With the No. 1 pick, the Orlando Magic need to take … the right guy! | Commentary



Here we are on the verge of the NBA Draft and our local team has the No. 1 overall pick.

As has become custom, it is the job of those in the local and national media to definitively tell the Orlando Magic and Jeff Weltman, the team’s president of basketball operations, whom they should choose and why.

It is our job in the media to write and say things like, “The Magic need a scorer, which means they have to take Auburn power forward Jabari Smith, who is an elite 3-point shooter with the athleticism to create his own shot and to guard multiple positions on defense.”

Or: “The Magic can’t afford to miss on this pick, which is why they must take Duke power forward Paolo Banchero, who is the most NBA-ready of all the top prospects, has great offensive versatility and is a deft ballhandler and passer for a big man.”

Or: “The Magic must find a star, which is why it’s imperative they take Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, a 7-footer with the most upside of anybody in the draft, exceptional length, lethal 3-point shooting and the ability to protect the rim.”

I’m sorry, but I refuse to take part in this ridiculous ritual of fans and media members acting like we know more than the people who make millions of dollars to evaluate basketball talent.

Go ahead and accuse me of being derelict in my duties as a know-it-all sports columnist, but I will not and cannot tell Weltman whom he should pick.

If you’re a Magic fan, all I can tell you is to close your eyes, cross your fingers and keep reciting the mantra:

“In Jeff we trust.”

“In Jeff we trust.”

“In Jeff we trust.”

Weltman and Magic general manager John Hammond have been in the talent evaluation business for years and have an army of scouts who have been studying this draft for months. All you can do is hope and pray they get it right.

One of my biggest pet peeves in sports are the vast number of sports fans and media members who watch a couple of weeks of college basketball during the NCAA Tournament and suddenly fancy themselves as NBA draft gurus. One of these so-called experts was on social media the other day talking about how Weltman would be making a huge mistake if he drafted “Chad” Holmgren. Another said the Magic would be fools if they passed on “Jabbar” Smith.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: At the beginning of each college basketball season, most sports fans couldn’t name five college basketball players in the entire country, but by the time the NBA Draft arrives they have suddenly become the second coming of Jay Bilas.

Need I remind you what the “experts” said the last time the Orlando Magic had the No. 1 overall pick? Who will ever forget NBA Draft night 2004 when most fans and media believed the Magic should take proven UConn center Emeka Okafor over unproven high school big man Dwight Howard.

Said the bombastic Stephen A. Smith at the time: “The Orlando Magic cannot play a guessing game. Emeka Okafor is the man. He’s the answer.”

After the Magic picked Howard, Dick Vitale ranted, “In 10 years, man, the Magic are going to regret not taking Mr. Okafor!”

Howard, of course, became one the greatest centers of the modern era. Okafor was a decent player but never became a star.

It should be noted that the Magic GM who made the ultimate decision to pick Howard over Okafor was none other than John Weisbrod, a former minor-league hockey player who had no real experience as an NBA front office executive when he was hired by the Magic.

Translation: Even blind squirrels can find acorns (and superstars) every now and then.

In today’s world, the NBA Draft is even more unpredictable and volatile because teams mostly have a one-year window to judge the top players in college basketball.

Even if you have the No. 1 pick, there are no guarantees. In 2017, for instance, the Philadelphia 76ers took Markelle Fultz, who flopped in Philly before resurrecting his career in Orlando. With the third pick in 2017, Boston took Jayson Tatum, who just led the Celtics into the Finals.

In 2019, the New Orleans Pelicans used their No. 1 overall pick to take Zion Williamson, who was considered a can’t-miss prospect out of Duke but has struggled with injuries since he turned pro. Meanwhile, the second pick in 2019, Murray State guard Ja Morant, has made Memphis one of the most exciting young teams in the league.

Then, of course, there’s superstar Steph Curry, who was taken No. 7 overall in the 2009 draft and just led the dynastic Golden State Warriors to their fourth NBA title in eight years. None of the six players taken ahead of Curry in 2009 has ever won an NBA ring.

These are just a few of the reasons I would never, ever tell the Magic who they should take with their No. 1 overall pick.

When it comes to the NBA draft, I prefer to stay in my lane and know my role.

It’s Jeff Weltman’s job to get it right.

It’s my job to criticize him if he gets it wrong.

Email me at [email protected]. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and HD 101.1-2

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