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2018 NBA Draft Deep Dive: Two-Time Champ Brunson Could Help Fill Void for Magic

Aaron explains why the late first/early second round is the spot to target a certain “depth” point guard

Texas Tech v Villanova Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

I’m a firm believer that late in the Draft, whether it be the late first or early second round, teams should draft for need. Swing for the fences in the lottery; go for the “best player available” if that’s what the organization needs to do.

However, outside of the Top-20 picks or so, completely different story. Positional need, skill-set need, and situation are determining factors that should be weighed before selecting a young prospect.

As we all know, the Magic were awarded the sixth pick in the upcoming NBA Draft last Tuesday night. Regardless of what the Magic decide to do with that pick, one fact remains.

Heading into next season, the Magic have one point guard on their roster with a guaranteed contract. Of course, Orlando’s new management team decided to trade former Magic starting point guard Elfrid Payton at the NBA Trade Deadline last February. That created an opportunity for Shelvin Mack to earn some regular minutes for the Magic to close the year out, but his contract next season is only partially guaranteed.

The Magic own the 35th and 41st picks in this draft, they need to use one of those picks to add some point guard depth to the roster.

And I think the lead-guard depth in this class is most plentiful in the 25-45 range, so the Magic are in a great situation to have a look at guys like Landry Shamet, Khyri Thomas, Elie Okobo, Devonte Graham, and others.

Last week, I profiled Aaron Holiday and Jevon Carter.

I believe the Magic should take an opportunity in this spot to target their guy who can become the team’s back-up point guard. If he’s not going to be there at #35, they can try packaging their two picks in an effort to move up (into the 25-30 range for example). The Magic also have Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross, two players with expiring contracts, to work with.

I’m going to provide pieces that take a deeper look at the kind of lead guards the Magic should be targeting in an effort to rebuild their point guard depth.

Third in this series, the Collegiate National Player of the Year out of New Jersey via Villanova has caught my attention. I profile the two-time National Champion here:

Jalen Brunson, Point Guard (21 years old)
6-2, 200 lbs. (6-4 wingspan)

Ranking/Mock Draft Slot The Ringer Tankathon The Stepien CBS Sports Sports Illustrated
Jalen Brunson 32nd 27th 25th 23rd 27th

You would be hard-pressed to find a prospect in this year’s draft who has experienced winning at the collegiate level more often than Jalen Brunson has. Brunson quarterbacked one of the nation’s most efficient and prolific offenses at Villanova for three years (115 career starts). If your looking for an offense at the college level that most closely resembles a modern NBA offensive-scheme, Jay Wright’s system at Villanova is the best example.

Showing exemplary “leadership” and being a “winner” aren’t tangible attributes that I usually mention when assessing a player. But watch any Villanova film and one of the first things you will see is how comfortable and in control Brunson is with the basketball in his hands.

Brunson has very classic size for a prototypical NBA point guard. He’s 6-2 and possesses a 6-4 wingspan (8-0 standing reach), all very average measurements that shouldn’t hurt his chances at the next level of being effective. Brunson carries a very sturdy 200 pound frame which he used in college to back-down smaller lead guards. I don’t think Brunson will play in the post in the NBA as often as he did at Villanova, but his comfort backing down guards and drawing double-teams from the point guard position just further exemplifies his awareness and basketball intellect.

Simply stated, I trust Jalen Brunson with the basketball in his hands to make the right play. This is a young man who turned the ball over 217 times in over 3,300 minutes; pretty solid for someone who possessed the rock as often as Brunson did. The New Brunswick product, who started for the Wildcats from day one, saw his turnover percentage drop in each of his three collegiate seasons (from 17.9% his freshmen season, to 15.5% his sophomore season, to 10.7% his junior season).

Brunson is also a big-time shot-maker. His career true shooting percentage at Villanova finished just under 63% (2nd all-time on the career Big East list for TS%). Just under 40% of Brunson’s FGA’s came from behind the arc in his 116 career games. Brunson shot over 40% from distance this past season, and finished his career at Villanova with a 39% mark from downtown. Brunson led the Big East this year in Offensive Box Plus/Minus, Offensive Win Shares, and Points Produced (his career Offensive Rating of 124.6 is 2nd all-time in the Big East).

I think Brunson’s ability to knock down shots (off the dribble, coming off screens, when his defender goes under a screen, etc.) will continue at the next level. He may not be the prolific scorer in the NBA that he was in college because he won’t get to the free throw line as often against the best players in the world, but I think he will remain efficient.

O’Connor, a draft expert from The Ringer, has Brunson ranked as the 32nd best prospect in this year’s draft class according to his guide. O’Connor describes Brunson as an “unselfish passer” who keeps the ball moving. He adds that the two-time champion “uses deception, change of pace, and advanced footwork” to create space for himself while accounting for his lack of top-end speed on the court.

West Virginia v Villanova Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

As long as Brunson keeps knocking down shots, there will be a place for him in the NBA.

I’m just skeptical about his ceiling because of his athletic limitations. I’m not sure Brunson is going to be able to defend in the NBA. He’s going to have to try and stay in front of world class athletes; will he be able to move his feet, close out on shooters, get through screens, etc.?

Brunson didn’t defend much in college, and that was against players in the Big East.

I’ve brought this up already in my assessments of both Aaron Holiday and Jevon Carter, two other lead guards from this class, and my point remains the same. Philosophically, it just comes down to what management and a coaching staff values out of a backup point guard.

Because of his athletic limitations, I think Brunson will be an NBA backup. However, that’s not a knock on him. I think he can be one of the better reserve guards in the NBA (in the right situation).

From my backup point guard, I want a guy who will run the offense, make smart decisions, take care of the basketball, and provide a little bit of shooting/scoring ability. I don't want him to be a turnstile, but playing shut down defense is an ability from a bench point guard that I don’t value as much.

Jalen Brunson’s best film: December 13th @ Temple
Brunson’s line: 31 points (11-16 FGA’s, 6-10 3PTA’s), 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 0 turnovers

The Magic need point guard depth. Brunson is a proven commodity - he can shoot, he has experience running an NBA-ish offense with professional-level players surrounding him, and he has won.

I’m not sure Brunson will still be on the board in the second round when the Magic are slated to pick at #35. He seems like the type of guard established playoff teams selecting at the end of the first round would likely target.

But Orlando should absolutely bring him in for a workout. They have two picks in the second round they could try to package to move back into the first round. They have some veteran players with expiring deals that could be moved to sweeten a package as well.

Who knows, perhaps the Brunson “fall” O’Connor was talking about in his draft guide will be a fall right into the laps of the Orlando Magic. I bet they would be thrilled to draft a guard with his pedigree who could contribute right away, contribute often, and contribute for a very long time in this league.