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 Eastern Conference.
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 continue in this series by now taking a look at the former “Indiana Mr. Basketball (‘18)” - swing-man Romeo Langford.
“Probably won’t happen” comparison: DeMar DeRozan (not quite as strong)
“Possibly could happen” comparisons: Jaylen Brown (less athleticism, similar high-school ranking/freshmen seasons), Tim Hardaway Jr. (but with more defensive potential), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (but he’s a better driver, gets to free throw line more)
Eye in the sky
— Seems to be at his best when he rebounds the basketball and creates his own secondary fast-break opportunities
— Plays with nice leverage, keeps a low-dribble
— Looks long and fluid on film
— Excellent finisher at the rim, seems advanced for his age finishing (with either hand)
— Finishes through contact, likes to encourage/initiate contact, innate ability to get to the free throw line
— Can get his own offense in “iso” situations, effectively uses a jab-step
— Shot mechanics need to be completely re-worked
— His release looks like he’s almost pushing the basketball when he shoots it, wrists are situated awkwardly
— Defensive upside is there, will likely come with more experience, added strength
— Confident player, but shot-selection was questionable (at times) in Bloomington
Best film of the season: 1/11 at Maryland
28 points (8-14 FGA’s, 3-6 3PTA’s, 9-9 FTA’s)
Video Credit: Frankie Vision
1) Now we know that he was playing through an injury
Langford sustained an injury to his right hand (shooting hand) in late November, tearing ligaments in his right thumb. Instead of having surgery, Langford opted to play through the discomfort and pain. The choice to put off the surgery on his thumb likely cost him a significant amount of money - remember, Langford was a presumed top-five pick coming into his freshmen season. Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star wrote a fantastic article last week about Langford and the sacrifices he made this season playing through an injury.
That information was previously only known by Indiana coaches and staff through Langford’s freshmen season. Looking back on his choice to continue to play, rather than have the surgery and effectively shut himself down for the season (like Darius Garland did, a likely top-ten pick), I can’t help but think that the kind of character and leadership displayed by Langford in ‘18-’19 would be extremely attractive to Orlando’s front office. He knew that playing through the thumb-injury wasn’t going to make his hand any worse, but he also assuredly knew that his freshmen season would be his only collegiate season at Indiana University. Every night was an audition, and he chose to perform at less than 100%, rather than pivot, prepare the for the draft, and lookout for himself.
Langford waited until after the season to have surgery on his thumb, and showed-up to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago still sporting a cast on his right hand. So obviously, his decision to wait until after the season to have the procedure to repair the ligaments in his hand not only affected his production/efficiency at Indiana, but it affected his pre-draft process as well. It remains to be seen how much it will cost him on June 20th.
2) Will he be able to develop an outside shot in the NBA?
Now that we know what he was playing through this past season, it helps explain Langford’s woeful shooting from behind the college arc (27% 3PT%). According to Langford’s shot-chart on The Stepien’s site, he was 28 for 100 from NBA three-point distance in ‘18-’19. He made three or more three-point attempts in a single contest four times this past season (three of those four occasions came in early February).
If you look beyond Langford’s freshmen season, some of his shooting numbers at the prep level are a little more encouraging. Langford shot 36% from long-range his senior year at New Albany High School (79-222 3PTA’s, 212-263 FTA’s - 81%), 3 for 9 for Team USA at the FIBA-U19 World Cup in Egypt, 3 for 8 in the McDonald’s All-American Game, and 2 for 4 in the Jordan Brand Classic. Again, just slightly more encouraging; I realize I might be reaching here a bit.
There’s do denying that Langford has a lot of work to do with his shot. His shooting mechanics need to be completely reworked. He shoots fade-away and step-back jumpers off-balance too often, his wrist placement on his jump-shot is all wrong (could have been compensating for his thumb injury), and his release point needs to be adjusted as well. Free-throw efficiency results can often be predicative of future long-range shooting success; Langford was elite at getting to the free throw line and good enough at converting at the line (72% FT% his freshmen season) for the Hoosiers.
Developing an NBA outside shot will take some time for the former McDonald’s All-American. His NBA-ceiling, either as a rotational player off the bench (if the shot doesn’t develop) or a two-way NBA starting wing, depends upon his ability to do so.
3) The Magic seem to have a need for what Langford does well
Orlando was the worst team in the NBA at getting to the free throw line last season. The Magic ranked 30th (last) in free throws made, free throws attempted, and free throws per field goal attempt (FT/FGA). Honestly, such has been the case pretty much since the day Dwight Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Gordon led the Magic in free throws attempts per game last season (3.2 FTA’s); Khem Birch led the team with a FTr (free throw rate - number of attempts per field goal attempt) of .55.
Last season at Indiana, the New Albany native marched to the free throw line over six times per contest (free throw rate of .49). I realize the college game is officiated differently, and Langford will likely have the ball in his hands less at the next level than he did in Bloomington (although his usage at IU wasn’t off the charts or anything), but there’s no denying he knows how to score. Even if Langford doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt from NBA officials right away, his mindset of taking the ball to the basket and finishing could only help the Magic. Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross had a 67% and 70% success rate finishing at the rim last season respectively. However, Fournier only took 21% of his overall field goal attempts inside of three feet; only 7% of Ross’ attempts came inside the paint.
Coming into this past collegiate season, Langford was considered a consensus top-five pick in the ‘19 draft. It’s widely assumed that he’s played his way out of that range, but when exactly Langford will come off the board seems to be a question that varies (depending upon who you ask). Kevin O’Connor (The Ringer) currently has him sitting 13th on his Big Board. Sam Vecenie (The Athletic, Big Board Version 7.0) has the Hoosier 18th on his board; Jeremy Woo (Sports Illustrated) seems to be on the lower-end of the spectrum regarding Langford, currently placing him 20th on his Big Board. Ricky O’Donnell of SB Nation most recently mocked the swing-man to the Charlotte Hornets (who pick 12th).
Orlando’s current front office regime, made up of President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and General Manager John Hammond, have been with the Magic for two years. They have shown in two consecutive drafts that they value length, their own “board”, and character. At 6-6 with a 6-11 wingspan, Langford is plenty long enough to play either wing position in the NBA. And like they’ve shown with their selections of both Isaac and Bamba, they value taking the top guy off their board (rather than looking to fit positions of need). Langford is a guy who has fallen in the eyes of many executives around the league, but if he was once near the top of Orlando’s board (and/or possibly still is), I don’t think the organization will hesitate in the slightest to pick him. Playing through an injury this past season (and staying relatively quiet about it) exemplified his toughness, character, and what he can bring to Orlando as a teammate you can count on.
Terrence Ross is an unrestricted free agent (beginning June 30th); Langford certainly wouldn’t replace what Ross brings to the Magic, but he would provide the team with some depth at the position. He could potentially help the team (eventually) in areas they currently struggle in, namely getting to the free throw line and “iso” shot-creation. The sixteenth pick is an appropriate time to invest in a project like Langford, and I think Orlando is likely his draft “floor”.
This is the third in a series of NBA Draft previews coming over the next few weeks on Orlando Pinstriped Post. Aaron previously profiled Kevin Porter Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
You can follow Aaron Goldstone on Twitter @AaronGoldstone.