It has been a heated debate since the 2017 NBA Draft: should the Magic have drafted Dennis Smith Jr.?
When Orlando faces the Mavericks in Dallas on Tuesday, the Magic will get their first in-person look at the rookie point guard, whom they had the opportunity to select with the sixth pick in the draft last June. As we all know, the Magic instead used the pick on Jonathan Isaac, who has upside but is considered more of a raw talent and long-term project than Smith. Smith, who did come with injury risk having suffered a torn ACL in high school, was drafted ninth by the Mavericks.
The selection of Isaac over Smith generated other points of debate, as well. Should the draft day strategy for a perpetually rebuilding team like the Magic be to select a player who fills a need or to draft the best overall player regardless of position? And perhaps the biggest question of all: is Elfrid Payton going to be the starting point guard for the Magic moving forward?
Payton being the incumbent starter likely factored into the Magic’s decision to pass on Smith in some way. But with Payton now set to become a restricted free agent this summer, along with his failure to develop as a shooter and defender, and with the lack of team success the Magic have had with him orchestrating the offense over the last three-plus seasons, it seems Orlando squandered an opportunity to bring in an NBA-ready point guard with star potential.
Smith, out of North Carolina State, has endured his own struggles at times this season, particularly while being forced to play off the ball. He is averaging 13.8 points, 4.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds in 27.6 minutes per game this season for the rebuilding Mavs. He has an offensive rating of 102.6 and defensive rating of 112.5. He has struggled with his shot, shooting just 39.5 percent from the field, including 33.8 percent from three, and has a true shooting percentage of 47 percent.
Isaac, while showing promise as a versatile and active defender, has played in just 15 games this season after suffering a sprained ankle. He is averaging 5.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.0 block per game.
Looking beyond the small sample size of rookie stats to see the big picture, how would each player have fit and developed with the Magic after what soon could be a year of personnel change? Isaac could ultimately emerge as a valuable 3-and-D power forward capable of stretching the floor. As Smith develops, he could become the complete offensive package the Magic have long sought at point guard, offering the ability to penetrate, facilitate and shoot from the outside.
Now approaching the midway point of the season, do you think the Magic should have drafted Smith over Isaac? Would you rather have Payton or Smith as your starting point guard of the future?
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