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Diving for Draft Diamonds: Cameron Oliver and other frontcourt options for Orlando Magic

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-SMU vs USC Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NBA Draft is the next big league event for all but two of the NBA’s fan bases at the moment. The Orlando Magic currently hold four selections (6th, 25th, 33rd, 35th) in the top-35 of this year’s draft, and will assuredly be ushering in prospects from around the country into Orlando for workouts throughout the next four weeks.

It could be likely that the Magic decide to package one or two of their picks in the 25-35 range to try and better their roster via the draft, trade, etc. But for the moment, the Magic will operate under the premise that they will be using all of their picks to improve the team, and Orlando needs help everywhere.

In the second part of this two part series, I will preview some front-court options that should/will be available for Orlando when their picks are made. Everyone knows the names of the top “bigs” available in this draft: Jackson, Tatum, Isaac, Markannen, Collins. Diving deeper, here is a list of prospects that I feel can improve the roster by providing back-up SF, PF, or C depth.

Jake Wiley, F - Eastern Washington (23 years old when next season begins)
Current Draft Express Mock Draft Position: Undrafted (68th overall prospect)
6-7, 220 lbs.
7-0 Wingspan, 8-9 Standing Reach, 40-inch Max. Vertical

Every NBA General Manager wants to be the one to find the next hidden gem to come out of the Second Round. I’m not sure anyone in this available draft class fits that description more than Jake Wiley does. His incredibly astounding path to the upcoming draft and general life story has been well-documented this past month. Matt Norlander of CBS Sports wrote a brilliant piece on Wiley here. Notice towards the end of this article how the inevitable Dennis Rodman comparison is made regarding Wiley; some scouts view Wiley as that kind of athlete (with that kind of motor). Read the article when you get a chance, seriously. Such an amazing journey of life, death, tears, quitting, revival - he’s been through it all.

Wiley’s career began and quickly ended at Montana. After leaving the game of basketball completely for a year, he then found himself at an NAIA school in Idaho before settling in at Eastern Washington this past season. He rose from basketball oblivion to surface on the NBA radar due to his brilliant play last season. Wiley paced all front-court players that currently appear in the Draft Express Top 100 in EWA (11.9) last season. When comparing other DX Top-100 front-court prospects, Wiley ranked second in the nation last year in TS% (70%) and PER (32.4).

This is a young man who averaged over 24 points and 10 rebounds per/40 last season, and combined (per/40) for over four steals/blocks per contest (while connecting on over 80% of his FTA’s). The competition in the Big Sky Conference is pretty weak; I’m sure scouts aren’t putting too much stock into those numbers.

But scouts are clearly taking Jake Wiley’s potential very seriously, he’s already worked out for over half of the organizations in the NBA in this still early pre-draft process. If you think about it, Wiley represents what the NBA is at it’s current state; he’s a hybrid, somewhat position-less forward who will likely be able to defend three positions on the floor.

And if you read the article above about the numerous tragedies Wiley has overcome in his short lifetime, you understand where his will and drive to make it in the NBA stems from. Again, I think NBA front office personnel will take that all into account when looking for the next hidden gem who won’t be guaranteed an NBA contract, drafted or not. Either way, its certain Wiley will be playing in a Summer League somewhere in July, it could be in Orlando.

Cameron Oliver, PF - Nevada (21 years old when next season begins)
Current Draft Express Mock Draft Position: 50
6-8, 235 lbs.
7-1 Wingspan, 8-10 Standing Reach, 39-inch Max. Vertical

When I look at Oliver’s body, I don’t necessarily see it, but he’s an above-average NBA athlete. He’s a quick leaper, he possesses quick feet that allows for solid lateral movement on the court.

Oliver backed up a very solid freshmen season for the Wolfpack with another very solid campaign last year. Oliver produced across the board at near identical levels, if not at very slightly higher levels, this past season compared to his freshmen season. Probably most importantly to NBA personnel, he significantly improved his shot from distance from a year ago (31% to 38%, 0.7 3PM per/40 last year to 2.4 in ‘16-’17).

Oliver uses his quick leaping ability to regularly finish above the rim on the offensive end, but it’s actually on the defensive end that his athleticism could provide an NBA team with the most value. During his two-year stint at Nevada, Oliver was a guy who blocked nearly three shots per contest, which tops any other prospect projected to be drafted this year. I don’t know if the Magic would reach for him in the 30’s with some of the other guys who are projected to be available still hanging around, but Cameron Oliver will catch on with someone in the Second Round (and have a chance to make a team).

Devin Robinson, SF - Florida (22 years old at the beginning of next season)
Current Draft Express Mock Draft Position: 49
6-8, 195 lbs.
7-1 Wingspan, 8-10 Standing Reach, 41-inch Max. Vertical

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Florida vs East Tennessee State Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

3 and...dang this kid can jump! Or 3 and...damn this kid is long! Yes, sir ladies and gentleman, this is your 2017 NBA Draft “3 & D” poster-child. Robinson is a young man that has quietly improved every year, but he was still a pretty low-usage guy for the Gators as a junior last season. He doesn’t take a ton of shots, but I think he’s very projectable as a role-player at the next level.

Robinson connected on just under 40% of his shots from “3” last season, but again, that only amounted to 1.2 3PM per contest. I do love the fact that Robinson works the glass for a wing forward (just under 10 boards per/40 the last two seasons combined), especially his aptitude for pulling down offensive boards (nearly three per/40).

Robinson’s rebounding prowess, his defensive potential, and honestly just his freakishly filthy athleticism and length alone hint to the idea that Robinson will eventually be a PF in the NBA. He’s currently under 200 pounds, so his days at the “4” are pretty far away.

But if he’s able to get into the NBA and add 20-25 pounds, then watch out. As is, he’s a crazy long wing forward who will undoubtedly get scooped up by someone in Round 2. The Magic could use more wing depth theoretically (I mean, they can use everything honestly).

Jonah Bolden, PF - FMP Beograd (Adriatic League) from Australia via UCLA
(21 years old at the beginning of next season)
Current Draft Express Mock Draft Position: 44
6-10, 230 lbs.

Bolden is another draft prospect that has taken an interesting path to arrive at where he is today. Bolden, a native of Melbourne, Australia, came to the United States originally to play at the Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. He then enrolled as a sophomore at UCLA, and played one less than stellar season for the Bruins in 2015. Bolden opted to play overseas rather than continue at UCLA this past season, and seems to have made the right decision. Bolden was outstanding for FMP Beograd in the ABA this past season, producing numbers of roughly 19/10 per/40 while shooting nearly 40% from behind the arc and over three combined steals/blocks per/40 to boot. Bolden was named the top prospect in the Adriatic League, a title formerly given to Nikola Jokic and Dario Saric to name a few.

Kevin O’Connor of the Ringer is very high on Bolden, he has Bolden listed as a potential late first round pick in his draft guide (#27). O’Connor feels Bolden has 3 and D potential and cites that Bolden is a “fluid and coordinated athlete with long arms who can explode at the rim in space.” O’Connor also regards Bolden as a “productive shooter with a high, quick release and NBA range” as well as an “effective defender and rebounder (when engaged) who slides his feet, battles inside, jumps passing lanes, and flies in for weak-side blocks.” Also funny to add, O’Connor thinks Bolden’s best-case scenario in the NBA is to become an Al Harrington-type player, or a “tranquilized Draymond Green”.

Just this past Sunday, Keith Smart tweeted out that Bolden has “switched clubs in Serbia from FMP Beograd to KK Crvena Zvezda.” Kind of interesting timing for Bolden as his team was competing in the Serbian playoffs, but I believe this sets him up well preparing for the NBA Draft. All of these European contracts have buy-outs, so it’s not a given that Bolden will stay in Europe next year. I think his camp is just setting up a contingency plan for Bolden; he’s either a guy who will get picked late-first and come to the NBA, or he’ll be a draft-and-stash guy in the second round who already has a place (now) to play next season.

I believe this Orlando roster desperately needs a stretch-4 to back-up Aaron Gordon, Bolden could fit that bill (eventually). If he’s still around by 33-35, I could easily see a situation in which Orlando’s management drafts Bolden and opts to keep him in Serbia for another year.

Dillon Brooks, Small Forward - Oregon (21 years old at the beginning of next season)
Current Draft Express Mock Draft Position: 43
6-6, 220 lbs.
6-6 Wingspan, 8-4 Standing Reach, 37-inch Max. Vertical

I have to admit upfront, I’ve seen a lot of Dillon Brooks (last year’s Pac-12 Player of the Year), and I’ve never really been much of a fan of his. I’m just not crazy about his body language on the court; he’s never really struck me as a guy that played team basketball. My criticisms of Brooks are probably unjust, and there’s a chance at least that his (perceived by me) persona could in fact help him at the next level. The egos of Mario Hezonja and Dillon Brooks squaring off every day at practice, I mean come on - that’s must see basketball. Could be interesting, could be fun.

The benefits a team will be getting by drafting Brooks seem to all come at the offensive end of the floor. This young man knows how to score the basketball; he posted back-to-back years of scoring over 20 PTS per/40 (25.1 this past season) in his sophomore and junior seasons at Oregon. Brooks has improved his shot from long range; he connected on less than 35% of his three-point attempts through his first two seasons in Eugene, but improved that mark to over 40% from distance this past year. In fact, Brooks ranked 3rd in 3PM’s per/40 (2.6) out of all the front-court players in the Draft Express Top 100 database last season. Brooks also has the ability at the small forward position to make plays for others; his 4.3 assists per/40 mark last year is outstanding, elite in fact compared to other forwards.

But if Brooks is going to be able to stick in the NBA, he’s going to have to be able to guard even a little bit, and that’s where I think he will ultimately struggle. In college, teams like Oregon can play zone defenses that hide their best offensive players, that won’t happen in the NBA. He’s not an elite athlete; his wingpsan and reach measurements are more comparable to shooting guards than small forwards or power forwards. What is Brooks’ NBA role going to be?

Is Brooks eventually a guy who can become an NBA rotation-level player? Is he a fringe NBA guy, a prospect destined for the G-League? Would he be better off becoming a star standout playing in Europe? It will be interesting to see with Brooks, what his future in fact holds.

Caleb Swanigan, PF/C - Purdue (20 years old at the beginning of next season)
Current Draft Express Mock Draft Position: 40
6-9, 250 lbs.
7-3 Wingspan, 9-0 Standing Reach

There are a few sophomore big men I could have picked to profile in this spot. I was thinking about Thomas Bryant, perhaps Tyler Lydon. Ivan Rabb could have worked, maybe D.J. Wilson. All those guys will be picked in the late first/early second range in a few days; but I went with “Biggie”. I guess I’ve always been an East Coast guy.

First of all, Swanigan is going to have to play the “5” in the NBA, that’s all there is to it. His body (at least) is the opposite of the direction the NBA is heading towards with position-less athletic forwards. At the center position, Swanigan coming in at 6-9 doesn’t bother me a bit. His solid wingspan and reach easily make up for his lack of height; Swanigan’s measurements are actually decently similar to a couple of other former Magic big men, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn. Perhaps that means Swanigan would’ve had a better chance getting drafted by the Magic if Rob Hennigan was still around, I don’t know.

Similar to Jake Wiley, Swanigan has already had to overcome tragedy and loss in his short life. Swanigan lost his father at a young age, was homeless at one point, and has battled weight-related issues (was over 350 lbs. in middle school).

For me, Swanigan projects strictly as a role-player, meaning his ceiling is fairly low. But when drafting in the late 1st or early 2nd, all I would be looking for is production and a couple NBA-level skills. Swanigan has that for me. He’s a non-athlete, and that’s recognizing how hard he’s worked to get his body where it is today. But his vertical leap at the Draft Combine last season (2016, under 30 inches) was one of the worst ever recorded at the combine. He’s not a leaper, he’s a banger. Swanigan will have to use his lower-half; his weight, muscle, strength, whatever you want to call it - to bang lighter big men in the paint.

Swanigan tested the NBA waters last year, but decided to return to Purdue. His sophomore season was more like a dream; he scored over 20 points in fifteen contests and grabbed double-digit rebounds twenty-nine times (pulled down 20 or more rebounds four times) en route to an All-American First-Team selection. Swanigan’s per/40 numbers last year look more like video game stats: 22.7 PTS, 15.3 REB (#1 in DX Top 100), 3.7 AST. He’s always been an all-time elite rebounder, but he also drastically improved his shot from long-range this past season. Swanigan shot a remarkable 44% from “3” for the Boilermakers on 3 3PTA’s per/40. His turnover rate last year was way too high, but the basketball was in his hands the majority of the season (that won’t be the case at the next level).

I probably wouldn’t pick Swanigan at #25, but I would snatch him up early in the Second Round. He can rebound, he can score. I mean, he’d be an upgrade over Stephen Zimmerman depth-wise right away. And he’s only 20 heading into next season; Swanigan is actually younger than Josh Jackson and T.J. Leaf (both freshmen, Swanigan is a sophomore).

Alec Peters, PF - Valparaiso (22 years old at the beginning of next season)
Current Draft Express Mock Draft Position: 39
6-9, 230 lbs.
6-11 Wingspan, 8-9 Standing Reach

NCAA Basketball: Valparaiso at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Teams that miss out on Lauri Markkanen may want to take a long look at Alec Peters. Peters is right there with Markkanen as one of the premiere stretch big men in this draft. We’re talking about a 6-9 forward who shot just under 47% from behind the arc three years ago as a sophomore (5.3 attempts), nearly 44% two years ago as a junior (5.8 attempts), and a respectable 37% this past season (5.3 attempts). That’s efficiency and volume for you (PER of 28.7 last season, 60% TS% to boot). Peters plays a little like former Magic fan-favorite Ryan Anderson in my opinion.

Peters’ senior year ended abruptly due to injury, so he essentially missed his signature NCAA tournament moment. However, Peters is not flying under anyone’s radar entirely, he’s had over 120 collegiate games to show scouts what he can do on the floor.

What he mainly can do is score. Peters averaged over 20 PPG per/40 for the last three consecutive seasons, culminating with his 25.6 PTS per/40 mark he posted this past year. That clip ranked 3rd this past season amongst DX Top-100 front-court players. Peters plays below the rim; he’s not going to challenge a lot of shots at the rim or break any defenders down off the dribble. He’s just your prototypical pick-and-pop NBA “4”. Peters spaces the floor, but he was also very adept in college at getting to the free-throw line (nearly 8 FTA’s per/40 last year).

Will Peters be able to finish against NBA length inside of the arc, or even get his shot off against longer more athletic NBA bigs? Peters did post 24 points against Kentucky his senior year, and 23 against Oregon. I think the major concern scouts have regarding Peters will be his ability to defend at the highest level.

Orlando could use a stretch-4 to back-up Aaron Gordon. That may be a hole the organization tries to fill through free agency, but Alec Peters could very well be selected to ultimately fill that void.

Jordan Bell, PF/C - Oregon (22 years old at the beginning of next season)
Current Draft Express Mock Draft Position: 35
6-9, 225 lbs.
7-0 Wingspan, 8-8 Standing Reach, 38-inch Max. Vertical

Like most college basketball fans and NBA Draft pundits alike, I fell in love with Jordan Bell during last year’s NCAA Tournament. Behind Bell’s stellar play, the Ducks danced their way to the Final Four, ultimately falling in the National Semi-Final to eventual National Champion North Carolina. At no point did Bell’s star shine brighter than in Oregon’s regional final match-up against Kansas; in that contest, Bell blocked eight shots (and altered countless more), pulled down 13 rebounds, dished out four assists, and scored 11 points. Bell ended-up averaging 12.6 PTS (72% from the field in tournament, 66% from 2PT last season), 13.2 REB, and 3.2 BLK per game (6 games). I’m not sure anyone helped themselves more with their play in the tournament than Bell did.

In the NBA, Bell’s probably not going to be much of an offensive threat. Just about anything that Bell contributes offensively will come from lobs, put-backs, and easy buckets at the rim. But Bell isn’t going to be selected for his offensive prowess. Bell will be selected for his ability to defend, and if drafted into the right situation, he could become highly effective in that particular role.

The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year averaged more than 3 blocks per/40 last season, as well as just under 2 steals per/40. Both of those marks place Bell in the top-4 amongst Draft Express Top 100 front-court players. Bell displays relentless energy on a nightly basis, something that surely will be useful coming off the bench at the next level. Bell did what he needed to do at the NBA pre-draft Combine as well, placing near the top in athletic testing drills such as the shuttle, lane agility, and vertical jump.

I think Bell will play the “5” in the NBA, and I must admit that his size concerns me a bit. His generous 6-9 measurement (height) is not nearly as worrisome as his modest 7-0 wingspan and 8-8 standing reach marks (pretty unremarkable for modern NBA centers). Maybe in the 80’s or 90’s, Bell would have been quickly dismissed, but this is a different era in the NBA. Bell will be able to defend the pick-and-roll and switch on defense effortlessly, he will (presumably) be able to guard two to maybe three front-court positions. He’s exactly what a lot of teams in the NBA are looking for. I’m not sure he’s a great fit for the Magic, but there’s a chance at least Jordan Bell will be one of the picks this week that Orlando makes at the end of the first or beginning of the second round.

Semi Ojeleye, SF - SMU (22 years old at the beginning of next season)
Current Draft Express Mock Draft Position: 25
6-7, 235 lbs.
6-10 Wingspan, 8-6 Standing Reach, 40-inch Max. Vertical

Ojeleye is exactly the type of player the Magic need. I think he has a great chance to be an impact two-way player in the NBA, and how often do those type of guys come along, let alone in the range of where Semi is being projected to be selected?

Ojeleye is a freakish athletic specimen. He can leap, he is long, and he performed exceptionally in the lane agility and three-quarter court sprints at the NBA Combine. Ojeleye projects to be a prospect at 240 lbs. who will be able to defend in the NBA right away. I think it’s very strange that he averaged neither 1 block nor 1 steal per/40 last season, but that could have been SMU’s defensive scheme, a team plan to keep Semi out of foul trouble, any number of things. Ojeleye’s NBA defensive strength will be his versatility; I think he will eventually be strong and sturdy enough to guard NBA PF’s (if he’s not already), as well as agile enough to guard SF’s on the perimeter.

Offensively, Ojeleye had a remarkable season last year. Let’s not forget, Semi was largely a non-factor for two season’s at Duke. He transferred to SMU, sat out a season, and made his one year in the American Conference count. You hear a lot of people talk about Ojeleye as another 3-and-D prospect; well he certainly provided the “3” last year for the Mustangs. Playing primarily the “4” for SMU, Ojeleye was able to connect on over 42% of his 3PTA’s (3rd amongst DX Top-100 front-court players, 2.4 makes per/40). Ojeleye scored a remarkable 1.32 points per possession last year (3rd in DX Top-100 database for front-court prospects), he was one of the more efficient college players in the country (9.5 EWA as well).

If Semi Ojeleye is still on the board when the Magic make their selection at #25 this week, the organization will have to take a long, hard look at the athletic forward that many Orlando supporters have already gotten behind in this pre-draft process.

T.J. Leaf, Power Forward - UCLA (20 years old at the beginning of next season)
Current Draft Express Mock Draft Position: 20
6-10, 220 lbs.
6-11 Wingspan, 8-11 Standing Reach, 34-inch Max. Vertical

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There are tons of 19-20 year-old projectable bigs that Orlando can choose to target in the late first/early second rounds of this draft. I was planning on profiling in this spot Bam Adebayo, Harry Giles, maybe Tony Bradley; but I settled on T.J. Leaf instead. I don’t really think it was a settle, I prefer him (pretty widely) over those other guys I mentioned.

The Magic should consider Leaf for the same reasons I mentioned above about Alec Peters. This roster lacks spacing/shooting from the PF/C positions, and Leaf could immediately provide that. Leaf didn’t produce the volume from deep that Peters did in college, but he’s also only 20 years old (while Peters had four years of college to develop the same skill). As a freshmen, Leaf shot just under 47% from behind the arc on 2.2 attempts per/40 (#1 out of DX Top-100 front-court players). Again, that’s not a huge sample-size, but something pretty positive to work with.

Leaf was overall one of the more efficient front-court players in the country shooting the basketball in general. Leaf’s 1.17 points per play metric was the best mark out of any DX Top-100 prospect. He also ranked in the top-5 of Draft Express Top-100 front-court players last year in 2PT FG% (64%), TS% (67%), and points per possession (1.3).

Leaf gets knocked pretty regularly for being a non-athlete, but I always thought he appeared a lot more athletic on film than his reputation led on. He runs the floor pretty fluidly for a 6-10 kid, and gets off the floor more than adequately enough to provide a few highlights at the next level. Some extra lower-body strength that will hopefully come with age will do Leaf wonders as his career continues, right now he’s pretty light in his lower-half.

Leaf grabbed 11 REB per/40 his freshmen season at UCLA; even better is the fact that three of those came on the offensive end. Again, added strength/muscle will help Leaf even more in that department; for now he gets by rebounding using his athleticism and basketball IQ. Leaf dished out over 3 AST per/40 as a 19-year old freshmen, so he does possess a little bit of basketball knowledge and awareness. The overall skills are there, of course there’s one dark cloud with Leaf.

Will Leaf be able to guard at the next level? That seems to be a theme with a lot of these guys profiled in this article, can they defend? It’s what ultimately limits their upside, lowers their draft value, and causes scouts to look in other directions. Leaf is no different. He will probably struggle to get on the court in the NBA right away because it will be really difficult for him to bang with NBA bigs, and he doesn’t possess the athleticism to guard guys on the perimeter. But if Leaf gets drafted into the right situation, and if he gets coached up correctly in a defensive scheme that works for him, he will make a team more than happy due to what he can bring on the offensive end of the court.

So there you have it. That’s my list of bargain favorites that should be available when Orlando selects this week. I realize I didn’t touch on every front-court player that will be available at the end of the first round and early second round. I have my reasons why I picked and profiled who I did. If you missed it, I also profiled some “under the radar” guards that I like here.

What are your thoughts Magic fans?