For the first time in six arduous years, the Orlando Magic fan-base will not be toiling over who their beloved team selects with their lottery pick in next month’s NBA Draft. The Magic figured things out late in the ‘18-’19 season, and broke-through en route to the franchise’s first playoff appearance in seven years. They even found a way to steal a game in Toronto, who has gone on to win the NBA Championship.
Since franchise center Dwight Howard was traded in the summer of 2012, the Magic have been a habitual “lottery team”. The organization drafted Victor Oladipo (‘13, 2nd), Aaron Gordon (‘14, 4th), Dario Saric (‘14, 12th - traded for the rights to Elfrid Payton), Mario Hezonja (‘15, 5th), Domantas Sabonis (‘16, 11th - traded along with Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova for the rights to Serge Ibaka), Jonathan Isaac (‘17, 6th), and Mohamed Bamba (‘18, 6th) with their seven lottery picks in the last six years. Of course, only Gordon, Isaac, and Bamba remain with the team.
Now the Magic find themselves on the outside of the lottery looking in, and that’s obviously a good thing. The organization has seemed to turn a corner; they have the right coach in place, they have a player who was recognized as an NBA All-Star for the first time since Howard, and they have some promising young players to continue to build-around for the foreseeable future.
Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross are set to become unrestricted free agents for their first time in their respective careers, so the NBA Free Agency period (beginning on June 30th) will clearly be Orlando’s primary focus this summer. But that’s not to say that this year’s draft should be completely ignored. The Magic are slated to pick 16th (and 46th, 2nd round), and a quality player should still be there available for the organization to select. Finding a hidden gem at #16 won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible.
NBA Hall-of-Fame point guard John Stockton was drafted 16th in 1984. Dana Barros (‘89), Chris Gatling (‘91), Metta World Peace (‘99), and Orlando’s own Nikola Vucevic (‘11) are all former 16th overall picks who have gone on to make an All-Star appearance in their careers. Hedo Turkoglu, Marreese Speights, Nick Young, Jusuf Nurkic, and Terry Rozier are all former 16th overall picks who have also carved out significant roles for themselves in the NBA at one point or another.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be putting together a scouting report profiling some of the players who will likely be available at #16 when the Magic make their pick. Included in these pieces will be some notes from player film review, talking points, and the player’s draft outlook.
We conclude this series by now taking look at a swing-man who played his freshmen season at Kentucky - Keldon Johnson.
“Probably won’t happen” comparison: Corey Magette, Trevor Ariza (but a little shorter)
“Possibly could happen” comparison: David Nwaba (but a little taller), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (more athletic)
Eye in the sky
— Uses length/strength combination to get by defenders at the collegiate-level (will he be able to in the NBA?)
— Effective floater in the lane, decent touch
— Really favors his right-hand on drives to the basket (too much in my opinion)
— Comes off screens balanced/squared and ready to shoot
— Runs the floor, can finish way above the rim
— High motor & can help contribute on the boards
— Physically strong and decisive one-on-one defender
— NBA-ready body that he utilizes well, plays physically
— With his athleticism and length, I question why he only recorded 1.0 steal per/40 at Kentucky?
— Used his superior size to get to the free throw line in college (again, will that come as easily at the next-level?)
Best film of the season:
12/22 vs. North Carolina: 21 points (7-11 FGA’s, 4-7 3PTA’s), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals
Video credit: ESPN
Video credit: KentuckyHoops
1) NBA body
We all know by now how President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and General Manager John Hammond “stan” for players with length. According to NBAthlete.com, a site that has compiled data from NBA Draft Combine’s since 2000, Johnson has elite size for an incoming NBA wing. His height (6-6, 88th percentile), weight (216 pounds, 92nd percentile), wingspan (6-9, 78th percentile), hand-width (9.25 inches, 84th percentile), and standing reach (8-8, 94th percentile) are all elite measurements compared to not only the other wing players in this draft class - but in the recent history of the NBA Draft.
Johnson used his strength, specifically his wide-shoulders, to help him get by defenders and into the paint at the collegiate level. The Oak Hill Academy alum marched to the free throw line 5.5 times per/40 minutes his freshmen season at Kentucky (.416 FTr). It remains to be seen whether he can use his size and physicality to get to the line that often against NBA athletes, but if he can - that’s a skill the Magic can absolutely use (worst free throw rate in the league).
Johnson projects to be at least a useful NBA defender, and his strength, weight, wingspan, and reach will allow him to defend in the NBA sooner than others that could potentially be drafted in this range. What’s concerning is that he didn’t exactly parlay his above-average length into a prolific amount of steals at the college-level (1.0 steal per/40), but that could have been either an instinct/awareness thing (uh-oh) or a team defensive-scheme result.
2) Perceived value?
Coming into his freshmen season, Keldon Johnson was rated as a five-star recruit and the seventh best prospect in his class by ESPN. Both Rivals and 247/Sports also had the South Hill, Virginia product ranked as a five-star prospect inside of the top-15 in his class. Johnson was ranked by most of these sites well ahead of Kevin Porter Jr., Tyler Herro, Coby White, and Darius Garland (and Anfernee Simons, who skipped college and now plays for the Portland Trailblazers).
Don’t get me wrong, rankings like these don’t mean much when the balls are rolled out and guys have to compete. But it just goes to show that at one point, Johnson was held in the same regard by many experts as the R.J. Barrett’s, Zion Williamson’s, and Romeo Langford’s of this class. For whatever reason, whether it was the lofty expectations or his role at Kentucky, some other guys in this class have stock that has currently surpassed Johnson’s. All I’m saying is that Weltman and Hammond are guys in the two years they’ve been in Orlando that have proven they like to stay “true to their board.” Scouting these players is a process that goes back years; it’s not something that happens weeks before the draft.
Who knows, perhaps Weltman and Hammond have Johnson higher on their board than others do - maybe as high as in the top-10 in the class (basically where he was at the beginning of the ‘18-’19 season).
The Ringer has the Orlando Magic selecting Johnson with the 16th pick in their latest mock draft. He’s listed by ESPN as the 19th best available prospect in this class. Kevin O’Connor (The Ringer) lists Johnson 36th overall on his big board, Sam Vecenie (The Athletic) has him 22nd on his latest board, and Jeremy Woo (Sports Illustrated) ranks him 15th overall.
Drafting the Virginia-native at sixteen might be a slight reach on Orlando’s part, but I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if that’s what ends up happening. Johnson will be right there in the discussion when the Magic are set to pick, alongside other wings in this class such as Nickeil Walker-Alexander, Romeo Langford, Kevin Porter Jr., Tyler Herro, and Cameron Johnson.
With Ross set to become an unrestricted free agent, Johnson would be a solid depth addition. He’s not going to cover-up the potential loss of a player as important to the Magic as Ross right away, but bringing him into the fold would make some sense. Compared to some of the other wings that the Magic will be choosing from at this point in the draft, Johnson’s body might be the most NBA-ready.
He may not be spectacular in one single area, but if readiness is what Weltman and Hammond are looking for, then Keldon Johnson may be Orlando’s man at sixteen.
This is the seventh (and final) piece in a series of NBA Draft previews coming over the next few weeks on Orlando Pinstriped Post. Aaron previously profiled Kevin Porter Jr., Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Brandon Clarke, and Tyler Herro.
You can follow Aaron Goldstone on Twitter at @AaronGoldstone.