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 a former two-time SEC Player of the Year - forward Grant Williams.
“Probably won’t happen” comparison: Draymond Green (not nearly as skilled creating for others/ball-handling, not as long as Green either)
“Possibly could happen” comparison: Boris Diaw (offensively - yes; defensively - more upside), P.J. Tucker (defensively - yes; offensively - less perimeter oriented, much more efficient in the paint), Paul Millsap (similar bodies, not the rebounding force early-Millsap was)
Eye in the sky
— Extremely strong lower-half, uses his base to create leverage in the paint
— Solid screener, big NBA potential in this area
— Very comfortable with his back to the basket on offense
— Strong hands, strong with the basketball in traffic, utilizes spin-moves effectively
— Tough finisher in the paint, makes himself available, plays bigger than he is
— Has shown the ability to put the ball on the floor, can improve in this area
— Was used flashing to the elbow, Tennessee initiated offense from there (with ball in his hands)
— Solid team/help defender
— Instinctive individual defender, plays defense with great awareness
— Provides energy plays, will run the floor
— Hasn’t shot many three-point attempts, will he be able to develop that part of his game?
Best film of the season: 1/23 at Vanderbilt
43 points (10-15 FGA’s, 23-23 FTA’s), 8 rebounds, 4 blocked shots
Video Credit: Next Ones
1) Old-school, new-school?
For me, the first thing that comes to mind while I’m assessing Williams and his future in the NBA is one simple question: Did he come along in the wrong NBA generation? Or is he exactly where he needs to be?
On one hand, the Charlotte native seems like he’s cut right out of the mold of an old-school/bruising NBA power forward that would have thrived in the 80’s and 90’s. Williams is not a kid that is going to ‘wow’ anyone with his vertical leaping ability, YouTube mixed-tapes featuring highlights after highlights, or overall flair for dramatics on the floor. He is a “lunch-pale carrying, clock in and clock out” bruiser that doesn’t shy away from a little contact in the paint (20 reps on the bench press at the combine, highest mark at the event). He’s comfortable with his back to the basket and seems to have an endless array of post moves he often utilizes to beat defenders, but he rarely strays too far away from the paint (or at least he didn’t at Tennessee).
But on other hand, Williams measured in at the NBA Draft Combine slightly under 6 foot 8 inches. This listing may have scared away many executives generations ago when ideas of what an NBA power forward should look like were less progressive/innovative.
So while one could certainly make the argument that Williams doesn’t fit the bouncy, floor-spacing archetype that many of today’s NBA forwards qualify for, he could actually be entering an NBA climate that is best suited for his playing style. You hear all the time (from players, coaches, executives, etc.) that the NBA is moving towards “position-less basketball”. Ideally, on the floor in today’s NBA you have a lead guard, a center, and three other players that can do a variety of things to help the team win (versatile defenders, shoot/score, handle the basketball, etc.). In other words, rather than raising questions regarding what position Williams will play in the NBA (because, you know - he’s only 6-7.5), he just may get by in a time period where those things matter less and less.
2) Basketball IQ
A team that drafts Williams is getting an intellectual, both on and off the court. The junior forward’s basketball IQ is fairly well known as this point; he’s regarded as one of the smartest players in this draft class. What you may not know about Williams is that he’s quite brilliant off the court as well. According to the Knoxville News, Williams’ mother is an electrical engineer who works for NASA. Before committing to Rick Barnes at Tennessee, Williams was recruited by multiple Ivy League schools. It has been reported my multiple outlets that the Charlotte native is somewhat of a musical genius, mastering up to an estimated 10 instruments. And, he’s very fond of the game of chess (has even competed in national chess tournaments).
His intelligence off the court translates masterfully on the court as well, and this is where Williams has a slight advantage over some of his other draft classmates. He may not have superior height or length, but he possesses deft awareness on the floor. Williams is not a leaper, but he averaged over 2.0 blocks per/40 in his college career by having plus-instincts in “help-defense” situations. On offense, his assist percentage increased every year he played in Knoxville (from 9.6% as a freshmen to 18.5% as a junior). Williams dished out 4.0 assist per/40 last season, many coming from the All-American making a simple play when double-teamed (finding a cutter, reversing the ball, etc.).
This is a young man that can do a little bit of everything on the floor. He never posted a DBPM number below 4.7 in any of his three years at Tennessee. He can pass, he plays above-average team defense (and more than passable individual defense), he uses his strength to get to the free throw line, etc.
If you’re watching the NBA Finals closely like I am, I’m sure you’ve noticed how many players on the floor share one common trait: intelligence. Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, Danny Green, Fred VanVleet, Andrew Bogut, Quinn Cook, Pascal Siakam (who’s emerging into an absolute star)...the list goes on and on. To win in this league, you need smart players who can contribute on both ends of the floor, players who can share the basketball and help create shots (and make some as well), and players that offer their teams versatility. Grant Williams is one of those players.
3) Will he develop an outside shot?
Williams displayed superior touch during his time in Knoxville, but the vast majority of his field goal attempts came from inside the arc (2nd in the SEC in FG% last season). You would figure that one of the major parts of Williams’ game that needs to continue to develop if he’s going to make it in the NBA is a somewhat dependable three-point shot. We all know how free throw efficiency can often be predicative of future range-shooting success, and Williams’ efficiency from the charity-stripe moved in a positive direction at Tennessee. He shot 67% from the line as a freshmen, and improved over the next two years to finish as an 81% shooter on free throw attempts as a junior.
Still, it’s hard to ignore that in over 100 career games at Tennessee (over 3,000 minutes played), Williams only converted a total of 30 three-point field goals (30-103 3PTA’s, 29%). Only five times in his collegiate career did Williams knock-down more than one three-point field goal in a single contest. According to the forward’s shot chart on The Stepien’s site, he attempted 29 three-point attempts from NBA-range last season, and made only seven of those attempts (24%).
If I had to make a guess, I would bet that Williams makes an adjustment with his game to fit the NBA game (which requires players to provide more spacing on the floor than he provided at the collegiate level). I’m not convinced Williams can’t shoot from the outside; rather, I just don’t think that’s what was asked of him or needed from him in college. He possesses a high-release on his shot, which rarely got blocked at the collegiate level (often against longer players), and he plays with great balance in his lower-half (always).
It’s hard to believe that a two-time SEC Player of the Year would be considered a fringe mid-first round pick, but here we are. Due to some of the talking points I mentioned above (questionable size/length, his NBA position), Williams is probably not as high on some teams’ boards as one might think. Was he productive in college? Absolutely. But how will his game hold-up/translate against the best players in the world?
Kevin O’Connor (The Ringer) is very high on Williams, ranking him 9th overall on his latest Big Board (updated June 4th). Ricky O’Donnell (SB Nation) and Sam Vecenie (The Athletic) have the Tennessee product ranked 16th and 19th on their boards respectively.
Interestingly enough, ESPN has Williams ranked outside of their Top-20 available prospects, as does Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated (he’s 34 on Woo’s board).
With Gordon, Isaac, and Bamba already in place, I know it may seem like the Magic aren’t in dire need for another front-court player. In fact, that notion may be absolutely on point. Still, I think there is a place long-term on this roster for Williams. I think we all agree that both Gordon and Isaac are better utilized as power forwards, but Coach Clifford’s schemes seemed rather “position-less” when it came to both forward positions. In theory, Williams would be able to come off the bench and provide either Gordon or Isaac with some rest, sliding one of the two aforementioned cornerstones to the small forward position (there’s obviously some interest there from the organization - the Magic brought Williams into town for a workout on June 5th).
Again, do the Magic have other needs that can potentially be addressed through this draft? Sure.
Does Williams’ lack of jaw-dropping length lessen his chances of being selected by Orlando’s decision-makers (who fawn over wingspan)? Perhaps.
However, if Jeff Weltman and John Hammond are searching for an extremely intelligent player with exceptional character to add to their already versatile (and high character) core, then Grant Williams just might be their “new old-school” guy at #16.
This is the fourth 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, and Romeo Langford.
You can follow Aaron Goldstone on Twitter @AaronGoldstone.