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NBA Draft Notebook: Sixteen prospects to watch in the Sweet Sixteen

Aaron profiles some potential NBA draftees in his fourth annual rundown of prospects playing in the NCAA Tournament

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Three years ago, I had an idea to post a “Sweet Sixteen” primer, and it seemed to be something readers enjoyed. Therefore, I’ve decided to continue the breakdown of College Basketball/NBA prospects this year. Also, please feel free to check out the primers from 2015, 2016, and 2017. They are nice visits down memory lane which include numerous players who are now thriving in the NBA (such as Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns, Malcolm Brogdon, Brandon Ingram, Lauri Markkanen, and Lonzo Ball). Perusing the comments section and seeing everyone’s takes is pretty fun as well.

I’ve always considered Draft night a personal favorite holiday of mine where the two basketball worlds that I love, college and the NBA, come together. I’ve had a passion for College Basketball since I was eight years old. I was raised in a baseball household, but I fell in love with the game watching guys like Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, and the Fab Five.

The NCAA tournament has turned into one of the great sports spectacles in the country. With the second weekend of NCAA tournament games ahead of us, I thought I would write a primer listing 16 prospects slated to play in the Sweet 16 to keep an eye on.

What I would really like to see is an active comments section within the OPP community about some of these players. How do you think they would fit on the Magic? What is your assessment of their games - strengths & weaknesses? I’m hoping this can be the “official un-official” game thread for the rest of the NCAA tournament. Enjoy!

16.) Moritz Wagner (20 years old), Michigan
6-11, 240 lbs. - Power Forward/Center

Wagner caught my eye during Michigan’s improbable run through the Big Ten Tournament in ‘16-’17. Wagner has some very positive films to his credit, he also has a few duds. I think a lot of Wagner’s inconsistency can be attributed to the fact that he fouls too much. It seems like every other game I watch him play, Wagner ends up in early foul trouble (nearly 5 fouls per/40 over his three year career).

To his credit, Wagner has improved (at least statistically) defensively this season. I still think he will struggle defending in the NBA (won’t be athletic enough to guard smaller PF’s, doesn’t offer much rim protection). Wagner improved his Defensive Rating from 101.6 last season to 92.3 this past season (actually finished 2nd in the Big Ten in Defensive Win Shares).

Offensively, Wagner can absolutely shoot it provided he gets a clean look. Wagner is a 40% three-point shooter over his last two seasons on around 5.5 3PTA’s per/40. This is a young man who led the Big 10 in True Shooting Percentage and Two-Point percentage in 2016, and currently sits second on the all-time Big Ten two-point percentage list (career - 64%).

I’ve seen some sites mock Wagner in the first round, I’ve seen others not even list him as a possible draft guy in either round (it’s hard to predict where Wagner will be selected, probably will depend on his workouts). Due to the fact that the Magic are scheduled to make two picks in the second round this year, there’s a decent enough chance Wagner will be on Orlando’s radar.

15) Killian Tillie (20 years old), Gonzaga
6-10, 215 lbs. - Power Forward

Rail-thin stretch-4 has had a rough two-game showing in the NCAA Tournament so far (3-12 FG, 9 total points in 58 minutes). Tillie is a sharp-shooting big that has come to Spokane via France. Tillie shot just under 48% from three-point distance his sophomore season (94 attempts).

Tillie also improved his efficiency inside the arc this year (up from 52% in ‘16-17 to 62% this past year). Dishing out 2.6 assists per/40, the big man has shown a little bit of an ability to set-up others as well. Interestingly enough, mostly due to his solid season this past year, Tillie is the West Coast Conference’s all-time career leader in Box Plus/Minus.

14) Vince Edwards (22 years old), Purdue
6-8, 225 lbs. - Small Forward

Edwards is a four-year starter for the Boilermakers who tested the NBA waters last year, but ultimately decided to return to Purdue for his senior season. Edwards provided his team with 20 points in their second round match-up against Butler, which was huge due to the absence of big man Isaac Haas.

Edwards has been staggeringly consistent over four years playing in the Big Ten. He’s a plus rebounder for a wing (9.3 per/40 this season) who often tends to play bigger than he is. Dishing out 4.0 assists per/40 over his four year career is impressive as well. For three seasons in a row now, Edwards has made over 39% of his three point attempts (4.8 3PTA’s per/40 this year). His career Offensive Rating of 1119.5 is 5th all-time in the Big Ten.

Edwards is projected to be selected in the second round of this year’s NBA Draft. Due to the fact that the Magic are scheduled to make two picks in the second round this year, there’s a decent enough chance Edwards will be on Orlando’s radar.

13) Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (21 years old), Kansas
6-8, 195 lbs. - Shooting Guard

Mykhailiuk is a big-time shooter, I’m talking over 40% from deep over the last three seasons. He improved his efficiency from behind the arc to another level this past year to the tune of 45% (that mark led the Big-12).

Mykhailiuk takes nearly 60% of his field goal attempts from three, and that’s a good thing. He’s pretty inept at doing just about anything else. The Ukrainian is horribly inefficient on his two-point field goals and doesn’t get to the free throw line at all. All Mykhailiuk really gives a team is floor-spacing. Lucky for him, that skill plays in the NBA; Mykhailiuk could get a look from some teams in the second round.

12) Jalen Brunson (21 years old), Villanova
6-3, 200 lbs. - Point Guard

Brunson is one of the most efficient guards in the country who leads the attack for one of the nation’s top offenses.

There’s really not a whole lot NOT to like about Brunson. He finished in the Top-5 of the Big East this season in the following statistical categories: Field Goal Percentage (2nd), Player Efficiency Rating (2nd), True Shooting Percentage (5th this year, 2nd in Big East TS% over his career), Points Produced (1st), Offensive Rating (2nd this year, 2nd in Big East ORtg over his career), Offensive Win Shares (1st, 2nd in the nation), Win Shares per/40 (1st), Offensive Box Plus/Minus (1st, 3rd in the nation), and Box Plus/Minus (4th).

Brunson made a considerable jump in his efficiency and decision-making from his freshmen to his sophomore year, and maintained that same high-level of play this season. He’s cut down on his turnover rate, while posting back-to-back seasons of PER’s over 23.0 and TS%’s over 64%.

Brunson, the Big East Player of the Year and Wooden Award Finalist, is only a junior; there’s no guarantee that he’s headed to the NBA, but I think he ultimately will declare after this season (what else does he have to prove?). He is currently projected to be an early second round pick. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, I feel a team in the late first round would love to have a back-up point guard like Brunson. But if Jalen Brunson does happen to slip to the early second round, I think he’s a guy who is absolutely in play to be drafted by the Magic. No question, he would be a fine get at that point in the draft.

11) Devonte’ Graham (23 years old), Kansas
6-2, 175 lbs. - Point Guard

There aren’t many prospects in this draft that have more experience coming into the NBA than Devonte’ Graham. We’re talking about a kid who has started over 100 games and played over 4,000 minutes for the Jayhawks.

There’s a lot to like about the Big 12 Player of the Year. It starts with his shooting; he’s a career 41% three-point shooter (2.6 makes per/40) who takes over half of his overall field goal attempts from deep. Graham has also improved his play-making ability, posting 7.0 assists per/40 this past season (2nd in the Big 12).

There’s also a reason Graham is projected to be drafted in the second round. While he has improved his game in some areas, his efficiency is still putrid inside of the arc. His finishing ability in the NBA is a big question mark. Graham can provide a team with shooting and scoring ability from the back-up point guard position (11 games with 20+ points, two games with 30+ points this season). At 23, his ceiling as a prospect is fairly low. The Magic are projected to have two second round picks in the front-half of the round, and there’s a very good chance Devonte’ Graham will be available on the board when the Magic are selecting.

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament Championship-West Virginia vs Kansas William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

10) Jevon Carter (22 years old), West Virginia
6-2, 185 lbs. - Point Guard

Carter is one of the best defensive guards that’s I’ve ever watched play at the collegiate level. Honestly, I didn’t know where else to start.

If you’ve ever taken the time to check out Carter on the court, well then you don’t need any convincing from me to understand that he possesses at least one above-average NBA skill from the get go. For someone projected to be selected in the second round, Carter is already ahead of most in the NBA-skill development department. He just plays meaner than a junkyard dog. You can’t coach those kind of things; I’m not usually an intangibles guy, but here we are. The four-time All-Big 12 defensive member has been named the Defensive Player of the Year in the conference the last two consecutive seasons. Carter led the Big-12 in steals and steal percentage this past season, his third year doing so (he’s 2nd all-time in steals in the conference, all-time leader at West Virginia). Carter is more than just the spearhead of Bob Huggins’ patented press defense. He’s a relentless point-of-attack man defender as well. Just ask Trae Young. Carter’s Defensive Rating of 89.6 led the conference in ‘16-’17.

Carter can do more than just defend; he was second in the Big-12 in assist percentage last year, third in points produced, second in Offensive Box Plus/Minus, and led the conference in overall Box Plus/Minus. A non-shooter during his first couple of seasons in Morgantown, Carter has improved his efficiency from behind the arc to the tune of 40% this past season on 6.1 attempts per/40 (39% 3PT% in ‘16-’17).

I realize Carter is a four-year guard, I get it that he’s already 22-plus years old. But there may not be a prospect projected to be selected in the second round who’s more NBA ready (his body, approach, toughness, etc.). I think his defensive mentality is exactly what Orlando’s roster needs. He would drive any and all other point guards on the roster nuts in practice, but I think he would make them better. If Carter is available when Orlando selects in the early second round, I absolutely think he should be their guy.

9) Gary Trent Jr. (19 years old), Duke
6-6, 215 lbs. - Shooting Guard

AND 8) Grayson Allen (22 years old), Duke
6-5, 205 lbs. - Shooting Guard

Trent Jr. is a good-sized young kid. He has an NBA body, there’s no doubt about it. I just don’t think he’s near ready to play in the NBA. But he will probably enter the draft anyway.

When you look at the recruiting class that Duke has coming in next season, one is led to believe that Trent Jr. probably declares for the draft whenever Duke’s season comes to an end. He’s just a third or fourth option on Duke as it is, but with R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson coming to Durham next year, I don’t see Trent’s role expanding a whole bunch.

Trent Jr. has no trouble shooting the basketball, that’s his one projectable NBA-skill (42% from 3PT as a freshmen). His shooting prowess, to go along with his size (6-9 wingspan), is probably enough to get him some looks in the late first round.

But Trent Jr. has shown little else on the floor at this point. He doesn’t provide a team with a lot of secondary offensive skills, he’s completely putrid inside of the three-point line, and he fails to get to the free throw line very often. The Ohio native also struggles a bit on defense; he’s most likely one of the reasons why Coach K switched to a zone defense mid-way through this season. Duke had to have Trent Jr’s shooting in the lineup. If he’s still on the board, I don’t mind the Magic giving Trent Jr. a look in the second round (that would be solid value). But should he declare, I think he will surely get scooped up by a team in the late first who can wait on him to develop.

Here’s what I wrote about Grayson Allen two years ago in this space, previewing the Sweet Sixteen in 2016:

The former McDonald’s All-American burst onto the national scene last year, memorably scoring 16 points off the bench in the National Championship game. I was really interested to see how Grayson Allen would respond this season as one of the main focal points in Duke’s offense, and he didn’t disappoint in the least. Because he’s white, and plays for Duke, I think Grayson gets type-casted at times as just another Duke shooter. Yes, he can certainly do that (over 40% from 3PT this season), but I think Allen’s above-average athleticism is often overlooked. His ability to play in transition and above the rim will serve him well at the next level. I just think Allen has solid overall ball-skills. For playing 36 MPG this past season, Allen only turned the ball over twice per game (often playing out of position due to a lack of a PG on Duke’s roster) - that’s not bad.

Two years ago, Allen’ sophomore season (when the opinion above was written), was his best year at Duke. For me, Allen really hasn’t shown he’s improved his game much since then. However, his maturity and demeanor on the court has been much more acceptable - so that’s something. He’s been the one consistent veteran presence in a lineup full of freshmen at Duke. I don’t see Allen getting drafted in the first round, but crazier things have happened. No one is ever quite sure what exactly some of those playoff established rosters at the end of the first round are looking for.

7) Robert Williams (20 years old), Texas A & M
6-9, 240 lbs. - Power Forward/Center

You want to leave an image in scouts’ minds about what you can do on the court? How about two thunderous windmill dunks in back-to-back tournament games. Williams has crazy agility and athleticism for a man his size.

Williams came back to college for his sophomore season, which surprised a lot of people last year. In his second season in College Station, Williams posted seven double-doubles (led the SEC in rebounding and rebounding percentage this year) and scored 20 or more points three times.

I think his most projectable NBA skill is his ability to alter shots. Williams blocked three or more shots in a game on 14 separate occasions this year (led the SEC in block percentage last season, second this season). His 89.9 Defensive Rating was the best in the SEC, as was his Defensive Box Plus/Minus metric of 9.1.

Williams, if he elects to head to the NBA, will finish his career at Texas A & M second on the all-time SEC Defensive Box Plus/Minus and Box Plus/Minus lists and third on the all-time SEC Player Efficiency Rating and Defensive Rebounding percentage lists. Williams poses no outside shooting threat to opponents whatsoever, and he’s a horrid free-throw shooter (so there’s little hope that he may develop that kind of skill). He looks to be a long (6-9, but with a near 7-5 wingspan), undersized, athletic, rim-protecting modern big who is limited by a lack of an outside shot.

6) Kevin Knox (18 years old), Kentucky
6-9, 205 lbs. - Forward

There was a moment earlier this season when I was watching Kevin Knox play where he pulled down a rebound, pushed the ball up the floor, and finished at the other end. Without possessing eye-popping athleticism, Knox in that moment reminded me a lot of Tobias Harris. I think Knox has a pretty solid feel for the game and what kind of player he is. He can probably play both forward positions depending upon the system he’s drafted into, but I think he’s probably best suited to be a more modern NBA power forward (7-0 wingspan, 9-0 reach).

System is again key for where Knox goes in the draft; he doesn’t get a lot of blocks or steals, he’s much more of a team defender. Some scouts have questioned his overall strength and motor, which is why I think he’s slipped a bit in the eyes of NBA front office guys.

Knox was pretty much the go-to scorer on one of the more offensively challenged Kentucky teams in some time. You can definitely flag his shot-selection at times this year. I think he forced things at times because he had to, but he did take too many long two-point field goals. I see most of his scoring potential coming off the ball, either spotting-up or coming off screens. His shooting percentages this year were pretty pedestrian, but not completely disastrous (34% from 3PT, 5.6 3PTA’s per/40. 56% TS%).

I’m not sure Knox had as positive of a freshmen season as some other blue-chip freshmen phenoms that have suited up for John Calipari. But you can see flashes of what Knox is capable of when you watch some of his best films, like his game in Morgantown against West Virginia (34 points, 5-8 3PT). Draft analytical sites have Knox projected to be taken somewhere around the late lottery to mid-first round. That most likely places Kevin Knox just outside of the range of where Orlando is projected to be selecting.

5) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (19 years old), Kentucky
6-6, 175 lbs. - Point Guard

Gilgeous-Alexander came into this collegiate season fairly under the radar. He was a four-star recruit out of high school, which at Kentucky puts you basically at walk-on status. Gilgeous-Alexander took over the starting point guard duties at Kentucky in early January and hasn’t looked back since.

Gilgeous-Alexander, a native Canadian, could be ushering in a new archetype into the NBA: 3 & D point guard. The advanced metrics don’t love Gilgeous-Alexander as much as some other prospects, but his main attractiveness stems from his potential to be a defensive stopper. We’re talking about a 6-6 point guard with a near 7-0 wingspan. His reach, length, and feet give him the ability to be a point-of-attack on-ball defender who bothers other guards, deflects their passes, and picks their pockets.

He’s not a prolific assists guy (6.0 per/40), but as a point guard his size creates problems. Gilgeous-Alexander’s length allows him to get to rim and to the free-throw line. I think he possesses an above-average handle, and I love how he plays the game at his own pace. Of course he reminds me of guys like Shaun Livingston and Michael Carter-Williams because of his build, but I think there’s more there at this stage of SGA’s development.

He must continue to develop an outside shot, his success at the next level will be dependent upon his outside stroke. He’s connected on just under 42% of his three-point attempts this year, that’s a pretty good start. But the volume is just not there; SGA has never made more than two three-point attempts in a game this year (has only made 23 total, 55 3PTA’s).

Gilgeous-Alexander has come a very long way since he arrived in Lexington, and he seems to be trending in the right direction at the correct time of year. Draft analytical sites have Gilgeous-Alexander projected to be taken somewhere around the late lottery to mid-first round. That most likely places Shai Gilgeous-Alexander just outside of the range of where Orlando is projected to be selecting.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Texas Tech vs. Stephen F. Austin Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

4) Zhaire Smith (18 years old), Texas Tech
6-5, 195 lbs. - Shooting Guard/Small Forward

Zhaire Smith is an impressive looking kid. If I had to pick one prospect from this draft that would be the favorite to win an NBA dunk contest one day, Smith would be the choice - he can flat out fly.

Smith is a strong wing prospect with a reported 6-10 wingspan. His noticeable athleticism and explosiveness lead scouts to believe Smith will be an above-average NBA defender (1.7 steals per/40, 1.5 blocks per/40 his freshmen season). As a complementary skill, Smith is also an exceptional rebounder for a wing player (over 6 boards per/40).

The problem is, Smith has completely come out of nowhere, and there’s not a lot of film on him at a high-level. When I’ve watched him play, he seems like he plays somewhat like a power forward in an NBA wing’s body. He must develop a more prolific, reliable, and consistent offensive game/outside shot (even though he knocked down over 44% of his three-point attempts, he took less than 1.5 3PTA’s per/40). His ball-handling and decision-making seem sub-par at this point as well.

If Smith ever becomes as aggressive on offense as he plays on defense, look out. He seems to be on his way to becoming a very useful two-way player at the next level (Top-5 player in the Big 12 in TS%, ORtg, Defensive Plus/Minus, and Offensive Plus/Minus). Draft analytical sites have Smith projected to be taken somewhere around the late lottery to mid-first round. That most likely places Zhaire Smith just outside of the range of where Orlando is projected to be selecting.

3) Mikal Bridges (21 years old), Villanova
6-7, 200 lbs. - Small Forward

Bridges is the 3 & D prototype of this Draft. Bridges, more of a complimentary player in Villanova’s system the last two seasons, took on a more featured role this year and thrived in it. He possesses a reported 7-1 wingspan to go along with dynamic agility. I regard Bridges has one of the premier on-ball and off-ball (team) wing-defenders in the college game.

An ideal NBA destination for Bridges would be a roster with an already established high-usage ball dominant guard. While not a guy that creates prolifically for himself (or others), he can be lethal as a spot-up shooter (career 66% TS%, never finished a season below 63%). Bridges is a career 40% three-point shooter, who significantly increased his attempts this year (7.4 per/40) while still maintaining elite efficiency from distance (50% 3PTAr, 43% 3PT% in ‘17-18). Bridges finished the year second in the Big East in three-point percentage, second in True Shooting Percentage, first in Player Efficiency Rating, first in Offensive Rating, second in Offensive Plus/Minus (5th overall in the nation), and first in Box Plus/Minus (for his career: 2nd in Big East history, 7th in NCAA history).

Defensively, Bridges has produced at Villanova since he arrived on campus in 2015. Bridges finished in the Top-5 in the Big East (in all three of his collegiate seasons) in Steal Percentage, Defensive Rating, and Defensive Box Plus/Minus. He’s as safe of a guess as any prospect this year to develop into a legitimate two-way NBA player.

Bridges (a fourth-year junior) is currently projected to be selected in this year’s lottery, most likely just outside of where Orlando ends up picking. However, it remains to be seen where exactly Orlando will be selecting from; it’s not completely impossible that the Magic target Bridges as an immediate plug-and-play wing if they end up drafting from the 6th-10th spot (perhaps the team gets a few late season wins, unlucky lottery, trade down scenario, etc.). The roster could use talent and depth at just about every position.

2) Wendell Carter Jr. (18 years old), Duke
6-10, 260 lbs. - Center

Carter is a guy that has been overshadowed by Marvin Bagley III in Duke’s front-court. Bagley III has the athleticism, the flair, and the hype surrounding him, but Carter has been more than steady (if not just as productive in some areas) in his freshmen season as well. In fact, Carter is much more developed as a two-way contributor on the floor (at this point) than Bagley is; he doesn’t possess a lot of weaknesses in his game (led the ACC this year with the highest Box Plus/Minus, third overall in the nation).

For me, Carter’s efficiency (2nd in the ACC in PER this year), skill, and basketball IQ makes him an ideal candidate to anchor an NBA front-court for a decade. I see Carter’s game compared a lot to Al Horford; the comparison makes sense. Both guys lack flashiness, yet they have solid under-appreciated overall games.

Carter’s numbers this year were very solid, but nothing jumps off the page at first glance. With Carter, scouts have to look deeper; in Carter, you have a kid who was just as efficient and rebounded the basketball just as well as Bagley III, who also provided Duke with a lot more defensive resistance in the painted area (20.3 points/13.7 rebounds/3.0 assists/3.2 blocks per/40). Carter also shot an incredible 46% from three his freshmen season (small sample-size: 41 3PTA’s, but still very encouraging - 63% TS%).

He’s a young kid with a very sturdy 260 lb. frame. Although he stands at 6-10, Carter has a 7-3 wingspan and 9-0 standing reach, sufficient enough metrics to play the center position at the next level. Although just a freshmen, it’s highly likely that Carter declares for the NBA Draft after his lone season at the collegiate-level. Carter is projected to be selected this June inside the top-10. He doesn’t fit the pro-typical kind of prospect that Orlando’s management likes to target (athleticism, length, guys that can play multiple positions, etc.), but if the Magic decide to try and rebuild their roster from the inside-out, Carter could be an anchor at the center position who would help the Magic on both sides of the court.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Duke vs Iona Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

1) Marvin Bagley III (19 years old), Duke
6-11, 235 lbs. - Power Forward/Center

Of the two Duke freshmen towers, I believe Carter has the higher floor (aka the lower chance to bust). Therefore, I feel Bagley III has the higher ceiling, which could allow him to develop into a star in the NBA. But drafted into the wrong system and/or organization, and I think we could be looking at another Michael Beasley. Don’t get me wrong, ten years into his career, Beasley is still a bucket-getter. Anyone that can hang around the NBA for a decade is not a bust. I just bring up Beasley because he’s always been somewhat of an NBA “tweener”, and teams have struggled during his career to figure out the best way to use him.

Starting with the good, Bagley’s run and jump ability for someone his size is pretty elite. He runs the floor like a deer, moves with fluidity, and presents a mismatch problem as a screener (lob, slashing ability, pick-and-pop ability). If he continues to improve his ability to put the ball on the floor, he can become damn elite on offense. Bagley III is a prolific offensive player who excels at finishing in the paint. Bagley III finished the regular season leading the ACC in scoring, first in Player Efficiency Rating, third in True Shooting Percentage, second in Points Produced per/game, second in Offensive Rating, and first in Offensive Box Plus/Minus.

Being left-handed, I can’t help but picture this year’s ACC Player of the Year operating in the NBA in a similar fashion to the way Chris Bosh found success. The problem is, the power forward position has changed since Bosh’s time. Can Bagley III guard other NBA big forwards on the perimeter? And speaking of playing on the perimeter, can Bagley III develop a legitimate outside shot with range (54 3PTA’s this season - 37%)?

I’m just not as high on Bagley as others because I don’t see a clear positional fit for him in the NBA. He seems to be an old-school power forward stuck in a more modern NBA. At 6-11, his reported 7-0 wingspan and 8-9 standing reach measurements are extremely poor - worse off than some wing players in this draft. Bagley III is an other-worldly rebounder, especially on the offensive glass. I would just be weary of using a Top-3 pick on a plus-rebounder with so many other question marks. His lack of length will make it very difficult for Bagley III to play the center position in the NBA.

There may not be a prospect expected to be selected in the top 3-5 of this draft whose success is dependent upon fit and situation more than Marvin Bagley III. I like Bagley on the Hawks, the Knicks, perhaps the Kings. He may still be on the board when the Magic pick this upcoming June, but I don’t see Marvin Bagley III being an ideal or likely selection for the Magic. I’m not sure Bagley III helps fix many of the problems that currently hinder the roster.