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One week out, Smith remains ‘favorite’ to be first overall selection

The odds seem to be in Jabari Smith Jr.’s favor to be the top pick in the ‘22 draft. Can anyone unseat him?

2022 NBA Draft Combine Circuit Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2022 NBA Draft is officially one week away, and there still seems to be at least some mystery behind who the Orlando Magic will be taking with the first overall selection in the draft.

The Magic will be picking first for the fourth time in franchise history next Thursday night, and for the first time since Dwight Howard was selected first overall in 2004.

There seems to be a consensus among league executives and draft industry experts that the top three players in this class are (in varying combinations/orders) versatile big men Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith Jr. Smith has overwhelmingly held down the fort since the NBA Lottery results were announced last month as the favorite to be selected first overall by Orlando. You can currently bet on Smith Jr. to be the top overall pick at -145 odds on DraftKings Sportsbook.

SPORTS-BKN-MAGIC-SMITH-OS Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/ Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The 6-10 sharpshooting forward from Auburn worked out for the Magic last Thursday inside the Amway Center.

“I just feel like my will to win, and I can do so much,” Smith Jr. told reporters when asked why he should be the top pick in the draft. “I feel like I can come in right away and just make an instant impact (to any team) with my shooting ability, my ability to play defense, get a rebound and push it, ability to guard multiple positions – I feel like that separates me from a lot of people.”

The SEC Freshmen of the Year made 42 percent of his 188 three-point field goal attempts this past season. He finished top-five in the SEC in scoring (16.9 points per game), made three-point field goals (79), player efficiency rating (25.0), box plus/minus (11.1), and defensive rebounding percentage (23.5 percent) in 2021-22. In case you missed it, you can read all about Smith Jr. in our Orlando Pinstriped Post 2022 NBA Draft scouting report series.

We will find out next week just how fond the Magic are of Smith. But what was apparent when the Georgia-native came to Orlando for a workout was how familiar he was with the organization.

“I watch a lot of NBA games, and the games that I did watch of them I could tell how much fun they were having,” Smith Jr. told local media members after his workout last week. “No matter the record or the struggles they faced this season, you’d never guess that their record was what it was. Just watching them play (and) the joy they had, you would think they’re playing a game seven of the Finals every game. They are playing to win every game. Nobody was moping around because it was a tough season. Everybody’s still got that pop and that energy.”

2022 NBA Draft Combine Circuit Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

While Smith Jr. may be the betting favorite to head to Orlando (at the moment), it is assumed that the Magic will continue to weigh their options through next week. Two other candidates to be selected first overall, Holmgren (+120 on DraftKings) and Banchero (+2,000 on DraftKings), also offer the organization immense upside and opportunity. Holmgren, who took home both West Coast Conference Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors this past season, led the nation in Defensive Rating, two-point field goal percentage, and effective field goal percentage in 2021-22. Banchero, who was named the ACC Rookie of the Year, scored 20 or more points in a game on 15 separate occasions this past season.

Orlando Pinstriped Post 2022 NBA Draft Scouting Report: Chet Holmgren
Orlando Pinstriped Post 2022 NBA Draft Scouting Report: Paolo Banchero

Scouring some of the most respected draft content in the industry will lead one to the same outcome time and time again. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony has Smith Jr. heading to the Magic in his latest mock draft (Smith ranks second - behind Holmgren - on ESPN’s “best available” board), as does The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor in his latest mock (Smith ranks second - behind Banchero - on O’Connor’s big board), and The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie in his. Even SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell, who wrote a piece in May advocating for the Magic to pick Banchero first overall, has Orlando taking Smith Jr. in his latest mock draft (though he continues to believe Banchero is the better option).

In case you missed it, O’Donnell was kind enough to answer a few draft-related questions for us at Orlando Pinstriped Post last week.

While Holmgren and Banchero still have some time to win over hearts and minds in Orlando’s front office, the odds seem to be stacked in Smith Jr.’s favor. The Magic will have control of the top of the draft, and not to be forgotten...they also own two of the first five picks in the second round this year as well (numbers 32 & 35).

All eyes around the league will be on Orlando next Thursday night (well, at least for a little while). And frankly, that’s something that hasn’t been the case for the Magic in some time. Now, they just have to nail the pick.

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