The Orlando Magic have had some success in the draft during the past five years, accumulating talent and now appear to be one of the most intriguing teams in a woeful Eastern Conference. Orlando has one of the more talented young cores in the league, and should continue to be on the rise in the future as they continue to develop.
The Magic have been smart using trades and the draft to acquire the right prospects that fit the mold of the roster, and with head coach Scott Skiles at the helm, they should improve defensively this season. It’s on offense — with the team’s relative lack of spacing — where they need to grow most. And they’ve struggled with it already, posting an offensive rating of 98.5 (22nd in the league). Although, they have improved defensively with a 98.5 rating (10th in the league, compared to 107.7 last year, 24th in the NBA per basketball-reference.com).
So, how have the Magic utilized the draft to get this roster where it is today?
It the 2011 draft, the Orlando Magic acquired combo forward Justin Harper at pick 32 from the Cleveland Cavaliers for 2013 and 2014 second round picks. Harper fit the mold of a Stan Van Gundy player but has struggled to stick in the league. Orlando waived him in October of 2012, and he was last cut by the Brooklyn Nets this past October as well. Swingman DeAndre Liggins looked like a solid second-round pickup, providing physical defense and a versatile all-around game, but he left in September 2012 to sign with Oklahoma City and currently plays in Germany professionally.
2012 marked the beginning of drafting the Magic’s current core, with Canadian big man Andrew Nicholson at pick 19 followed by big man Kyle O’Quinn 30 picks later. Nicholson remains with the Magic today after Orlando extended his contract through the 2015-16 season in October 2014. The Magic could have done the same with O’Quinn, but opted against it, and he signed with the New York Knicks. Nicholson gives Orlando depth and helps as a pick-and-pop big man off the bench, but it’s unclear if he’ll remain with Orlando past this season.
The Magic’s highest selection the past five years game in 2013, when the team took athletic shooting guard Victor Oladipo at number two overall. He has become a budding star in his third season for Orlando and continues to improve, seemingly with every game.
The Magic took combo forward Romero Osby at pick 51, but the Magic waived him months later before the season started. Obviously Oladipo was the big fish in 2013, and he looks to be a building block of the future for the Magic as they continue their upward trajectory towards Eastern Conference playoff contention in the coming years.
The 2014 draft brought the Magic two intriguing lottery talents in athletic combo forward Aaron Gordon at the fourth overall pick while trading up to pick 10 to select their point guard of the future in Elfrid Payton. Payton was excellent as a rookie, finishing fourth in Rookie of the Year voting, and should continue to be a staple in the backcourt alongside Oladipo. Gordon has been injury prone so far, but has shown enough improvement on the perimeter to play both forward spots a bit, and could potentially develop into a lockdown defender. The 2014 draft was incredibly important to the Magic future, and it’s looking like both lottery prospects should continue to be prominent players in Orlando’s future.
This past year, Orlando addressed their need of a floor-spacing swingman by taking Croatian Mario Hezonja at the fifth overall pick. Hezonja has seen less than 15 minutes per game as a rookie under new coach Scott Skiles this season through four games, and has hit 5-of-9 threes during his time on the floor, but Skiles doesn’t trust him enough defensively to give him more time. Combo guard Tyler Harvey was the pick at number 51, and Harvey was sent down to the D-League for more development. Hezonja’s potential is through the roof, but it will take some time before Skiles trusts him enough to become a more important contributor for this team. In the meantime, his ability to shoot the ball should allow him to play minutes off the bench as a lethal floor-spacer for Orlando this season.
The Magic have done a quality job of drafting a core group of players and developing them for the future. The acquisition of Nikola Vucevic in August of 2012 was another great decision the front office has made, as his youth — 25 years old — fits in perfectly with the core draftees. The Magic might not be there right now, as bench scoring is an issue, but the right additions in free agency might be all they need to take that next step. The talent is certainly there for Orlando, and it shouldn’t be too long before they’re competing in the dreadful East, especially with the recent addition of defensive-minded Skiles as head coach.