The Orlando Magic face plenty of questions this offseason, but none more immediate than which players they should select in the NBA Draft, which takes place just 5 days from today. They hold the 29th and 59th overall selections, and have scheduled a workout with five prospects this Tuesday. One such prospect is Quincy Pondexter, a 22-year-old small forward from Washington who averaged 19.3 points and 7.4 rebounds in his most recent season. And the more I read about him, the more I'm convinced that he's Orlando's best bet at number 29.
He can contribute in a variety of ways offensively.
Using college performance to predict NBA success is tricky when it comes to offense; just ask Adam Morrison. So take this bit with a grain of salt, if you like, but Pondexter's varied offensive game should attract the Magic to him. Via Synergy Sports Technology, here's how Pondexter got his offense this season:
|Play Type||%Time||Points Per Possession||Rating
That's an impressive array of offensive moves. He can create for himself in isolation, transition, or in the post; let others create for him as a shooter or cutter; or make the most of another's miss with an offensive rebound. When you consider the Magic would never ask him to deploy the weakest part of his game, the post-up, he looks even better. Again, projecting offense at the next level is tough, and there's no guarantee that he would be able to duplicate his success in the pros. Yet the fact that he's comfortable in a variety of situations says a lot about his potential, and NBA-readiness.
And yes, there's concern about his three-point shot; his range doesn't quite extend to the arc, which is why the Magic, who value three-point shooting, might be tempted to pass on him. However, he has shown steady improvement as a jump-shooter overall throughout his career.
|Season||%Time||Points Per Shot||Rating
|2006/07||Data Not Available|
Over time, he's grown more comfortable with taking jumpers, and now converts them with above-average efficiency.
The improvement isn't superficial. In December, Kyle Nelson of DraftExpress praised his jumpshot:
Also much improved is his shooting stroke, which is far more fluid and compact than in the past. Though he still does not show the ability to consistently and comfortably knock down shots from the perimeter, it now looks like a good possibility that he will develop with time and practice.
He fills a positional need.
Vince Carter, 33, and Mickael Pietrus, 28, are the only wing players Orlando has under contract for next season. J.J. Redick is likely to return after entering restricted free agency, yet at 6'04" can only play one position. Starting small forward Matt Barnes seems less likely to return after his highest-impact season as a pro, leaving the offensively limited Pietrus as Orlando's only real option at small forward. In short, Pondexter addresses a very real need.
He has the potential to be a solid perimeter defender.
Synergy digs Pondexter's defense, rating it as "very good" overall. He allowed just 0.775 points per possession, forced turnovers on 12.6% of opponent's possessions, and committed a foul resulting in free throws 7.9% of the time. He can defend without fouling, in other words, with no major weaknesses; Synergy lists him as merely "average" defending shooters coming off screens, but he defended that situation just 27 times this season.
For a narrative take on his D, I again turn to DraftExpress:
Defensively, Pondexter has continued his great play all season, showing outstanding versatility in man-to-man defense, good fundamentals in the post and on the perimeter, while also showing very good rotational awareness, being a vocal leader for the Huskies’ defense. He’s not the biggest or strongest player you’ll find, as definitely projects as a small forward defensively in the NBA, having nearly ideal physical tools otherwise for that role, but also possessing the versatility to defend multiple positions, along with a high level of focus and effort.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy prizes defense above all else, from every player on the court. Even if Pondexter struggles on the offensive end, his usefulness on D will keep him on the floor and in the rotation.
He's ready to play now.
At 22 years old with 4 years of NCAA experience, Pondexter is about as ready a player to be found in this year's draft. He's not a guy whom the Magic will have to bring along slowly. And because he fills a need--even if Barnes returns, the Magic will still want to have a young wing to add to their core, long-term--Van Gundy can plug him right in from Day 1. Andrew Melnick of Howard the Dunk agrees, writing, "we could have a rookie who could crack Orlando’s rotation rather quickly," in his appraisal of Pondexter.
There's a degree of risk involved with any draft pick, especially one late in the first round, and nothing I've read indicates Pondexter is a "home run," or a guy with real All-Star potential. However, he seems like he could have a long and productive NBA career, and Orlando could certainly use his skills right away. If he's on the board when the Magic are on the clock, he needs to be their pick.