After turning over the title of the luckiest team in the history of the NBA draft lottery to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic can turn their attention to who they should select next month with the fourth and 12th overall picks.
As far as consolation prizes go, this isn’t bad at all. Sure, the Magic had the third-best odds of winning the lottery as a result of finishing with the third-worst record in the league last season. And while logic would suggest center Joel Embiid and forwards Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker will be gone by the time their turn rolls around June 26, enough crazy things have happened over the years with the first three picks – for example, the Cavaliers’ baffling selection of Anthony Bennett a year ago – that general manager Rob Hennigan might still well benefit from someone else’s attempt at a reach.
But if one thing became more likely Tuesday night for the Magic, it’s the chances of Dante Exum becoming their point guard of the future.
“Certainly we would have liked to have seen the highest number possible for us,” Hennigan said afterward in New York, where the lottery was held. “But we like where we’re sitting. We feel like we’ll get a good player. We feel like we’ve got our work cut out for us here in the next few weeks to figure out exactly who that is.”
Unlike Victor Oladipo, who they took after Bennett went off the board, there is little debate whether Exum is a point guard or shooting guard. Then again, aside from YouTube footage and an occasional magazine or online profile, there is little known about the 6-foot-6 native of Australia.
Wiggins and Parker were built up on a national scale before their first college games, while Embiid’s freshman season at Kansas catapulted him into the discussion – even after a stress fracture in his back kept him from participating in the NCAA tournament. All Exum, who won’t turn 19 until July, would seem to have in common with those three is his callowness.
But he has been described as explosive and creative, traits which have been in short supply around the Magic while they’ve suffered an NBA-high 121 losses since the start of the 2012-13 season. It also speaks highly of him that his agent is also Kobe Bryant’s agent and that Exum has spent the past few weeks in Los Angeles, perhaps on the chance that he might end up Bryant’s teammate with the Lakers.
Unlike the three players most likely to end up with Cleveland, Milwaukee or Philadelphia, Exum didn’t pull out of last week’s draft combine in Chicago. When asked there about perhaps playing for the Magic, he said he knew Oladipo and referred to center Nikola Vucevic as “a great big man.”
Since coming to the Magic as part of the blockbuster trade in which Dwight Howard was sent to the Lakers, Vucevic has benefitted from the passing skills of Jameer Nelson. But the franchise’s all-time leader in assists is 32. Nelson could be released before the bulk of his $8 million salary for next season is applied to the salary cap in July, but a more likely scenario is keeping him around in case the Magic select Exum or use the 12th pick on Tyler Ennis of Syracuse.
Ennis is another player leaving after one year in college. While not someone who received the buildup of Embiid, Wiggins or Parker, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Embiid could be the next Howard. But he also could be the next Greg Oden. Wiggins looked ready after one year at Kansas. But people were saying similar things about Ben McLemore at this time a year ago.
Parker is making the leap from Duke to the NBA after his freshman year like Kyrie Irving did in 2011. Irving has still never taken the Cavaliers to the playoffs. But is a secondary school affiliated with Australia’s Institute for Sport the place to groom a point guard to face the likes of Chris Paul and Tony Parker? The Magic could be on the verge of finding out that very thing.
“You never know,” Hennigan said. “You’re making a guess on human beings. So you never know quite how it will turn out. But we certainly feel like it is a strong draft.”