May 17, 2022 marked a potential turning point for the Orlando Magic.
After finishing the 2021-22 season with a 22-60 record, the team had a 14 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick. And on June 23, for the first time since 2004 and the fourth time in franchise history, Orlando will be the first time on the clock in the NBA Draft.
Much has been made of the Magic’s top pick, and rightfully so. Selecting the correct player could result in Orlando competing amongst the league’s elite while whiffing could set them back half a decade.
Will they take Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren? An elite rim-protector who was just as efficient around the basket offensively while simultaneously stretching the floor from three-point range.
What about Duke’s Paolo Banchero? A physically-imposing yet abundantly skilled forward who routinely showcased his offensive versatility last year on one of the best teams in the country.
And of course there is Auburn’s Jabari Smith, a 6-foot-10 sharpshooting forward who, by all accounts, should end his NBA career with multiple All-Defensive Team selections.
All three players should be able to find success in the league. And regardless of who the Magic select at No. 1, adding a player of this caliber will aid the franchise for years to come.
But in addition to the No. 1 overall selection, Orlando has picks No. 32 and No. 35 in the upcoming NBA Draft. That said, come draft night, these picks may be obsolete given that since hiring president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman in 2017, the Magic have traded six of their eight second-round picks.
Not only that, Orlando had one of the youngest rosters in the league last season. Adding three rookies into the mix may not sit well with Orlando’s front office and could potentially decelerate their rebuilding process.
But every year, both contending and rebuilding teams find value in the early second round. Jalen Brunson, Gary Trent Jr., Nicolas Claxton and Herbert Jones are just a few players that come to mind, and there is reason to believe Orlando could strike gold this year.
If the Magic decide to use one or both of their second-round picks in this year’s draft, here are two players they should target.
Andrew Nembhard, PG, Gonzaga
What a lot of early second-round pick success stories have in common is that their teams selected them despite not playing a position of need.
In Brunson’s case, he was drafted the same year the Mavericks selected Luka Dončić in the first round and following a season where former Mavericks’ guard Dennis Smith Jr. was named to the All-Rookie Second Team.
Dallas’ backcourt was seemingly in good shape, yet four years later Brunson started 61 games during their regular season and was the second-leading scorer on a team that made the Western Conference Finals.
And despite sporting a backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, on top of selecting Anfernee Simons in the first round, the Portland Trailblazers traded for Gary Trent Jr. during the 2018 NBA Draft. Two weeks later, the Trailblazers signed Seth Curry, forcing one to believe Trent Jr. would never crack Portland’s rotation.
But the following season, the former Duke product averaged 16.9 points-per-game on 52 percent shooting in Portland’s eight “seeding” games during the NBA Bubble and has since found a home in Toronto.
Even though point guard may not be Orlando’s most pressing need, sometimes it makes sense to draft the player that has a bankable skill and can contribute right away.
Standing at 6-foot-4.5, Nembhard has good size for the position, but what separates him from his counterparts is his high basketball IQ. Basketball IQ can come in many forms and on both ends of the floor. For Nembhard, his intellect is most evident when operating in the pick-and-roll.
Following an NBA Draft Combine game in which he totaled 26 points and 11 assists (the most over the last four combines), Nembhard said, “I think my feel is second-to-none in this draft.”
Nembhard credited his high assist total to “sloppy coverages,” but even against high-level NCAA competition he routinely dissected all types of pick-and-roll coverages.
Against a switch, Nembhard is shifty enough to beat slow-footed bigs off the dribble and often used step-back maneuvers to create separation.
Against a hedge, he is adept at finding unique angles to hit the roll man and punish blitzing defenders. And against drop coverage, Nembhard showcased a solid in-between game to combat backpedaling big men.
Nembhard’s “feel” has been on display his entire college career. His assist percentage has never dipped below 20 percent and this past season with the Bulldogs, he led the West Coast Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Nembhard’s shot mechanics are a little wonky, as his two-motion jump shot tends to result in a lot of shots hitting the front of the rim. And despite shooting 38 percent from three with a 42.9 percent 3PAr this past season, Nembhard may be limited in who he could play alongside in Orlando’s backcourt.
But he increased his confidence and efficiency as a three-point shooter each season of his collegiate career. And although Nembhard is already 22-years-old, becoming an adequate to above-average three-point shooter is well within his range of outcomes.
The former Montverde product could prove to be a valuable contributor on the defensive end as well. He has good foot speed, evident by his lane agility time at the NBA Combine, and does a nice job staying vertical against slashing perimeter players.
Nembhard is not a “lockdown” perimeter defender, but playing alongside his former teammate Jalen Suggs would relieve him of taking on those tougher assignments. Not only that, a frontcourt that could potentially feature Holmgren (or Smith), Wendell Carter Jr. and Jonathan Isaac(?) would mitigate a lot of his mistakes on that end of the floor.
Nembhard is comparable to Boston’s Derrick White, both in terms of their size and skillset. Although Nembhard is more of a primary ballhandler, how they read the floor and ultimately impact winning is very similar.
Given how well he’s played during this year’s NBA Draft process, Nembhard may be off the board by Orlando’s No. 32 pick. But if the front office believes in his talent and he is still available in the late 20s, it may be worthwhile to package their two second-round picks and select him in the late first.
Jaylin Williams, C, Arkansas
Watching about five minutes of Arkansas’ Jaylin Williams will inevitably entice one about his potential in the NBA. The 6-foot-10 center has incredible defensive instincts, excels in help defense, has great vision for a player his size and is a solid defensive rebounder.
Williams took 54(!) charges this past season, about 1.46 per game, and 70 in his two seasons with the Razorbacks. Capturing a player’s defensive impact with a single number is irresponsible and often times inaccurate. But in Williams’ case, his charge total speaks to how well he analyzes that side of floor and his innate timing/positioning to routinely make these heady plays.
Let us use his two charges in Arkansas’ Elite Eight matchup against Duke as examples.
On the first charge, Duke’s Trevor Keels beats Arkansas’ Stanley Umude off the dribble. Notice how once Keels turns the corner, Williams briefly looks to see where Theo John, his man, is positioned. Had John been roaming in the short corner this would have been a much tougher play for Williams. But once Williams realizes John was not in great position to receive a dump off pass, he quickly gets above the restricted area and draws the offensive foul.
On the second charge, following an Arkansas’ turnover, Duke has a 2-on-1 opportunity with Wendell Moore and A.J. Griffin. Look at how Williams (slightly) overplays for a potential lob to Griffin, almost baiting Moore to take the layup. Then, at the last second as Moore plants his left foot to take off for a layup, Williams slides over in just enough time to draw his second charge in under a minute.
Williams’ split second defensive decision-making ranks among the best in this year’s draft class. And even though it does not result in a lot of highlight blocks, his contributions on that end of the floor cannot be understated.
Williams is also gifted in creating open looks for others, whether that be from a stationary point on the floor or as he drives to the rim and collapses a defense. Let us go back to that Duke game for some examples of this.
Some really nice passes from Arkansas' Jaylin Williams against Duke on Saturday. One of the better playmaking bigs in this class, if he declares for the draft. If he stays, Arkansas should be one of the best/most fun teams next season.@IntuitionHoops pic.twitter.com/RJCCOpZPq9— Brandon Simberg (@BrandonSimberg) March 28, 2022
In the second clip, you will see Duke’s switch on the strong side blow up Arkansas’ initial action, forcing Williams to pick up his dribble. Duke’s Mark Williams applies ball pressure, trying to force the turnover, but as the Razorbacks’ Au’Diese Toney is taking his second step on the backdoor cut against Griffin, Williams is already delivering a beautiful bounce pass for a wide open layup.
In the third clip, Williams receives a pass above the three-point line and takes one dribble before pass-faking high to get Banchero in the air. In this situation, a normal chest/overhead pass would have been picked off by either Banchero or Keels. By pass-faking, Williams gets two Duke players just out of position enough to execute a dump off pass to Trey Wade, ultimately leading to a dunk against the Blue Devils’ back line.
Williams has a similar skillset to Mason Plumlee, particularly when he was a member of the Denver Nuggets from 2016-2020. He was never the best athlete on the floor (albeit a good one), but he constantly made winning plays and his offensive versatility allowed him to play alongside more traditional bigs.
Williams’ draft position is seemingly more varied than Nembhard’s, but he will likely be on the board when Orlando is selecting at No. 35. If that is the case, with Mo Bamba set to hit restricted free agency and Robin Lopez unrestricted free agency, investing in a player like Williams only makes more sense.
Although these two players may not be perfect fits for the Magic, they both possess something crucial: the ability to immediately impact winning.
A lot of what Orlando decides to do with their second-round picks is incumbent on who they select No. 1 overall. But regardless of who that player is, Nembhard and Williams’ versatility will allow them to cater to their fellow rookie and the totality of Orlando’s roster.
Even though their ceilings may be limited, Nembhard and Williams’ multipurpose skillsets and overall maturity is part of the reason why their chance at success is slightly higher than some other second-round prospects.
As important as the No. 1 overall pick is for the Magic, just as vital is surrounding that player with the correct complementary pieces.
Just look at the four teams from this year’s Conference Finals and the number of impact players who were drafted in either the late first or early second round (Jordan Poole, Kevon Looney, Grant Williams, Robert Williams, Payton Pritchard, P.J. Tucker, Spencer Dinwiddie, Reggie Bullock, etc.).
These players may never become superstars, but they are superstars in the roles and indispensable components to their team’s overall success.