Who should the Orlando Magic select with No. 1 pick: Jabari Smith, Chet H or Paolo Banchero?
On Tuesday night, the Orlando Magic won the NBA Draft lottery, allowing the organization yet another chance at a reboot that is now a decade in the making.
Most prognosticators believe that the top spot is down to three individual players: Duke's Paolo Banchero, Auburn's Jabari Smith and Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren.
Aaron Torres, and Torres Online college hoops writer Zac Krul debate: Who should the Magic take No. 1 overall, as the guys have two very different answers.
Zac Krull: Jabari Smith, Auburn
After winning the draft lottery for the fourth time in franchise history and the first time since 2004, the Orlando Magic now have a major decision to make. Unlike many drafts of years past, there isn’t necessarily a consensus No. 1 prospect, so the Magic will have some options. The story from many coming out of the lottery, would be the opportunity to pair 2021 first round pick Jalen Suggs with his former high school teammate Chet Holmgren. The basketball world saw Holmgren’s unique game up close in 2022, as he possesses the skills of some guards, while also standing 7-feet tall and having potential as an elite rim protector. At the same time however, this is a Magic team that has fallen victim to the intrigue of a high ceiling center in the past and it hasn’t always worked out (think Mo Bamba, and to a smaller degree Jonathan Isaac). While there is a possibility Chet turns into the next NBA unicorn, Orlando isn’t the place for him to unlock that full potential, despite his former high school teammate Suggs already being on the roster.
Instead, the Magic should look into the guy who is NBA ready, while also having a higher ceiling. That is Jabari Smith from Auburn, and the Magic would be making a major mistake passing on him with the No. 1 overall pick. Smith is 6’10” and has a 7-foot-2 wingspan and put on weight after arriving at Auburn. He projects as someone who could add size and length to lineups without a true center. Looking around at the remaining teams left in the NBA Playoffs, they all have one thing in common. They are not playing a true center in crunch time, and everyone who plays the five, also has the ability to defend on the perimeter. In the year 2022, the most successful NBA teams are not building around a five like Holmgren, and it is becoming more and more clear by the day that tough shot makers are what you need. That is exactly what Jabari poses, as NBADraft.Net listed that as Smith's scouting report almost verbatim. Here is what they wrote:
“Among the best pull-up jump shooters in the country, particularly from beyond the arc and just inside the arc. 44% three-point shooter on over 5 attempts per game through 17 games … Has the length and size to elevate above most defenders and knock down jumpers whenever he gets to his spot.” In a draft with no top premier guard, a guy with legitimate size and shot making ability is the guy you need to build your team around.
The other thing that really stood out about Smith throughout the season was his appreciation for Auburn. In many cases, the son of a former NBA player and guy who is projected to be a top pick will be focused on the NBA and leaving college as quickly as possible. However, the opposite could be said for Smith as it was clear how genuine his love for Auburn really was. Auburn coach Bruce Pearl spoke multiple times throughout the season, how thankful Jabari was for his Auburn experience and just how much the experience of playing college basketball meant to him. So much so Jabari made it a priority to let Pearl know what his exact plans were, despite it being somewhat of a no brainer. “You think Jabari really needed to come in and tell me he was going to be eligible for the draft? You know, that’s a foregone conclusion,” Pearl said. “Jabari will go in as the best jump-shooting big in college basketball over the last 10 years. He demonstrated he could guard one through five, and he’s tough. And he’s mentally tough, too. And he’s confident. And he did it on a big stage. He’s not afraid of the moment. He’ll get stronger as he gets older. He’s 18 years old.”
With this high praise, the ability to make tough shots, and the fact that he’s only getting better, Jabari should be the Magic’s top priority in the draft.
Aaron Torres: Paolo Banchero, Duke
There's something that I say on my podcast often, and that's that, in life, two things that are seemingly different, can both be true.
And I think that's the case with the Orlando Magic here.
I believe Jabari Smith is the most skilled player in this draft, with the highest upside.
I also believe that the Magic should select Paolo Banchero with the first overall pick.
Look, I don't need to give out Smith's bona-fides here, Zac did an awesome job of listing them all above.
At the same time, let me give out the Orlando Magic's bona-fides: They've have seven Top 10 picks since 2013, most of which they've whiffed on. They've made the playoffs just two times in the last 10 years. They've won zero playoff series, and a total of three NBA playoff games since 2010.
Think about that last one: The Phoenix Suns, who have been universally crushed across sports media in the last few days for falling in the Western Conference semifinals won as many games against Dallas in that series, as Orlando has won in the playoffs since 2010.
I mean seriously, this organization is just pathetic. And while I can't claim to know what the mood of the fan-base is at this moment, but I tend to think that it's going to be hard to sell another toolsy, high-upside player to whatever remains of their fan-base. You need a guy who can both contribute now, and turn into a star down the road. You need Paolo Banchero.
Now look, I know the concerns about Banchero; most notably that he isn't super athletic, and the NBA is trendy more towards spacing, speed, shooting and athleticism. I get that. I have also followed him since right after his sophomore year of high school, when he was then a mostly oversized, 6'9, low post back to the basket player.
Right around the end of his junior year of high school in 2020, I remember speaking to someone close to him who claimed that most of the basketball world thought that, at 17-years-old, Paolo had already hit his ceiling. Then he spent most of Covid working on his game, and fundamentally changing how he played, evolving into the big, stretch four, playmaker that you saw in college this past season.
I bring all that up to say that just because Banchero is a more finished product than Smith right now, it doesn't necessarily mean he is, in fact a finished product.
Which is why I like the fit for Orlando so much.
He is a guy who can step in and contribute right away (appeasing the fan-base in the process) but also has room to grow his game as well.
It's a win-win for an organization that desperately needs it.
And in my opinion, Banchero is the player that the Magic need to draft.
Follow Zac Krull on Twitter - @ZacKrull_