There’s no equivalent of Dwight Howard or Shaquille O’Neal for the taking in this year’s NBA Draft. Not even close.
So while the Orlando Magic and good-luck charm Pat Williams would have been ecstatic to emerge from the draft lottery Tuesday night in New York with the No. 1 pick, like they did in 2004 and in back-to-back years during the 1990s, this isn’t the worst year for the ball not to have bounced their way.
Let the Cleveland Cavaliers wrestle with the questions about whether Nerlens Noel will return by Christmas from a torn left ACL or has the type of body and shooting touch required for the pro game. The Magic, at No. 2, can explore any number of options before the night of June 27 without the intense scrutiny that comes with picking first.
Should the Cavs have misgivings about the health of the 6-foot-11 Noel, who spent one season at Kentucky, it could create an interesting situation for the Magic, who have never owned a second pick in their history.
With Nikola Vucevic coming off a season in which he was one of the NBA’s most improved players, and with Glen Davis expected to be back at full strength after fracturing his left foot four months ago, there’s not a pressing need for a center or power forward.
Guards have been chosen first overall in three of the past five years, and either Ben McLemore of Kansas or Trey Burke of Michigan — and possibly both — will still be available when the Magic’s turn rolls around. If general manager Rob Hennigan intends to draft based on greatest need, which can be a risky strategy, this could be the biggest advantage of going second.
McLemore is regarded as the best wing player in the draft and could stand to benefit from the veteran leadership of Arron Afflalo, who came over from the Denver Nuggets last summer and started 64 games this season.
Burke, the star of Michigan’s run to the national championship game, figures to be coveted by a team looking to get younger at a position where 31-year-old Jameer Nelson has been susceptible to injuries and 30-year-old Beno Udrih is an unrestricted free agent.
Small forward Otto Porter, the All-American from Georgetown, and power forward Anthony Bennett of UNLV are the only other prospects generally regarded as top five selections.
Considering the Magic were near the bottom of the league in steals, they might take a look at Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, a swingman and consensus All-American who was named the best defensive player in the country in at least one poll.
Rarely has a team in the Magic’s position traded down in the draft. The last time it happened was in 2006, when the Chicago Bulls took LaMarcus Aldridge second overall but traded his rights to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Bulls wound up with Tyrus Thomas, whose career has paled in comparison to Aldridge’s.
Aldridge and Kevin Durant have been the only No. 2 picks over the past decade to make a major impact. The Magic were heavily criticized in some quarters for taking Howard in 2004 instead of Emeka Okafor, who shared player of the year honors with Nelson and helped lead Connecticut to an NCAA title.
While Okafor wound up as Rookie of the Year with the Charlotte Bobcats, Howard has gone on to have the far better career.
It should make for an interesting five weeks ahead for the Magic.