We aren’t even to Christmas yet and it appears that 6 NBA teams are already looking forward to placing their hopes on the ping-pong balls of the 2022 NBA Draft Lottery. As of December 7, 2021 Lottery odds have the following teams in the highest order: The Detroit Pistons, The Orlando Magic, The New Orleans Pelicans, The Oklahoma City Thunder, The Houston Rockets, and the San Antonio Spurs who are all under ten wins on the season so far (Two weeks later and these are still the bottom 6 teams). Unsurprisingly, all six of these teams found themselves in the lottery last year with Detroit, Orlando and Houston all securing top 5 picks, New Orleans traded out of the lottery in a bid to build around Zion Williamson who, yet again, finds himself in street clothes rehabbing and leaving the Pelicans without clear direction for the future.
The inverse of the relative sadness of teams setting themselves up for short term failure in efforts to procure better lottery odds is the myriad of young talent vying to be selected with those precious draft picks. Names like Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr., and Paolo Banchero top a list of prospects who have absolutely stunned the college ranks with their skills. Lesser known names like Patrick Baldwin Jr., Jalen Duren and Jaden Ivey seek to get their names into the illusive top five by playing the NCAA’s game and searching (in some cases extremely unsuccessfully) for a tournament bid and a rise to pre-draft stardom. There are also foreign prospects and those who haver forgone the college rout for the NBA G-League or other developmental programs like Serbian star Nicola Jovic, speedy point guard Jean Montero from the Overtime Elite team and the G-League Ignite’s Jaden Hardy.
For the most part the goal of a team drafting this high is to draft the best player available, however some teams (specifically Houston, New Orleans, and San Antonio) already have invested in young players with all-star upsides so they may be more wary of team fit in these exercises. The goal of the next series of posts here will be to break down how each of these teams could be currently evaluating talent, both on their own rosters and the prospects of whom they could draft.
The Orlando Magic
State of the Franchise
Dan DeVos has been at the helm of Magic leadership for a decade now and has seen his fair share of competing and rebuilding. He’s not going to get impatient with a rebuild that he just started last year. The team has stayed in relative mediocrity for the last few years with finishes either firmly in the lottery or quick playoff exits over DeVos’ entire tenure. The team made a major pivot last year by shipping out All-Star Center Nikola Vučević to the Bulls for Wendell Carter and picks as well as high flying forward Aaron Gordon being dealt to the Nuggets for a package that included Garry Harris and RJ Hampton.
GM John Hammond is currently in year four of a five year deal but really does feel safe because of planning. Hammond is the guy who drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo to the Bucks so he’s going to get a lot of leeway when he leans to raw players in the draft. The final piece of their leadership is new coach Jamahl Mosley who’s highly regarded around the league and has shown he’s not at all out of his element this year even with a roster intentionally built not to compete.
The team has no shortage of young building blocks for the future either. Cole Anthony is averaging nearly 20 points a night and proving he’s a legitimate guard prospect. The two current lottery prospects Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagoner have shown real flashers even with Suggs missing most of the year to injury right now. Currently injured players Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz provide almost too much talent and too little identity on this team.
The team could easily chose to move on from one of their starting big men in Mo Bamba or Wendell Carter jr. while still having a glut of talent. It’s easy to believe that at least a few of the group of Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, Chuma Okeke, RJ Hampton, and Terrance Ross could be on the move to make space for a player in the future. The backcourt feels particularly stacked currently with Cole Anthony, this years number 5 pick Jalen Suggs, RJ Hampton, Garry Harris, Mychal Moulder and Terrance Ross competing for minutes there, A problem that will only compound when Fultz comes back from injury. I would expect the Magic to really look into trading Fultz if there’s a market for him.
What does the team Need?
With this glut of young talent what does Orlando actually need going forward? A few things come to mind when you think about that. The team wide shooting percentage is at 32% from three which leaves some to be desired but when we realize that on the wings it’s even more bleak with only Rookie Franz Wagner shooting above 35% in that SG/SF spot right now. Add in the fact that normal sharpshooter Terrence Ross in a major slump it just means that wing shooting should be a priority. Another priority is to address what’s going on at the 4/5. The team has seemed content to start Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. when both are healthy and while it leaves some to be desired while they chase wings around the perimeter on defense it has lead to some really good rim protection and neither guy hurts the spacing as both shoot over 32% from three on some legit volume. With a top three pick they could either lean into this strategy by picking Mo Bamba+ in Chet Holmgren or they could go the exact opposite direction by getting a bruising interior 4 in Paolo Banchero, or go small by getting combo forward Jabari Smith Jr. However I feel like the biggest need for this team is a team identity right now they have a bunch of complementary guys and no real sense of identity.
The top three targets for any team in this draft should be Holmgren, Banchero and Smith Jr. Orlando will probably pick one of these three if they get a top three pick. With the first pick I can’t imagine Orlando passing on the promise of Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren here. GM John Hammond made his calling card by picking a skinny, highly skilled kid out of Greece in his time with the Bucks so I almost imagine that Chet is too hard to pass here. He provides everything they get out of Bamba and more. If they’re really looking for someone to give them an offensive identity Paolo Banchero from Duke has the skill to be an offensive centerpiece from day one and they might go there. Part of me suspects that they will sneak out and pick Jabari though. This team is full of multi-positional guys who play their butts off defensively and that is exactly what Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. provides.
If they fall out of the top three they could pivot from trying to replace Mo Bamba to trying to upgrade Wendell Carter and pick Memphis big Jalen Duren. Duren isn’t quite the shooter you want with this team but he’s a defensive force already who quite frankly would be a reminder of Magic centers of the past like Dwight and Shaq in terms of play style. Another option would be Jaden Hardey out of the G-League Ignite he’s a wing with the promise of some shooting even though he’s been in a slump. If they really fall they might look at Adrian Griffin out of Duke who’s shooting nearly 47% from three on limited minutes.
The team needs an Identity but luckily they’re in position to draft a guy who gives them an instant identity with this draft class. Cole Anthony is holding down the fort now. Isaac, Suggs and Fultz will be back soon. The future in Orlando is looking MAGICal…