The Orlando Magic's selection of untested freshman Kentucky center Daniel Orton, whose per-game averages of 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds won't wow anyone, with the 29th pick of the 2010 NBA Draft, must have come as a shock. Yes, the three players picked immediately prior to him also happen to be guys who attended the Magic's lone pre-draft workout on Monday, but three other workout attendees were still on the board. Yet here we are, with Orton, and not Devin Ebanks, Darington Hobson, or Andy Rautins, set to join the Magic for summer-league play on July 5th. Orton was Magic GM Otis Smith's guy, as Smith went so far as to say Orton was "the best available player" at no. 29, and that he would have traded out of the first round entirely had Orton not still been on the board.
And while Orton faces questions surrounding his NBA-readiness, the knee injury that ended his senior season at high school, and the way he handled the entire pre-draft process, he still grades as a solid pick in terms of potential. Certainly, one can take issue with the fact that the Magic, a conference finalist with five big men under contract for next season, used a first-round pick--and therefore guaranteed money--on a raw big-man project rather than addressing needs at point guard and on the wing. But again, Orton's potential is there. Exactly a month ago, DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony projected Orton as a lottery pick, with the same stats and questions about his knee.
Size is at a premium in this league. Orton's big (6'10" and 269 pounds), blocks shots (4.0 per 40 minutes, when adjusted for pace), and shows promise as a defender; opponents scored on only 16 of the 48 post-ups he defended last season, while committing 7 turnovers, according to Synergy Sports Technology. And he'll get the opportunity to learn from, battle against, and play behind Dwight Howard, the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year and the league's best center. Though initially floored by the pick, and utterly confused, I've gradually come around on it.
Gradually is the key word, because I'm not sure he'll be an impact player of offense, and no, the Magic don't expect him to be an impact player, period, for a while. He needs some work, particularly on that end of the floor. He does not have a reliable jump shot (just 9 attempts all year) and is merely adequate in the low post (0.809 points per possession), which accounted for 29.9% of his possession usage; expect the Magic to increase his pick-and-roll usage, as he got just 4 touches as a roll-man all season, and scored on 3 of them.
There's risk in taking Orton, because he may never pan out, like so many young big-men before him. But he's in a good situation here, facing no pressure, while learning from the NBA's best center and, in Stan Van Gundy, one of its top coaches. Considering the potential reward (relative to draft position, anyway), Orton appears to be a good enough choice, and certainly not one that Smith will regret.