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Orlando Magic draft history: Looking back on five good draft nights

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Shaquille O’Neal and David Stern Portrait Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Less than a week now separates us from the 2021 NBA Draft.

For the Orlando Magic, what happens on July 29 will go a long way in determining the future of the franchise. Over the years, the Magic have had great draft nights and horrible ones as well.

In what will be a two-part series, we look back on some of the good draft nights for the franchise and some of the bad ones as well. We start with the good.

In chronological order, here are five great draft nights for the Orlando Magic:

1989

Picks: Nick Anderson, G (12th overall); Michael Ansley, F (37th overall)

Overview: The Orlando Magic’s first-ever draft night didn’t result in a superstar, but they did get great value for the No. 12 overall pick. The franchise’s first-ever draft pick, Illinois guard Nick Anderson would spend 10 seasons in Orlando, averaging better than 15 points per game over that stretch. He remains in the top 10 all-time in Magic history in field goals, 3-pointers, rebounds and assists. He remains the franchise’s all-time leader in games played and steals. As for the second pick in that draft, Michael Ansley provided the Magic with a solid presence off the bench. In two seasons with the Magic, Ansley averaged better than seven points and shot 52% from the field. Ansley is the team’s all-time leader in offensive rebound percentage.

1992

Picks: Shaquille O’Neal, C (first overall)

Overview: The first pick in the 1992 NBA Draft was a slam dunk, but the Magic didn’t miss it. LSU center Shaquille O’Neal would spend four seasons with the Magic and made the NBA All-Star Game every year. During the 1994-95 season, O’Neal’s 29.3 points per game average led the NBA as Orlando reached the NBA Finals for the first time. O’Neal would go on to be a league and NBA Finals MVP with the Los Angeles Lakers, but remains the Magic’s all-time leader in player efficiency rating and blocks per game.

1993

Picks: Chris Webber, F (first overall, traded to Golden State Warriors); Geert Hammink, C (26th overall)

Overview: During the 1993 NBA Draft, Orlando didn’t draft anyone who made any meaningful contribution to the franchise. What it was willing to do however, was be bold. The Magic made a blockbuster trade that sent top overall pick Chris Webber to the Golden State Warriors for Memphis State guard Anfernee Hardaway. Hardaway would go on to be one of the best players in franchise history, making four All-Star games in six seasons with Orlando. Injuries ultimately derailed his career, but Hardaway ranks in the top five in franchise history in points per game, minutes per game, assists per game and player efficiency rating. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in steals per game and was a big reason why the team reached the NBA Finals in 1995.

2004

Picks: Dwight Howard, C (first overall); Anderson Varejao, F (30th overall, traded to Cleveland Cavaliers); Antonio Burks (36th overall)

Overview: Draft night in 2004 culminated in the Orlando Magic getting not one, but two All-Stars. Although the consensus was that Connecticut forward Emeka Okafor was going to be the top pick, Orlando selected center Dwight Howard who would be one of the greatest players in franchise history. Howard would make six All-Star Games in Orlando while becoming the first player in league history to earn three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards. Howard also led Orlando to the NBA Finals in 2009. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in rebounds, blocks, minutes played, win shares and valuable over replacement. The Magic also acquired guard Jameer Nelson from the Denver Nuggets in a trade during the 2004 NBA Draft. An All-Star in 2009, Nelson spent 10 seasons in Orlando and is the franchise’s career leader in assists.

2008

Picks: Courtney Lee, G (22nd overall)

Overview: There were a few seasons that could have capped the list, but the Magic got great value out of guard Courtney Lee during the 2008-09 season. Drafted 22nd overall in 2008, Lee started 42 games and played in 77 for an Orlando team that reached the NBA Finals. A stellar role player, Lee averaged 8.4 points per game during his only season with the Magic while shooting 45% from the field and better than 40% from deep. Lee would ultimately be traded for Vince Carter in the offseason. Lee went on to play 12 NBA seasons, but his only trip to the NBA Finals came with the Magic.