Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Dante Exum seem to be, in some form or fashion, the top three prospects on most Orlando Magic fans' 2014 NBA Draft boards. But there's a chance that none of those guys will be available when Orlando picks. Joel Embiid presumably has the highest upside of anyone left, but he creates a logjam at the center position, given the incumbency of Nikola Vučević. Julius Randle, however, could work in Orlando and produce immediately. He fits in Orlando better than you probably think.
One could wonder where this leaves incumbent power forward Tobias Harris. I would answer: As the sixth man, paired on reserve units with Kyle O'Quinn at center. For the season, the Magic, as a team, actually played better with Harris on the bench. The offense dipped by two points per 100 possession when Harris was on the pine, but the defense improved by 3.6 points per 100 possessions. These numbers look a little different when you look at them over the last two months of the season, when Harris was healthy and scorching defenses. From February 1st-April 16th, the Magic played 6.7 points per 100 possessions better with Harris on the floor, per NBA.com/stats.
But the on/off numbers suggest that Harris was much more successful when paired with O'Quinn than with Vučević. The Magic's offensive rating with Harris and Vučević together was 102.8, but their defensive rating was 105.1, a minus-2.2 net rating. With Harris alongside O'Quinn, however, the team's offensive rating jumped up to 104.9 while the defensive rating dug down to 99.6, a plus-5.3 net rating.
Vučević is the starter and I imagine that management views him in a higher regard than it does O'Quinn. But if the team made O'Quinn Vučević's long-term backup, Harris would perfectly complement him. O'Quinn is a long, powerful defender with the ability and wherewithal to defend the rim. He can mask Harris' inability to protect the paint. On offense, O'Quinn has a nice midrange jumper, is a crafty passer, and can operate from the high post. In other words: he doesn't cramp the spacing that is so precious for Harris' bullying shoulder drives.
Randle, a monster on the low block, would then operate as the team's long-term power forward. He can back you down, dig his shoulder down, and get to the rim. He's agile for his size and has more finesse in his finishing ability than one may imagine. He often jumps toward the cup in one direction only to flip the ball back the other way with his left hand. He struggled with turnovers early: Kentucky shot poorly from the outside and college teams would send two and sometimes three defenders at him.
Most of Kentucky's opponents would send whichever defender they assigned the corner shooter to the middle of the floor to deter Randle's deadly drives in the lane. Near the end of the season, however, he began to read those doubles and make the right passes out of double teams. This improvement was most evident in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, when Randle recorded 13 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists in a win against Wichita State.
Like any of the prospects in any Draft ever, Randle still has work to do: He heavily favors his left hand and he'll need to refine his outside game in order to keep NBA defenses honest. He also has a short(ish), 6-foot-11 wingspan which limits his defensive potential. But he's strong and agile enough to make up for that, if he learns how to position himself on the back end of rotations. Randle will defend NBA power forwards more effectively than Harris does.
Randle's game could also pair nicely with Vučević's because the seven-footer's finesse complements Randle's power. The Montenegrin is an effective post player, but he's also an excellent midrange shooter and would provide spacing for Randle to operate. Plus the pair would dominate the boards, much like a young Marc Gasol-Zach Randolph pairing. The question is on defense: Randle has the tools to be an average NBA defender, but he isn't a rim protector. Neither is Vučević. Orlando's big man performed well in the team's drop-back-and-contain schemes, but Vučević was a non-factor on the weak side. That's OK at this point--Gasol didn't become a positive NBA defender until he was 26--but it could be an issue in the beginning stages.
Drafting Randle would give Orlando an enviable frontcourt for the future. Harris and O'Quinn could spell him and Vučević, and both reserves have the flexibility to slide down a position, maintaining Orlando's coveted roster fluidity. Harris plays more effectively at power forward on offense, but he has enough versatility to play on the wing. O'Quinn started 12 games at power forward and can play there for stretches in bigger lineups.
Another question: what does Orlando do with the small forward spot? Arron Afflalo is an option here, though he's admittedly more comfortable at shooting guard. Maurice Harkless is an option, too: he developed a nice three-point shot and wouldn't take many possessions away from Vučević, Randle, and Afflalo. But the Magic were over three points per 100 possessions better on defense with Harkless on the bench. If he could improve on that end, he'd be a nice fit on the wing. He has the physical tools to become a versatile wing defender, but he still needs to put it all together. He will, however, only be 21 years old at the start of the 2014/15 season and picking up on NBA defensive nuances takes years to perfect. So there's hope.
Starting Harris at small forward and letting Andrew Nicholson slide in alongside O'Quinn on the second team frontline is another option for the Magic. Harris is much better offensively at power forward where he can drive past slow footed bigs. But, according to 82games.com--and this information comes as a bit of a surprise--Harris gave up just a 10.2 PER to opposing small forwards. That figure ranks significantly better than the 19.6 PER he surrendered to opposing power forwards. The one thing that really hinders Harris' ability to play small forward full time is his outside shot. He connected on only 25.4 percent of his three-pointers in 2013/14, a number way too low to threaten defenses from the wing. After the All-Star Break, however, he netted 38.1 percent from deep. If he can maintain his late-season shooting, then he could certainly manage as a small forward, but that's a big if.
In any case, drafting Randle could work better than most Orlando fans realize.