The 2017 NBA Draft is in the books. Thursday night was a fairly busy one for the Orlando Magic, but ultimately not quite as eventful as many had originally anticipated. Here are some of my thoughts regarding how the Magic did this year in the draft, with grades I’ve awarded for each selection, as well as an overall draft grade :
Orlando Magic: Overall Grade - C
- Jonathan Isaac, Forward (6th pick) - Grade: A-
- Traded the rights to PF/C Anzejs Pasecniks (25th pick) to the Philadelphia 76ers for a 2020 1st round pick (via Oklahoma City Thunder, Top-20 protected. If not conveyed by 2022, then two 2nd round picks in ‘22 and ‘23) and a 2020 2nd round pick - Grade: D
- Wesley Iwundu, Shooting Guard/Small Forward (33rd pick) - Grade: B+
- Traded the rights to PF Ivan Rabb (35th pick) to the Memphis Grizzlies for a 2019 Second Round pick (via Brooklyn) - Grade: C
Let me just begin by putting this out there. If I would have attempted to begin writing this grade assessment piece late Thursday night after the draft, Orlando’s grade would have been quite different.
My knee-jerk reactions regarding Orlando’s draft moves (or lack thereof) were not positive, but time did in fact heal some of my overblown and artificial wounds.
I don’t think it was a secret that Dennis Smith Jr. was my favorite prospect in this draft class. I thought he was the best player available when the Magic selected, and I thought he would be a great fit to help fix some of the problems that plague the current roster: producing points, creation, scoring, some outside shooting, more talent at the lead-guard position. It wasn’t to be, those kind of things happen. I wish him the best in his career, he will do fine with the Dallas Mavericks. They’re a pretty solid fit for him as well.
I was never down on Jonathan Isaac at any point in this draft process. I have always recognized his massive defensive upside, superior length, and elite role-playing potential. And when I say “elite role-playing potential,” I mean zero disrespect to Isaac. He’s referred to in that manner by respected experts across the profession, from Kevin O’Connor at the Ringer, to Mike Schmitz at Draft Express. On an already established winning roster, Isaac can be a guy who guards the other team’s elite forward, plays low-volume but efficient offensive basketball, and comes up with a couple crucial steals and/or blocks that help win a basketball game. O’Connor’s best-case scenario for Jonathan Isaac is pretty spot on: Andrei Kirilenko. Kirilenko was one of hell of a basketball player before injuries derailed his career. He was constantly a pest and seemed to always be everywhere on the floor. I always respected Kirilenko’s overall floor game, he was very much like a basketball Swiss army knife.
And that was my only problem with the Magic selecting Isaac. It has nothing to do with Isaac the player. I think the Boston Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves, or Dallas would have been excellent spots for Isaac to land. It was just that Orlando needs scoring and offensive help more than another defensive-minded forward.
I think we all knew Magic execs Jeff Weltman and John Hammond were going to draft the best player available at no. 6 without any kind of regard for who’s already on Orlando’s roster, and I don’t think anyone blames them there. Jonathan Isaac was considered by most experts to be the best prospect on the board at that point. There were even whispers that Isaac could have gone as high as no. 3 to Boston, or perhaps to the Phoenix Suns at no. 4. Drafting Jonathan Isaac sixth is solid value, and Orlando earns an “A” from me with that move in a vacuum.
I just hope Isaac isn’t crowded by Aaron Gordon’s presence. And conversely, I hope Gordon’s continued growth isn’t stunted by Isaac’s presence either. I don’t foresee that being a problem. Isaac won’t turn 20 until October; he’s extremely light and needs a lot of work before his body is NBA-ready. He will be able next year to get back-up minutes behind Gordon, as well as alongside Gordon for short stretches at a time, and be just fine.
Moving forward is where I’m trying to stay positive and have a little vision. Everyone here painstakingly survived the Gordon “small-forward” experiment, it wasn’t pretty. I still think Gordon is obviously growing and improving as an NBA player; he’s a young power forward I don’t want the Magic to give up on. So down the road, how can Isaac and Gordon co-exist? By playing Isaac at center.
I certainly can’t take credit for the idea. Jonathan Tjarks from The Ringer floated the idea a couple months ago in an article I suggest all Magic fans check out entitled Two of the Best Centers in the Draft that Have Never Played Center. For me, this is how it’s going to work. This is where the NBA is heading, right? Death lineups, small-ball athletic forwards who are long and can switch on defense. That fits Isaac’s game perfectly. At nearly 6-foot-11, Isaac possesses more than enough length (7-foot-1 wingspan) and reach (9 feet standing reach) to defend NBA bigs right now. But he’s a frail 210 pounds, that’s far less than ideal for an NBA 5. Isaac will add strength, he will gain weight; there’s no question about that. If the franchise’s new cornerstone can get to 225-230 pounds, Orlando will have their unicorn “small-ball 5”. Play Gordon and Isaac together, switch everything for days defensively, fix the roster around them by adding shooting everywhere else, and play ball.
It was toward the end of the first round where things got a little puzzling for the Magic. It seems to me that this new regime went into this draft already convinced they only wanted to bring two rookies in next year. I feel this decision was pretty much predetermined because the Magic traded their 35th pick to Memphis a good 20-30 minutes before the pick was even to be made. Why wouldn’t they at least wait to see what falls to them? I digress.
Apparently, Weltman and Hammond were not enamored by the talent that was available to Orlando at 25. I surely felt prospects such as Semi Ojeleye (now a Celtic), Derrick White (now a Spur), Jordan Bell (now a Warrior), Juwan Evans (now a Clipper), and Josh Hart (now a Laker) could have been picked in that range and ultimately would have helped Orlando right now. But the organization went in a different direction and selected Latvian big Anzejs Pasecniks.
I was actually relatively excited about the Pasecniks selection. It made a lot of sense to me. Let me pose this question: if management only wanted two rookies on the roster next season, why not just keep Pasecniks stashed in Europe for another couple years?
For me, it didn’t make sense that the organization not only decided to pass on a ton of value prospects that had fallen in their laps, but also decided to punt the option of stashing a prospect, in favor of a future 1st round pick that has heavy protections. That decision earned a “D” from me. Basically, Orlando now owns a Philadelphia (via OKC) 2020 1st round pick, which is Top-20 protected through 2022. If the pick is not conveyed by 2022, the compensation coming Orlando’s way will convert to two second round picks (in ‘22 and ‘23 - Yes, I did the math. Those kids are 14-15 years old right now). Orlando also will receive an additional 2020 second round pick in the deal. By the way, the 25th pick was the one Orlando gained in the Serge Ibaka deal.
I like what the Magic did at no. 33 selecting Wesley Iwundu, I gave this move a “B+.” I had heard during the pre-draft process that Iwundu was really performing well during his workouts; that executives were in awe of his long arms, long strides, and overall floor game. He’s not a terrible shooter, but I certainly wouldn’t call him a knock-down shooter or prolific scorer at all. Instead, he’s another long, fluid athlete with an overall floor-game that can help the Magic. Compared to other wing prospects, Iwundu rebounds well and creates scoring opportunities for others at an above-average rate. Couple those skills with his 7-foot-1 wingspan and 8--foot-9 reach, and you have yourself another Weltman/Hammond archetype prospect here in Orlando. I love Kent Bazemore as a somewhat upside best-case comparison for Iwundu. Not a primary or even secondary scorer, but will do all the other little things on the floor that can help a team win a game. By the beginning of next season, Iwundu will be nearly 23 years old; I absolutely believe he will make the roster and will contribute at some point next season.
Finally, Orlando again chose to deal another pick away, sending the 35th pick to Memphis for a future second round selection. Again, the timing was a little frustrating with this move. This deal would have always been there at any point last night, so why did they announce the trade so early? They must have had some guys on some kind of board in their war room? Couldn’t they have waited to see if anyone fell to them? As it turned out, Jonah Bolden (another stash option), Semi Ojeleye, Jordan Bell (HOW DID THE NBA LET HIM GET ON THE WARRIORS?!), Juwan Evans, Damyean Dotson, Dillon Brooks, Alec Peters, Monte Morris, etc. were still on the board at no. 35. Wouldn’t it have been more ideal to wait to see if these guys ultimately fell? Instead, another punt.
Oh well, that kind of stuff happens, but twice in one draft was very surprising for an organization that is so talent starved to begin with. It doesn’t seem like the Magic were in a position to turn away value that fell to them; players who could have helped turn things around sooner rather than later.