Magic Sparks in the NBA Lottery
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Shaquille O’Neal in 1992, Chris Webber in 1993, and Dwight Howard in 2004. The Orlando Magic are, once again, the winner of the NBA lottery in 2022. After falling to a record of 22-60, the second-worst in the league, the Magic had a 14 percent chance of claiming the first overall pick. Now, with the first selection in the draft, the future of the Magic is brighter than ever.
The Orlando Magic have not had much success in winning throughout the past decade, as they have only made the playoffs twice in the last 10 years. The last time they made it past the first round was the 2009-10 season, and since that conference finals exit, the team has gone through six head coaches, now onto the seventh. After trading their only All-Star in Nikola Vučević last season, the team seemed to be continuing their cycle of mediocrity. However, the Magic are now establishing a renewed emphasis on a winning culture through a mix of young talent and veterans.
“Just the group of guys that we have, the staff, the organization, the players, that’s the exciting part behind it for me is that we all get to do this. It’s our first run. Just building a foundation from there is what’s really exciting about getting going,” said Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley at the beginning of the 2021-22 season.
Though the Magic had a disappointing end to the season, losing the last seven of nine games played, they have a lot to look forward to. The team’s roster is young and still developing, with 13 of their 17 players being younger than 25. The Magic will look to improve on the team while also developing young talent in the upcoming season, beginning with the first overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft. There are plenty of options to advance the team’s status in the league, but the three main strategies discussed among fans and the media are draft for talent, draft for fit, or trade the pick.
Though all the potential selections for the Orlando Magic are undoubtedly talented, one stands out above them all—center Chet Holmgren. Holmgren is considered a unicorn by many, with his lanky, seven-foot stature that can shoot 39 percent from the three-point line. He is also a force on the defensive end, using his long frame to reach over players and block shots, with 3.7 blocks per game in his one-year stint with the Gonzaga Bulldogs. His offensive and defensive box plus-minus exemplify his play, each being a plus 7.5, and he contributes 6.3 win shares to his team. Holmgren is considered one of the best overall players in the draft with tremendous upside to his game.
However, many argue that the Orlando Magic are also ripe with talent in the guard and center positions, with notable names of Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz, and Jalen Suggs playing as guards and Wendell Carter Jr., Mo Bamba, and Bol Bol as centers. With the Magic’s backcourt and center positions loaded with skillful players, forward Jabari Smith Jr. seems most fitting to be drafted by the Magic. Smith is considered one of the best shooters in the draft with one of the purest jump shots in his class, proven with his 42 percent accuracy from the three-point line. Now more than ever, shooting is vital in Orlando, with the Magic sitting at third worst in the league shooting from three. Smith also matches Holmgren in offensive box plus-minus, with a plus 7.4. Though Smith doesn’t match up to Holmgren in terms of defensive prowess, Smith’s shooting and offensive game make him a better fit for the Magic. With forward Jonathan Isaac being out for the foreseeable future, drafting a forward with such high potential is a good likelihood for the Magic.
There is one more option mentioned that, though it may seem unlikely, can never be ruled out—trading the pick. This would open up many opportunities for the Magic. They would no longer have to stick to one prospect but rather accumulate lots of high-quality talent needed to build a winning team, like players later in the draft, such as Keegan Murray, Jalen Duren, and AJ Griffin. Having any of these players would be a great consolation prize for not drafting the star player the Magic wanted, and they would obtain assets that could help them continue their team-building with a mix of veterans and young players.
The NBA has been evolving into a positionless game, with players like Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith Jr. becoming essential parts of winning basketball. A decision like this will shape the future of the Magic franchise as we know it and will inform us of the direction of the team. We never know what will happen in the draft since teams try to mislead each other every step of the way. But, whatever the Magic do, they will have players to look forward to in the upcoming 2022-23 NBA season.