It’s been said that had Chuma Okeke not suffered a torn ACL during the NCAA Tournament, he would have been a 2019 lottery pick.
Now let’s imagine he never suffered the injury and stayed at Auburn another year. Where would he have landed among what is considered a weak 2020 draft class?
That hypothetical could place him as a top-five pick. Sounds great until reality sets in. Yes, the Magic will add Chuma Okeke next season, but he will join them having not playing competitive basketball in nearly two years.
And that stretch will be capped by an offseason of league-wide uncertainly, with necessary safety protocols in place that hamper player workouts and contact.
“Chuma has done really well, he’s progressed through pretty much I would say the late stage of his rehab and development,” Jeff Weltman told reporters Monday. “This is where things get tricky because we don’t know exactly what the protocol for player workouts are going to be this summer…Chuma is going to need live action, he’s going to need to play, and right now we don’t have any forum for that.”
The Magic selected Okeke with the 16th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and essentially made him the NBA’s first redshirt rookie. Okeke never signed a rookie scale deal, instead spending his time rehabbing under the watchful eye of the Magic’s G League affiliate, the Lakeland Magic.
The NBA hiatus, and the cancelation of Lakeland’s season, complicated Okeke’s progression and further delayed his eventual return.
When he finally does take the court in an Orlando Magic uniform, the team will be adding a 6-foot-8 forward who shot 38.9 percent from three over two seasons at Auburn. That’s a welcome addition for a Magic team expected to “run it back” after being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight season.
The Magic are likely to have a mostly quiet offseason, the course of which will largely be determined by player options (one in particular that is a near guarantee to be picked up). They’ll have their mid-level exception to float around, they’ll have the 15th pick in a shallow draft, they’ll probably take some annual calls on Aaron Gordon. But, more than likely, Orlando’s key offseason acquisition is going to be Okeke.
“We look very much forward to him being a part of our team next year,” Weltman said. “I’m just hopeful that as we progress through this offseason, there are ways to ramp up his development through more live action. But we’re limited right now.”
Okeke in May told Greg Ostendorf of AuburnTigers.com that he had moved from Lakeland to Orlando and the Magic provided him with gym equipment so he could work on his upper and lower body during the hiatus.
“Before the lockdown, I was shooting in the gym and I felt pretty good shooting, getting off the floor,” Okeke told Ostendorf of his rehab process. “I was going through drills somewhat full speed. It felt good. I don’t know what percent I’m at right now because it’s been awhile since I’ve even shot a ball. I’ve just been working out and conditioning.”
Questions remain as to how Okeke will be utilized when he does join the Magic, given the uncertainty about his position (small or power forward?), and Orlando’s logjam at forward with Gordon, the healthy return of Al-Farouq Aminu, the potential return of James Ennis, and, of course, the eventual return of Jonathan Isaac.
“He’s all about team first,” Weltman said of Okeke. “It’s the way that he plays. It’s the way that he thinks.”
And as for that 15th pick the Magic have in the 2020 draft?
“We’re going to be looking at a lot of good players at 15,” Weltman said. “It’s wide open, it’s so early, and obviously we already have our pick from last year, Chuma, who we look forward to integrating. So, I think we’re in a good place with being able to add a talented young player with good character to out team. There will be some tough decisions to be made because there will be some good players on the board.”