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Five Magic Observations: NBA Draft Edition

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Power ranking the top prospects, weighing the value of those late picks, and the question of the week

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-South Carolina vs Duke Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the first offseason edition of Five Magic Observations. Did you know the draft is about to happen? Crazy, I know.

I do my due diligence to make sure I know who’s who and how to spell their names (even if I couldn’t spell Jeff Weitmann Weltman when he got hired), but I’m not the guy who’s gonna produce some kind of prophetic prediction for the surprise booms and busts of the draft. Instead, I do my best to objectively look at each prospect and figure out if they have the skills to compete in the NBA, and I’m probably not going to deviate significantly from the consensus views. Unless it’s a no-brainer, I’m usually pretty conservative about the potential of these 19 and 20-year olds.

I’ve still got my biases. I probably overvalue shooting, and I tend not to put as much stock into intangibles. Phrases like “He’s a winner” or “He wants it more than anyone else” don’t mean much to me, not because I discredit the value of those traits, but because I doubt the ability of anyone to fairly assess those qualities.

With all that out of the way, let’s dive into a few of the juicy topics heading into draft night, starting with the Magic’s most important pick:

Power-ranking seven Magic prospects

I’m sure the Magic have their big board of prospects jotted down on a poorly-secured whiteboard somewhere, but who they take with the 6th pick probably depends less on who they like and more on what everyone ahead of them decides to do.

(Yes, I did just explain that “Who the Magic can pick depends on who the other teams pick.” That’s the kind of hard-hitting analysis I strive to bring when the NBA draft rolls around.)

Why this year is different from the others is because of the uncertainty outside the top few picks. In a lot mock drafts I’ve seen, Jayson Tatum gets taken by the Celtics 3rd. On the other hand, community mocks that Zach and I have participated in with writers from other teams, as well as the OPP Community Mock Draft that Aaron organized, all ended with Tatum joining the Magic. I’ve seen Tatum as low as 8th in one mock draft (though that was certainly an outlier).

Pick any player you like not named Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball, and you’re unlikely to find a firm consensus on the exact place they belong. If you want the Magic to take Tatum, you can find a mock that lands him there. If you want the Magic to take Jonathan Isaac, Dennis Smith Jr., or De’Aaron Fox, you can find someone else who thinks they’ll take that guy, too.

In that light, here’s my personal rankings of the seven players who could plausibly be taken by Orlando at 6th:

  1. Jayson Tatum - Tatum checks a lot of the boxes I look for in a college prospect: solid steal and block rates, great free throw shooter, and skilled off the dribble. That’s a good foundation for shoring up the weaknesses in his game. For example, Tatum only shot 34% from the college 3-point line, but free throw percentage is sometimes a better predictor of long-range shooting ability in the NBA than actual 3-point percentage. For a Magic team that might not have a lot of time for rookies, I value Tatum’s relative polish compared to other players in his range. If Frank Vogel legitimately wants to build his next Paul George (R.I.P. Aaron Gordon, Small Forward), Tatum might be the best chance at finding that player
  2. Josh Jackson - This is the least-likely player to be available to the Magic among the ones on this list, but I’ve seen him fall as low as 5th in some mock drafts, so it’s not too much of a stretch to thinking he might fall one more spot from there if teams get spooked for some reason. Compared to Tatum, Jackson’s passing ability stands out, and the Magic sorely need playmakers at multiple positions, but I have a little more faith in Tatum’s ability to become a solid shooter in the NBA.
  3. Dennis Smith - To me, the most likely candidate as a Payton-replacement if the Magic decide to move on. He gets dinged for his supposed bad body language and lack of effort on the defensive end, but I don’t put too much stock into that. I’m more interested in his scoring and passing ability. At N.C. State, Smith found a way to succeed despite playing with several non-shooters, a necessary skill for any ball-handler on the current incarnation of the Magic.
  4. Malik Monk - This is where my shooting bias starts to creep in. Watching the Magic brick open 3-pointers over and over again is soul-crushing, especially ones taken by their younger players, so I can’t help but dream of a world where Monk is automatic from the corners for Orlando.
  5. Lauri Markkanen - Same idea with Markkanen. Any shooter who pans out in the NBA would be a massive upgrade for the Magic, and Markkanen would be a great backup option behind Gordon to shore up Orlando’s bench scoring. Every team could use a power-forward shooter, and right now the Magic don’t have one of those.
  6. Jonathan Isaac - I love Isaac’s defensive potential, and I’m sure Frank Vogel would, too. If the Magic already had an up-and-coming star I’d be a lot more interested in Isaac, but he just doesn’t have the All-Star potential the Magic desperately need.
  7. De’Aaron Fox - I’m not really sure why the Magic would want the next Elfrid Payton when they already have an Elfrid Payton on the roster. If you want to try to make things work with a dynamic point guard who can’t shoot, just stick with the one you already have. Otherwise, look for someone who can actually space the floor.
NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Kentucky vs North Carolina Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Question of the Week: Why are my power rankings wrong?

The question this week is pretty straightforward. I just laid out the players I want the Magic to take. I want you to tell me why I’m wrong.

In the spirit of NBA Draft hot-takery, however, I’m going to insist that you respond to my list with UNNECESSARY LEVELS OF INTERNET RAGE.

IF YOU’RE NOT USING ALL-CAPS, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.
IF YOU’RE PROVIDING COHERENT AND OBJECTIVE ARGUMENTS TO SUPPORT YOUR POINT, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.
LOGICAL FALLACIES, CONSPIRACY THEORIES, AND WILD ACCUSATIONS ARE ENCOURAGED.

BONUS POINTS FOR SAYING I HATE YOUR FAVORITE PLAYER, FOR POINTING OUT HOW MUCH BETTER THE NBA WAS “BACK IN MY DAY,” AND FOR DISAGREEING WITH OTHER PEOPLE EVEN IF THEY SAID THE SAME THING YOU DID.

Example response:

“OK CORY HUTSON, OR SHOULD I SAY IDIOT HUTSON, IT’S OBVIOUS YOU’RE THE WORST DRAFT ANALYST OF ALL TIME. I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU PUT DE’AARON FOX LAST ON YOUR LIST. YOU’VE CLEARLY SPENT MORE TIME ANALYZING INTRAMURAL FRISBEE GOLF THAN COLLEGE BASKETBALL. FOX WILL REVOLUTIONIZE THE NBA BECAUSE HE’S A WINNER, UNLIKE “LECHOKE” JAMES OR “COWARD” DURANT.

WHY DO YOU HATE FOX?????????”

(Let’s have fun with this and keep the personal attacks at a minimum, and try not to run over people trying to have actual serious draft conversations in the comments).

How valuable are the Magic’s last three picks?

Most people, myself included, anticipate the Magic making some kind of move involving some of their three low-end picks. The Magic don’t have the roster space nor the inclination to support three more rookies beyond their #6 pick, so packaging those picks together makes sense from their perspective.

The obvious question, then, is what can they get for the 25th, 33rd, and 35th picks? Kevin Pelton at ESPN recently recalculated a draft value chart (Insider article), so as a quick guesstimate I used that chart to see what those three picks are worth.

For reference, the #1 pick arbitrarily has a “value” of 4000. Orlando’s latter three picks are valued at 700, 330, and 300 respectively. As a quick-and-dirty estimate of their total value, we might add those numbers together and get 1330, which is roughly the value of the 14th pick in the draft.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Without even considering the perceived strength of this year’s draft or each team’s individual circumstances, it’s probably not fair to just add the values all together and assume it’s an equivalent exchange. The value of individual star power, the limit to the number of players you can put on a court, and even the opportunity cost of the occupied roster spots all diminish the value of the three-pick package.

I can’t answer how much that “penalty” is. If you arbitrarily include a 30% reduction in value, the three picks together are only worth the 21st selection. A 20% penalty would leave you at the 18th pick.

This sort of analysis also falls short because we’re working with average values. Teams don’t go for second-round talents because they’re hoping to eek out value above the average, they’re looking for home runs, diamonds in the rough that far exceed the worth of the pick. Perhaps that works to the Magic’s advantage: would you rather have picks 33 and 35, or the value-equivalent 27th pick? If you’re panning for gold, maybe you’d rather have the two shots rather than one.

NBA: Finals-Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando’s poor lottery luck

Magic fans are already aware of the bad beats the team’s suffered throughout the rebuild, but it’s worth listing out all their lottery results just to appreciate how unlucky they’ve been. I double-checked their year-by-year lottery odds with RealGM’s draft lottery results page.

2013 - With the NBA’s worst record at 20-62, the Magic had the best odds of landing the #1 pick. Instead, the Cavaliers moved up from 4th to 1st, bumping Orlando down to 2nd. This would be their best pick at any point in the rebuild, and it came during the worst year of draft talent.

2014 - Orlando’s third-worst record gave them the third best lottery odds, but Cleveland once again jumped ahead, this time all the way from 9th, pushing Orlando down to 4th.

2015 - With only an 8.8% of winning the top pick, Orlando was unlikely to move up from 5th, and that was ultimately where they stayed.

2016 - This was the year the draft famously went chalk, not that it mattered much to Orlando at 11th.

2017 - The Magic had more riding on the chance of moving up this season than any previous one, given that they had an extra first-rounder coming to them if the Lakers bounced out of the top-3. Instead, via the Kings’ 8th best lottery odds, the Sixers jumped the Magic and forced them back to 6th from 5th.

Long story short, not once did the Magic move up from their default position, and in fact most years were jumped by someone with worse odds than them.

What’s coming up next?

Usually this is where I’d list the next week’s worth of games, but instead we’ll use this space as a refresher some of the summer schedule.

6/22 - NBA Draft - Hopefully you’ve realized this is happening by now.

6/26 - NBA Awards Show - I’m with the crowd saying this is a dumb idea, but I’m not gonna lie and say I won’t be watching it.

7/1 - Orlando Summer League - Featuring 8 teams, this will be our first look at some of the incoming players, including, of course, the Magic’s newest members.

7/6 - Free Agency Begins - After the week-long moratorium at the start of July, teams will be free to start officially signing players.

7/7 - Las Vegas Summer League - Lasting about 10 days, this is the premier summer league event and will feature the top prospects being drafted this year.