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Magic's recent wins may cost them in NBA Draft

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The Magic have made strides under interim coach James Borrego. Will they play themselves out of a top pick and miss out on a long-term power forward solution?

Karl-Anthony Towns
Karl-Anthony Towns
Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic have quietly assembled a strong collection of talent in Year Three of their post-Dwight Howard rebuild. Nik Vučević has grown into a double-double machine and borderline All-Star, and Victor Oladipo and rookie Elfrid Payton are both very promising, especially on the defensive end. For the first time in years, this team has legitimate hope, and their recent play under interim coach James Borrego is an indicator that these guys may be starting to figure things out. But while much of the roster shows great potential, power forward remains a glaring weakness, and it doesn't look like the solution is currently on the roster.

Channing Frye is 31 and having a down year. Andrew Nicholson is a talented offensive player but not nearly good enough on defense to start. Kyle O'Quinn looks like he may develop into a solid third big, but he's not the power forward of the future. Aaron Gordon is still a mystery, and he may project as a small forward down the line. The Magic have a strong young core in Vučević, Oladipo, Payton, and Tobias Harris (assuming he stays in Orlando). But until they find a long-term solution at power forward, they won't become serious contenders.

Fortunately, there are a pair of freshman that could potentially remedy the issue. Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor has been one of the most productive big man in college basketball this season, putting up 17.9 points and 9.4 boards per game, and he's strongly in the mix to be the number-one pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Okafor has great size at 6-foot-11 and 275 pounds, and he already boasts a polished and diverse post game. He can finish with a variety of moves, he's a willing passer, he's great at using his size and strength to establish position, and he has deceptively nimble footwork.

Despite his considerable talents, Okafor may not be a great fit next to Vučević. Vučević prefers to operate in the post as well, and adding Okafor to the mix could serious clog up the paint and kill the offense's spacing. Furthermore, Okafor struggles on defense, and while Vučević has improved in that area, he's hardly a defensive anchor. But that doesn't mean Okafor should be dismissed; he's an elite offensive talent, and if he improves on defense and diversifies his game a bit, he could be a superstar.

Karl-Anthony Towns would be the ideal fit for the Magic, and he's the guy their should be praying they can somehow land.

Kentucky freshman Karl-Anthony Towns would be the ideal fit for the Magic, and he's the guy their should be praying they can somehow land. Towns is already a strong defender, rebounder, and shot blocker, and his length, athleticism, and age mean there's potential for even greater defensive upside. In addition, Towns has demonstrated a nice shooting touch, with a quick release and range out to the three-point line. He'd be a perfect fit next to Vučević; he could grow into a defensive stopper while spacing the floor on offense, and the duo would grab every rebound in sight.

The problem is that the Magic may end up playing themselves out of a high lottery pick. The team is a surprising 4-3 under Borrego, and if it keeps winning games at a solid clip, several teams will finish with a worse record. It's a welcome improvement, but it also means the Magic may end up picking in the 6-9 range rather than near the very top of the draft. That would put them out of the range of Okafor, Towns, and likely Arizona's Stanley Johnson, a defensive-minded forward who could give them minutes at the 4 and provide great insurance should Harris leave as a free agent.

That doesn't mean the Magic can't find a quality player in the draft. UCLA's Kevon Looney has size, athleticism, and versatility. Texas forward Myles Turner, while a bit divisive among scouts, is a strong defender and rebounder. Latvian prospect Kristaps Porzingis is somewhat of an unknown entity, but he has tremendous potential. These guys could all become very good players, but they aren't sure things like Okafor and Towns.

If the Magic want to land an elite power forward, it'll have to come through the draft; LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love aren't coming to Orlando. Unless the Magic miraculously jump all the way to a top-two draft position, they'll be missing out on two can't-miss prospects who could provide a long-term solution. Winning puts the team in a tough spot; while more victories may cost them in the Lottery, their young players will no doubt benefit from getting a taste of winning and continuing to play hard and compete.

The Magic aren't good yet, but they aren't terrible, so they won't have the luxury of landing multiple top picks every year like the Philadelphia 76ers. This team will continue to get better, regardless of who gets minutes at the four. But being 'not bad' will make it hard for the Magic to land a quality power forward. They won't be good enough to lure big names to Orlando, but they'll be too good to land a high lottery pick, which is the ideal place to find a star. Without a legitimate superstar on their roster (unless Vučević or Oladipo makes a big leap), the Magic could wind up stuck in limbo.

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