With the Orlando Magic currently standing at 17-46, it is looking increasingly likely that they will end up having a top five lottery selection in the 2013 NBA Draft. Unfortunately for the Magic there is no clear franchise guy in the 2013 crop of prospects.
Nerlens Noel, Shabazz Muhammad, Ben McLemore, Anthony Bennett and Cody Zeller have all been discussed as possible #1 picks at some point. Oklahoma State freshman Marcus Smart is another name that has received some strong momentum as of late. Despite the lack of a consensus lead pick, there is still quality to be had in the upcoming draft.
Bigs such as Noel, Zeller and Maryland’s Alex Len may be available for the taking but Orlando has a solid foundation going forward when it comes to Centers and Power Forwards.
Nikola Vucevic had solid per-36 minutes stats last season while with the Philadelphia 76ers but has been a revelation for the Magic this season as the starting center, averaging 12.3 points and 11.3 rebounds while playing 32.4 minutes a night. While Vucevic does not appear to have superstar potential, he is only 22 years old and is quickly getting better.
At the power forward position, rookie Andrew Nicholson has done well in stretches and has some David West like elements to his game. Nicholson stands at 6’9”, 250 pounds and has respectable per-36 minute stats averaging 17.8 points and 7.7 rebounds. He has a good feel around the basket, showing off nice touch and shooting 53.5 percent from the field. Nicholson is old for a rookie at 23 but his best basketball playing days appear to be ahead of him.
While I think Nicholson could be a valuable contributor going forward for Orlando, I am more of a fan of the newly acquired Tobias Harris. Harris can play both the 3 and 4 and has nice size at 6’8”, 226 pounds. He has played tremendously since coming to Orlando, scoring 15.5 points a game and grabbing 6.5 rebounds in his eight games with the team so far. Harris is only 20 years old and displays the ability to stretch the floor, hitting 40 percent of his threes as a member of the Magic.
In addition to Nicholson and Harris, “Big Baby” Glen Davis who is currently rehabbing from foot surgery still has two years left on his contract so there will be a logjam for minutes at the four.
I am personally a huge fan of combo forward freshman Anthony Bennett from UNLV but the Magic have options at the small forward position as well. Though Tobias Harris has the ability to play the three, he is slow on his feet defensively so playing him at that position would be best to combat opposing teams bigger lineups.
Maurice Harkless has lock down defender potential and is a excellent athlete who has come on strong late for Orlando. Harkless needs to improve offensively, particularly from the perimeter where he is shooting an awful 27.4 percent from downtown. He is only 19 years old however and reminds some of Trevor Ariza, which doesn’t sound great for his hopes to improve his shot but should bode well for him defensively.
Arron Afflalo, who has been the Magic’s leading scorer for much of the season averaging 16.8 points a night is also capable of playing the three. His reputation as a defensive stopper has taken a hit the past two seasons but his improved offense should make him a fixture in the Orlando lineup.
Orlando, like most lottery teams needs a savior but probably won’t find one in the 2013 NBA Draft. Having said that, there are some rookies that would fit in very well with this rebuilding squad. The Magic need a go-to scorer in the worst way and none of their current players fit the profile. There are three guys in particular that I would target on my draft board if I was GM Rob Hennigan.
3. Shabazz Muhammad
It took Shabazz a little while to get going because of his three game suspension by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits but lately is showing why he was the most decorated freshman coming into the 2012-13 season along with Nerlens Noel.
Muhammad has nice size for a wing at 6’6” 225 pounds and can play even bigger with his 6’11” wingspan. He is athletic enough to keep up with opposing shooting guards defensively and exhibits a great motor on that end.
Offensively, Shabazz has many ways that he can attack a defense and has proven to be an effective scorer for the UCLA Bruins, averaging 18.1 points a game on 44.9 percent shooting, including 41.5 percent from downtown. His play-making skills for teammates leave more to be desired however as he only averages 0.9 assists a night.
Muhammad being a lefty is also an asset to his game as southpaws can often times be harder to defend. He could still however stand to develop his right hand more as this will make him an even more dynamic threat on the offensive end. Comparisons to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have been made due to both players having such strong wills to win with Shabazz being a better scorer but not having the all-around game MKG has.
2. Ben McLemore
McLemore is a sweet shooting 2-guard that has evoked comparisons of a young Ray Allen. Kansas coach Bill Self has gone as far to say that McLemore is the most talented kid that he has ever coached which is wide praise considering some of the studs he has coached in the past.
As a redshirt freshman, Ben is scoring 16.5 points a game while adding 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists for the fourth ranked Jayhawks. What is most impressive about McLemore’s game is his efficiency taking into account his perimeter based game, he is shooting an unreal 50.2 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from deep.
McLemore combines solid shooting skills with elite level athleticism and appears to be just scratching the surface of his abilities. He moves well without the ball, which is an underrated skill for a player as young as he is.
Because McLemore has just recently burst onto the scene, he is still a relative unknown and it will be interesting to see if he can keep up the great momentum he has built up thus far. A good showing during March Madness will further solidify his draft status as a top five pick.
1. Marcus Smart
Smart does not fit the go-to scorer role need as well as my other two players but would not be a bad consolation prize at all for Orlando. I think of all the prospects mentioned he has the highest upside of the 2013 NBA Draft and is my pick for who the Magic should target first because of his all-around game. Smart is one of the premier freshman in the country playing for a very exciting Oklahoma State team that I believe will make serious noise in March Madness (that’s a different article altogether though :-p).
Marcus Smart is averaging 14.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists for the 14th ranked Cowboys and is a terror defensively getting 3 steals a game. He is explosive in transition and has great size for a point guard at 6’4′ 200 pounds. You will never question Smart’s effort on either end of the floor as he plays with intensity on every play and takes pride in locking down his assignment on defense.
Smart has a well-rounded game and his biggest flaw at the moment is his shot selection. He is only shooting 40.2 percent from the field and though he has decent mechanics, he is hitting less than 30 percent of his attempts from downtown.
I see a lot of Russell Westbrook in Smart which depending on how you feel about Russ could be a good or bad thing. Like Westbrook, Smart is just learning the point guard position (Westbrook did not play point guard in high school either) and already has a great NBA body. The shot selection could worry some teams but this is an area that can be fixed. Westbrook’s year to year improvement as a pro could serve as a good omen in Smart’s favor going forward.