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The Luck of the Lottery: Ranking the Top 3 Prospects for the Magic at No. 1

By: Tim Jones


 


Decisions, decisions, decisions.


After a year of what mostly felt like clear-cut tanking, most Magic fans were hoping for a chance just to land in the top three of this year’s draft.


The consensus for a while now is that it is a three-way race between Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, and Paolo Banchero at the top, with guys like Jaden Ivey and Shaedon Sharpe somewhere in the next tier.


Thanks to the luck of the ping pong balls going their way, the Magic now have the luxury of choosing their guy, rather than hoping whoever that guy is may fall to them. The Magic have made it clear that they will keep an open mind throughout the process, but it seems pretty clear that the pick will be one of the top three.


When it comes to drafting, the Magic must draft whichever prospect they believe will be the best player down the line, instead of drafting trying to fulfill team specific needs.


Here is my list of the best players available in the draft:


 


1. Chet Holmgren, Big, Gonzaga - 7’0, 195 lbs - 2021-22 Stats: 14.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 1.9 apg


As I mentioned, I am a firm believer of always taking the best player available, especially with the No. 1 pick. I think that Holmgren is too unique of a player to pass on here. We’ve never seen a prospect quite like him.


The shot-blocking and shooting is real. Holmgren averaged a ludicrous 3.7 blocks per game and shot 39% from three in his freshman season at Gonzaga. Holmgren frequently altered shots at the rim on the defensive end, then drained trailing three-pointers on the other end (couldn’t help but recall a similar connection with Fultz and Vuc).


At the very least, I think Holmgren projects to be an elite rim-protector that offers spacing at the big position.


At his best, well, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.


Aside from the obvious shot-blocking and shooting skills, he has a more than respectable handle that allows him to attack closeouts and make plays off the bounce for himself and others. He is extremely agile for his size, which will often result in mismatches for opposing bigs trying to guard him on the perimeter. He also looks to be taller than the listed 7’0 and looks closer to the 7’1, 7’2 mark.


The Jalen Suggs connection is also worth mentioning. The Suggs and Holmgren link goes all the way back to when the two were in elementary school. The two have been bestfriends since then, and continued playing together all throughout their high school career in Minnesota at Minnehaha Academy and Team Sizzle on the Under Armour circuit.


The anti-Chet crowd will be skeptical of his thin frame and point to Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba, and even Bol Bol and say that the Magic do not need another potentially fragile guy like that on their roster. True. But the possible reward of Holmgren one day blossoming into the cliched “unicorn” that he has been labeled since he was 16-years-old triumphs any concern that one may have about his weight, or lack-thereof.


 

2. Paolo Banchero, Big, Duke - 6’10, 250 lbs - 2021-22 Stats: 17.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.2 apg


All year, I’ve gone back and forth between Holmgren and Banchero, so it’s very likely that Paolo finds his way back to the No. 1 spot before I even finish writing this piece.


The debate can be made that the Magic’s biggest missing piece is a go-to scorer. A guy that can get his shot wherever, and whenever he wants. Paolo Banchero looks like he can be that guy.


Now, I know that I said not to draft for need, but it is the creation tools that lead me to prefer Banchero over the likes of Jabari Smith. To me, it just feels like so many are overthinking Banchero.


I think he is the most complete prospect out of this year's group at the moment.


He’s 6’10, 250 lbs with an NBA ready body. At his size, there aren’t many guys who can move like him, especially with the ball in his hands. The Magic simply do not have a guy like this with this combination of size and versatility, and have not had one for a very long time.


I think the most underrated aspect of Banchero’s game is his playmaking ability. He’s a more than willing passer that consistently showed the ability to hit the open man off drives and out of the post. With his proven skill set, I think he can function as a potential offensive initiator and secondary playmaker for the Magic.


The main questions surrounding Banchero are about his three-point shot and his defensive effort. I feel that his mechanics are solid enough and he moves his feet well enough that I think he’ll be just fine in these areas in a few years.


In a class that seems to lack many true potential primary scoring options, Banchero is the closest to that out of this group. Based on his size and creation ability, he should be a serious consideration for the No. 1 pick.


 

3. Jabari Smith, Forward, Auburn - 6’10, 220 lbs - 2021-22 Stats: 16.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.0 apg


It is no secret that Jabari Smith is the best shooter in the draft. Smith would come in and immediately provide necessary spacing for the Magic. He would get many open looks simply from playing alongside Markelle Fultz.


Smith has been getting a ton of comparisons to former Magic forward Rashard Lewis, and rightfully so. Smith and Lewis are similar in height and frame and share many of the same strengths and weaknesses as players.


The biggest criticism of Smith’s game stem from his lack of a handle, which led to him not being able to generate many easy shots for himself this season at Auburn. This resulted in him settling for tough, contested shots on the perimeter more times than not.


Smith also struggled finishing at the rim due to his lack of verticality and explosiveness.


In recent memory, guys like Paul George and Kawhi Leonard went from prospects whose biggest flaw was their inability to create off the dribble, to now two of the premiere shot-creators in the league. These two give hope that Smith could one day follow down this path.


If the handle and overall shot-creating do manage to develop, then we could very well be mentioning Smith in the same breath with these two in a couple years.


Aside from the obvious shooting talents, Smith’s upside on the defensive end is another one of his selling points as a prospect. Due to his size, length, and ability to defend on the perimeter, he presents a certain level of "switchabilty" that is extremely valuable in today’s NBA.


While one can’t deny the importance of getting this pick correct, this is about as good a problem the Magic can have.


Will they stick to their obsession of long, lanky players like Chet? Or are the rumors from “rival teams” about them selecting Jabari true? Or better yet, will they take Paolo, who seems the least linked to the Magic at the moment?


Knowing what we do about the Magic organization and how they operate, I think it’s safe to say that none of us really know who the pick will be, and we probably won’t know until the pick is actually made.


Each one of these players come with their own flaws, but provide their own unique individual talents that fans should be excited about no matter who the Magic decide to draft.


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