Last week it occurred to me that there is an optimal time to visit a laundromat. When I arrived at Soap in the City (great name) on a Wednesday afternoon just before 4pm I was greeted by an entirely empty venue. I had the run of the place. Whichever machine my heart desired was mine. The comfiest seat to wait in was, for the first time in recorded history, available. I was free to fold my washing afterwards at a leisurely pace. I felt like a king. A king without a washing machine, sure, but royalty nonetheless. At the very least a duke.
Evidently, success is often dependent on timing. Arriving at the laundromat at the right time allowed me to enjoy a hassle-free visit to Soap in the City (still a great name). If I’d been an hour earlier or an hour later the whole trip would have played out differently - who knows what trials and tribulations I would have had to face? Which left me wondering: should Orlando be hoping that their draft selection arrives at a certain time - or, in this case, number?
Let’s dive in and evaluate what happens when the Magic are on the draft clock at a particular time, and where we should be hoping that the ping pong balls position the team on Tuesday.
Number 1: Shaquille O’Neal (‘92), Chris Webber/Anfernee Hardaway (‘93), Dwight Howard (‘04)
Get ready for me to drop some knowledge on you: picking first overall is a very, very good thing for the Magic. The fact that some teams spend all year hoping to lose somewhere in the vicinity of 82 games to secure this draft slot should make that obvious. But for Orlando in particular the top of the board has been a very kind position. After nabbing Shaq and Penny (back-to-back drafts that somehow feel like one super pick thanks to the vagaries of time) they made it all the way to the NBA Finals just a few seasons later, eventually succumbing in a 4-0 sweep to the Rockets. Then, sure enough, after getting their hands on Dwight an NBA Finals appearance again came calling, this time a 4-1 defeat to the Lakers.
By my calculations, this means that two things are certain to happen when the Magic pick at number one. Firstly, the team will end up with a franchise-altering superstar. Secondly, they’ll eventually make it to the Finals with that player and experience exactly one more victory than the team did on the previous occasion. All of which is to say that the Magic only need to win the lottery 3 more times before we celebrate with a parade.
(Before we move on I just wanted to clarify something. I know that Orlando technically picked C-Webb in ‘93 but it will always be Penny in my heart. Plus, I’d hate to interrupt the flow of the piece with too many timeouts.)
Number 2: Victor Oladipo (‘13)
Orlando have picked from the 2 slot only once in franchise history, and it was a selection that should have shaped the current rebuild for years to come. Oladipo is a dynamic, young two-way guard with an excellent work ethic and budding big-game instinct. He has developed as both a shooter and a playmaker, and his All-Star appearance this year is likely to be the first of a fistful. Maybe because he wasn’t the first overall choice the team’s ceiling would have capped out at a sweep in the Conference Finals (see previous entry for required reasoning), but that would certainly be preferable when compared to the current purgatory. Anyway, turns out that picking second is also pretty good for the Magic, but truly excellent for the Pacers.
Number 4: Dennis Scott (‘90), Aaron Gordon (‘14)
3D ruled and watching him effortlessly stroke threes in pinstripes was awesome. Also, there’s no one else taken later in this draft that inspires jealousy so it feels like maximum value. Gordon hasn’t yet turned into the player that many fans envisioned when he was drafted in 2014, but outside of Nikola Jokic there isn’t really anyone else in his class that the team would be better off having on the roster (unless you’re Stanning for Gary Harris something shocking). All in all, Orlando have done some solid work from four.
(Another point of clarification: I know that the Magic actually can’t pick at this slot when the draft rolls around, a fact which is also true for some of the slots at the end of the lottery. Anyway, just play along and imagine a world where the Magic trade up or down and don’t live to regret it.)
(This, of course, requires us to imagine a world where the Magic front office makes any sort of personnel decision that we don’t eventually live to regret. Just go with it.)
Number 5: Mike Miller (‘00), Mario Hezonja (‘15)
The 2000 draft class was considered weak at the time, which is a complimentary assessment compared to the current sentiment of putrid. Of course, this was the year that the Magic had three lottery picks (good grief). Thankfully, the team nabbed a gem when they grabbed Miller with the first of these; he ended up playing a larger than expected role and taking home Rookie of the Year honors. Of course, after only two and a half seasons the Magic traded him to Memphis for the Killer Gs: Drew Gooden and Gordan Giricek (good grief).
15 years later the stage was set for ‘Super Mario’ - as a sweet shooting scorer on the wing - to follow in the footsteps of the team’s only previous number 5 pick. And while early sermons at the Church of Hezonja didn’t exactly keep the pews full, his third-year performance suggests that he may yet blossom into a solid rotational piece. Of course, the Magic declined his option for next season so it means it’s basically a guarantee that he’ll be resurrected elsewhere (good grief). All of which is to say that it’s probably best to avoid this slot. Of course, based on their record the Magic are currently slotted in at number 5 (I give up).
Number 6: Jonathan Isaac (‘17)
We’re a long way from knowing exactly how this pick will pan out, but it feels like it’s off to a good start. Although he was hampered by ankle injuries, Isaac’s rookie campaign certainly generated optimism for the future. His defensive instincts are excellent, he’s a ball magnet when it comes to swats and swipes, and there’s a glimmer of hope that his corner three ball develops into a legitimate weapon. Also, dude is looking swole. If man is 5 and the devil is 6 the Magic should be hoping that on Tuesday the Dark Lord’s number comes calling.
Number 10: Bison Dele (‘91), Keyon Dooling (‘00)
The numbers don’t lie: ten has hardly been perfect for the Magic. Bison Dele (then Brian Williams) never panned out, holding out as a rookie for more money and then being limited by injury in his sophomore season before being traded to Denver. It was easy to envision him forming a talented and bruising frontcourt alongside Shaq, but it just never happened. As for Dooling, the team ended up shipping him out on draft day to the Clippers for a future first, but then signing him five seasons later as a free agent. During his time with the team he was perfectly serviceable yet eminently forgettable. It’s hard to muster up much enthusiasm for the number 10.
Number 11: Nick Anderson (‘89), Fran Vasquez (‘05), JJ Redick (‘06), Domantas Sabonis (‘16)
Feast or famine. Anderson and Redick would have to be two of the best value picks ever made by the Magic. There’s not a single player out there that has suited up for Orlando more frequently than Anderson and his 692 appearances, and it’s unlikely he’ll be caught anytime soon. This longevity is undoubtedly one of the main factors that have contributed to his mildly surprising rank of second on the team’s all-time list of win shares contributed (52.9), but it’s also a result of the fact that he was a damn good player. Redick doesn’t have the same sort of accolades on his resume. However, over the course of six and a half seasons in Florida he developed into a deadly shooter and a surprisingly satisfactory defender, and became an integral cog on a championship contender. Both of these are picks the Magic would make again in a heartbeat.
This is where things take a turn. Sabonis was a solid choice in 2016, but the team suffered a rush of blood and sent him to the Thunder in the ill-fated Serge Ibaka trade. And while the zero minutes that he played for the team happens to be the same as that of the team’s number 11 selection in ‘05, at least Sabonis has been sighted in the United States.
Vasquez was taken by then-General Manager Otis Smith, who apparently selected the Spanish big man without so much as a conversation beforehand. While this helped keep the Magic’s plans a secret from other teams, it also meant that they had no idea that he apparently didn’t want to play in the NBA. A current Google search of his name turns up two types of articles: firstly, those that are actually about Luka Doncic (probably not a good sign); and secondly, those that discuss how he used the Magic to gain leverage for a new contract in Europe (definitely not a good sign). Vasquez’s decade-plus haunting of Orlando is almost enough to leave a person speechless.
....Almost. I promised myself I wasn’t going to mention it but the ghost of Francisco dredges up some bad memories, so here we are. The number 11 pick is also forever linked to those four fateful free throws. This draft slot is cursed; let’s hope we never end up here again.
Number 12: Michael Doleac (‘98), Dario Saric (‘14)
About a year ago Fansided posted an article breaking down what they believed to be the best picks in the history of the Magic franchise. Coming in tenth was the team’s first-ever selection when picking at number 12, Michael Doleac. I assumed this was some sort of mistake, particularly because they spoke about the big man in some pretty unflattering terms, but it turns out they were serious. And, if you overlook the Courtney Lee exclusion, it might not be a mistake! Out of all the selected players who have laced up boots for the franchise a guy who has the gaudy career averages of 5 and 3 makes the cut. Saric is already exceeding these numbers, but he’s doing it in Philadelphia. For Orlando, draft disappointments are a dime a dozen.
Number 13: Keon Clark (‘98), Courtney Alexander (‘00)
The Magic have twice picked at the back end of the lottery and twice traded the selection that very same day. This tells me that the team suffers from triskaidekaphobia. Avoid.
So what have we learned?
Well, if we’re looking for numbers that have been kind to the Magic in the past we should be crossing our fingers on Tuesday and hoping like H-E double hockey sticks that the team ends up at the top of the draft. Because after that, things get dicey. There might not be a magic number.
Although the world of basketball breeds superstitious souls, it’s ultimately going to be less about the specific draft slot and more about the things we already know are important: nailing projections, cultivating opportunities, and displaying the necessary patience with development. Hopefully 2018 is the year that the Magic can manage this no matter where they end up picking from.