As the 2016 draft approaches, a new wave of excitement has washed over the Orlando Magic faithful. Gone are the years of losing – intentionally or unintentionally. For the first time since 2013, the Magic will not be looking for a franchise cornerstone in this year’s draft. Picking at 11, they will need a player who will be a sidekick, not a hero.
In the years since trading Dwight Howard the Magic have appeared listless, taking big swings with their high picks in hopes of a home run. Those picks became Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, and Mario Hezonja – solid players, but far from superstar-level talent.
Each of the last four years has started with high hopes and fresh faces, only to have those hopes dashed over the course of the regular season. By the All-Star break, the only thing to look forward to in Orlando was the drawing of ping pong balls.
But this year, things are different. With the addition of former Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel, the Magic roster is finally beginning to take shape. Instead of a lone savior, each of those lottery picks looks to be a crucial piece in a team lead by an incoming free agent.
Yes, this year’s draft will be a turning point – the first in four years where the goal will be a solid role player instead of a transformative star. He will be expected to add depth and energy, but not to fill several holes at once. At the same time, this player would preferably be able to step in and contribute instantly.
Adding "projects" to the roster has been a staple of the Rob Hennigan regime in Orlando. This is a solid strategy during a rebuild, when the stakes are low and kinks can be ironed out in real time. On a team striving for contention in the crowded Eastern Conference, however, one misstep by a teenaged rookie could be costly.
The Magic’s biggest positional need is small forward. Evan Fournier’s 6’7" height made him the default choice after the departure of Tobias Harris last year, but even by his own admission, the fit was less than ideal. Even so, Fournier at the three would still be better than a rookie logging starter’s minutes. Free agency is the place to address that hole.
There are three "second tier" needs that the Magic could reasonably expect from this year’s draft pick.
1. 1. Rim Protection – Despite taking a noticeable step forward last year, center Nikola Vucevic can still be a defensive liability at times. A youthful, rim-running big would do wonders with the Magic’s second team. A major selling point that brought Vogel to Orlando was the team’s roster of young, athletic wings. The only missing piece is a reliable big that can anchor the speedy lineups
2 2. Ball Handling – At his best, Elfrid Payton is a slightly above average point guard. The issue last year was that multiple injuries often kept him from being even that. It was then that the Frankenstein’s Monster-esque combinations of Brandon Jennings, Shabazz Napier, C.J. Watson, and Keith Appling took over, sending the Magic offense into peril. With only Watson and Payton still on the roster, depth is at an all-time low heading into this off-season.
3. Three Point Shooting – In a league that is consistently evolving towards the three-point shot, Orlando continues to lag behind. While teams like Golden State and Houston took more threes than previously thought possible last season, the Magic ranked just 23rd in the league in made triples. The streaky Fournier was Orlando’s best three-point shooter, ranking 36th in the league.
These needs line up perfectly with the Magic's draft position at 11. Sure, there's always a chance to get a player like Klay Thompson outside of the top 10, but that's more exception than rule in the NBA. This year's pick comes without the stress and expectations of a lottery selection. Draft a solid contributor like Evan Turner at 11, and you've filled a need. Draft him at 2, and he's a bust.
Hennigan can aim for a role player who has already developed one of those secondary needs, and look forward to free agency to continue to fill the rest of the needs and hopefully vault the Magic back into the playoffs.