At the moment, Paolo Banchero is the talk of the town; and rightfully so.
The former Duke standout became Orlando’s first No. 1 overall pick since 2004 and consequently a cornerstone for the franchise moving forward.
But another rarity occurred in Brooklyn last Thursday, as for the third time since 2017, the Magic selected a player in the second round: Caleb Houstan.
The 6-foot-8 consensus five-star wing from Montverde Academy was ESPN’s eighth ranked prospect in the class of 2021 and Michigan’s highest rated recruit since Glenn Robinson III in 2012. Houstan also represented Canada at FIBA tournaments in both 2019 and 2021.
While some believe Houstan failed to live up to his lofty expectations during his freshman year, part of that can be credited to being miscast in his role and his youthfulness; as he was the sixth-youngest player taken in the second round of this year’s draft.
That said, there is a reason Orlando took Houstan; aside from him being a big forward from Michigan. During his freshman season with the Wolverines, Houstan displayed a tremendous spot-up shooting ability and defensive upside.
On the season, Houstan shot 35.5 percent from beyond the arc, a mark that does not signify a three-point specialist. But in the 21 games against Big Ten conference opponents, Houstan raised that percentage to 38.9 percent, a more accurate representation of what Houstan was billed as coming out of high school.
When a player drastically improves their shooting percentage, especially for an extended period of time, it generally indicates a role change rather than ‘a hot shooting streak.’ That was the case for Houstan.
To start his freshman season, Houstan was tasked with initiating some of Michigan’s offense, but Houstan struggled in that position. His shot creation and playmaking chops lends itself better in a secondary or even tertiary role.
On top of that, it became quickly evident that Houstan struggled as a movement and off screen shooter, limiting the type of sets Juwan Howard and Michigan’s coaching staff could run for Houstan. That said, once Houstan became more of a connector in Michigan’s offense, his efficiency skyrocketed.
With the myriad of ballhandlers Orlando possesses: Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, and now Banchero, taking a player like Houstan who operates best as a weakside, floor-spacing target makes complete sense. And while it would still be beneficial for Orlando to invest in a veteran movement shooter, Houstan’s stationary shooting ability could be useful in spurts next season.
Defensively, Houstan has the discipline to be a positive defender at the next level, but he is still a work in progress. Houstan is not a defensive playmaker that racks up deflections and wows you with freakish athleticism. But last season he played under control and did a solid job containing most wings.
One area Houstan could stand to improve is not falling for jab steps, as that was a common tool Houstan’s opponents used to create space. That said, even when he found himself out of position, he worked to get back into every play and force a contest.
It could take some time for Houstan to become an impactful defender at the next level, but the potential is certainly there. And while it is difficult to envision a world where he becomes an elite 3-and-D wing like Mikal Bridges or Dorian Finney-Smith, in time Houstan could become an asset on that side of the ball.
Do not expect Houstan to get much run as a rookie. He will likely spend a majority of his first year with the Lakeland Magic, refining the rough edges of his game. That said, taking a swing on Houstan could pay dividends down the road. It may take a few years, but Houstan could become an integral part of the Magic’s rotation as the franchise finally begins to turn the corner.