I was asked once again earlier this month to make Orlando’s lottery pick in SB Nation’s annual Bloggers Mock Draft. The only difference this time around was that the process began with Orlando Pinstriped Post, as the Orlando Magic are primed this week to make the first overall selection in the NBA Draft for the fourth time in franchise history.
Given the current anticipation and overall excitement surrounding the Magic and what they will ultimately do on draft night (June 23rd), naturally I was more than happy to participate in the fun. When the mock draft commenced last week, I was actually with my family at SeaWorld Orlando (strange coincidence, but last year when I made Orlando’s two picks in the SB Nation Blogger Mock Draft, I was with the family at Universal Studios). Not to worry, yours truly was nowhere near the “splash zone” at the Orca Encounter, so I was able to multi-task on a very warm summer afternoon in Central Florida.
Before I get into my selection for Orlando, I thought I would provide a little bit of context. Trades were not allowed as part of this exercise, and I mention that because if they were allowed...well, then I probably would have tried to swing some kind of deal to move down a spot or two.
Full disclosure, I’m pretty even as far as how I feel about the presumed top three prospects in this year’s draft class: Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith Jr. They are exciting young big men that all possess multiple talents and tremendous upside. If I were the Magic, I would have a fair amount of confidence and comfort coming away with any of the three of them.
So my thought process would have been, ‘let’s see if either Oklahoma City (drafting second) or Houston (drafting third) has any interest parting with an asset or two in an attempt to move up in the draft’. Alas, that kind of scenario was understandably not on the table for me during this mock draft, so I had to put myself out there and make this pick with my chest.
1st overall pick in the SB Nation NBA Blogger Mock Draft:
Jabari Smith Jr., forward (Auburn)
Like I said above, while it’s an empowering feeling for a team to control the draft from the pole position, I would have at least explored any and all opportunities to possibly move down to either pick two or three (if trades would have been allowed). Some combination of future picks and/or young players in return for the first overall pick would have likely been enough for me to spearhead some kind of pick swap (assuming that one of the three top prospects in this class would have still been available).
I do not envy the decision Orlando’s front office has in front of them, this was no easy task. I gave all three top big men (Smith, Holmgren, and Banchero) a look here. If I were running the Magic, I think I would lean towards taking Banchero with this pick, but I wanted to make this as realistic as possible (and I’m not convinced Orlando is seriously considering him). I went with Smith because I think his combination of elite shooting and defensive upside plays in this league on any team/within any ecosystem. I’m not worried about his handle and limited ability to create space in one-on-one situations (or his finishing ability). He just turned 19, and I think his upside is as strong as anyone’s in this class.
Smith is as lethal of an outside shooting prospect as there’s been come into the league in some time. The fact that the South Atlanta-native is 6-10 makes his shooting prowess even that much more impressive (and tantalizing), given the ease that he can get his shot off over smaller defenders. The Auburn freshmen was a ‘tough shot’ maker as a freshmen this past season, knocking-down spot-up looks, turn-around jumpers in the mid-range, coming off screens, and even pullups off one-to-two dribbles.
The five-star one-and-done collegiate phenom shot 42 percent from beyond the arc on 188 attempts in 2021-22. Smith made at least three three-point field goals in a game on 14 separate occasions this past season (just under 45% of his overall field goal attempts came from beyond the arc). His shot gravity and the pressure Smith will likely apply on opposing defenses could potentially create considerably more spacing for players such as Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Markelle Fultz, and Wendell Carter Jr.
The son of a former NBA player, Smith Jr. also profiles as a plus-defender at the next level. The long and lanky big man plays with an incredible amount of energy. His ability to switch, help, communicate, slide his feet, stay in front of opponents, and use his long arms to wreak havoc (without fouling) leads one to believe that the 19 year-old can possibly develop down the road into a defensive leader for any team that ultimately drafts him. The Auburn freshmen is not a physically imposing specimen - like a Banchero, nor is he an elite shot-blocker - like a Holmgren. Smith’s defensive contributions will stem from his uncanny instincts, ultra-competitiveness, and positional versatility.
Sandwiched long-term in between Wagner and Carter Jr., Smith Jr. could help the Magic form one of the more versatile and successful young frontcourts in the league.
Like just about any other teenage prospect to ever enter the NBA, Smith’s game is far from perfect. At 6-10, Smith got himself into trouble at times last season when he tried to create too much/too often off the live dribble. He’s more than capable of getting his team a bucket off the dribble, but it’s usually off just a couple of dribbles into a pull-up jumper (or at least that’s what the majority of what he showed last season at Auburn was). Will he ever develop into a guy that can create separation and space for himself off the dribble at the next-level?
And when he does get to the basket, will he be able to develop enough touch (and strength) to finish at the rim at a higher clip than the pedestrian 65 percent he managed in 2021-22 as a freshmen (Smith’s 2PT FG% was a lowly 43.5%)?
At the end of the day, if I were the Magic - I would bet on Smith Jr. fully developing into (if not exceeding) his perceived ceiling as a player.
As I wrote in my scouting report of Smith Jr., I think the Georgia native is unfairly labeled as a prospect with a ‘3-and-D role-player’ type ceiling, because he already excels in two areas of the game (shooting, defense) where many role players in the league also provide value:
Ultimately, I think Smith unfairly gets labeled as a prospect with just role-player potential because some of the things he’s best at on the floor - namely shooting the three-ball and playing defense - are also the same skills that many successful ‘3-and-D’ elite role-players in the NBA possesses. Yes, Smith’s handle and overall toughness finishing in the painted area are parts of his game where he must make strides to justify taking him near (or at) the top of this draft. But again, you have to remember, the young man just turned 19. He’s one of the youngest prospects in this class, and it’s probably not the safest bet to assume that he’s never going to improve. Just because his floor fits the profile of a very successful NBA role-player, that doesn’t mean that’s all Smith is ever going to be in this league. Even ‘playing off’ some rather uninspiring guards at Auburn last season, Smith teased how much of an offensive weapon he can be as a floor-spacer.
ESPN’s Jonathan Givony had this to say about Smith Jr. prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament back in March:
“Smith has emerged as one of the most dynamic shooters in college, converting 43% of his 3-pointers despite standing 6-foot-10. Running off screens, pulling up in transition, making iso step-back jumpers and hitting impossible fadeaways out of the post — seemingly no shot is too difficult for the 18-year-old thanks to his high release point and soft touch. Smith is also a highly versatile defender who plays with outstanding intensity, switching all over the floor with quick feet and impressive energy.
He has been just as effective against elite-level competition as he was early in the season, as his confidence has grown and the degree of difficulty of attempts has increased with little drop-off. NBA scouts have questions about Smith’s ability to create offense for himself and others and be efficient inside the arc. He lacks a degree of strength and explosiveness, converting just 44% from 2-point range. And he has averaged as many turnovers as assists, making it difficult for him to emerge as a late-game, go-to option, which has hampered Auburn at times with its inconsistent guard play.”
So for a team that has really struggled to create space and make shots from the perimeter in the recent past, Smith Jr. makes a lot of sense as another piece to go along with what the organization has already put together (Wagner, Suggs, Fultz, Anthony, Carter Jr., etc.). But if the Magic do ultimately make this same choice, I don’t think it will be just because Smith Jr. can shoot the basketball at a high-clip.
It will be because Orlando believes in his overall game, his tremendous upside, and the idea that Smith Jr. fits the bill as the top overall prospect in this class. And if that is the case, then I would have to go ahead and agree.
So Magic fans, how did we do? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.