Okeke has flashed some ability that could make him an impactful role player for years to come. Chuma is a versatile defender who led the team in steals this past season, and he projects as a solid 3&D wing moving forward. However, he’ll need to shoot the three at a higher clip, 32% and 35% in his first two seasons, respectively, if he wants to stake a claim as a key piece of the Magic’s future.
Hit or Miss - Hit
2020 - 15th Overall Selection - Cole Anthony - Guard
The trend is broken! With only a 6-foot-4.5 wingspan, the Magic selected Cole Anthony out of North Carolina. A former top recruit in the country out of high school, Anthony saw his stock fall after struggling with injuries and a subpar cast at Chapel Hill. Anthony has since made a name for himself in the city of Orlando, becoming a vocal leader and representing the city like few before him. On the court, he’s had his ups and downs. Anthony has delivered some memorable moments as a member of the team, hitting multiple game winners in his rookie season and opening the 2021-2022 season with a bang. After averaging 20ppg for the first couple months of his sophomore campaign, he tailed off after an ankle injury and never really rediscovered the success he found so early in the season. Many believe that Cole’s ultimate success will come in the way of a spark plug off the bench, but don’t tell him that. Confidence is one of his best attributes and few players work harder than Anthony. Cole needs to work on shot selection, three point shooting, and finishing at the rim, but he remains a solid pick at 15th overall and has shown potential for a long NBA career.
Hit or Miss - Hit
2021 - 5th Overall Selection - Jalen Suggs - Guard
It’s too early to come to any conclusions about Jalen Suggs, but I’m still a big believer in his talent. Widely considered one the top four prospects in the loaded 2021 draft, Suggs fell to the Magic at five, and there was really no other selection to be made after Toronto took Scottie Barnes with the fourth overall pick. Suggs undoubtedly struggled on offense in his rookie season, but showed the defensive upside that could see him make multiple All-Defensive teams in the future. There is still plenty of time for him to improve his offensive game, and it needs to start with shooting. If Suggs can improve his jumper and ball handling, he has the raw tools and physical ability to be a star in the league.
Hit or Miss - Too early to tell
2021 - 8th Overall Selection - Franz Wagner - Forward
Riding the high of Jalen Suggs selection, Franz Wagner felt more of a consolation prize with the Magic’s second pick in the top ten. Boy, were we wrong. All Wagner went on to do was become one of the most consistent and impactful rookies in the class, averaging 15.2ppg, 4.5rpg, and 2.9apg on 46.8% shooting from the field and 35.4% shooting from three. Wagner outplayed his draft position and went on to make the All-Rookie 1st Team alongside Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes, and Jalen Green. The Magic found a cornerstone piece to help build around, as Wagner can pretty much do it all on the court. While his star potential still remains a question, he’s a winning player who makes good decisions and plays with a chip on his shoulder. He should be a favorite of Magic fans for the next decade.
Hit or Miss - Hit
The Magic front office have done a relatively good job with drafting based on their draft position over their first five seasons. Based on what they could control, they have proven to be solid evaluators of talent and have made mostly good decisions regarding free agency, contract extensions, and trades, all while clearing up the Magic’s cap sheet after the disastrous Rob Hennigan era. They have all their draft picks moving forward along with a number of other assets and flexibility. But all of that will be for nothing if they don’t hit on this pick.
Finally, Weltman and Hammond caught the break they needed, and if they want to extend their time in Orlando, they need to make this one count.
Follow Ryan Brock on Twitter