Did the Orlando Magic Just Shoot An Air-Ball In the NBA Draft?

2014 NBA DRAFT: Orlando Magic

Coming into the 2014 NBA draft, it was clear that the rebuilding Orlando Magic needed to hit homeruns with both of their lottery picks. In order to give its fan base hope for the future, Orlando needed to come away with two impact players who can step in and provide immediate results. And in my opinion, the Orlando Magic completely missed the rim on their entire first-round draft strategy.

As a player, I like the six-foot-three inch point guard Elfrid Payton of Louisiana-Lafayette University. This pick makes sense because Orlando is in desperate need of a young point man to develop behind aging veteran Jameer Nelson. While Payton lacks a consistent perimeter jumpshot at this point in his career, he has an excellent wingspan which helps him get his active hands into passing lanes, and is a willing passer. The Magic can now pair Payton with second-year pro Victor Oladipo as they have a formidable young core with tons of potential in the backcourt.

However, the Magic had to pay a steep price for Payton because Philadelphia originally drafted the former Ragin’ Cajun with the 10th overall pick, two spots before Orlando’s second pick in the first round. As a result, Orlando had to relinquish the 12th overall pick (PF Dario Saric), a 2015 second-round pick, as well as a future first-round pick in order to acquire the draft rights to Payton. If Orlando’s plan all along was to pick up a power forward and a point guard with these two picks, a more prudent plan would have been to select Kentucky’s Julius Randle or Indiana’s Noah Vonleh at four, and grab a point guard like UCLA’s Zach LaVine at 12. This would have allowed Orlando to keep their future draft picks all to themselves.

As for Orlando’s selection of tweener forward Aaron Gordon with the fourth overall pick, I believe that this was clearly a reach. Gordon is an outstanding run-jump athlete that possesses Blake Griffin-caliber freakish athleticism. However, his offensive game is far from polished and both Randle and Vonleh are more effective and efficient with the ball in their hands. Vonleh has a much more advanced set of post-moves, has an effective perimeter game, can finish with either hand, and has the size and length to be an effective low-post defender. As for Randle, he is a bulldog on the block that was a consistent double-double performer for Kentucky during his lone year in Lexington. If Orlando wanted to instantly improve their roster, either one of these players would have been a better choice than Gordon.

Instead, Randle wound up going to the Los Angeles Lakers with the seventh overall pick, and Vonleh ended up falling to the Charlotte Hornets at nine. Gordon has great physical tools and will provide energy and effort in the Orlando Magic frontcourt, however, the Magic clearly left some interior skill on the table with this selection.

I understand that being an arm-chair GM is the easiest job on the planet because we will never know what would have and could have happened if the draft were to unfold differently. Furthermore, if these two young first-round picks of Orlando eventually become the centerpieces of a championship team, all will be forgotten. However, with two-first round picks at their disposal in a draft which was so deep in talent, I find it hard to believe that Orlando needed to surrender future first and second round picks in order to acquire two players of their choice. In addition, the reach pick of Aaron Gordon when more NBA-ready forwards like Randle and Vonleh were available could prove to be a costly mistake for Orlando down the road.