Orlando Magic: A look back at NBA Draft history before 2017

Despite some disappointment with the Orlando Magic landing the sixth pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the team has had plenty of luck on this occasion in the past.

The Orlando Magic entered this week’s 2017 NBA Draft Lottery most likely to get the fifth pick in the upcoming draft.

Instead they slipped to the sixth pick, feeding into the growing belief that this team can’t even achieve the modest expectations placed upon them.

What people seem to forget however, is that the Magic actually have a strong relationship with both the draft and the lottery process.

But is that bond fading over time, and exactly how bad have things gotten since the heyday of winning back-to-back lotteries in the early 90s?

While it may be true to say that the draft has not been kind to this team in recent seasons, that was most certainly not always the case.

In fact the Magic have picked first overall three times in their history, tied second most all-time with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Both lag behind the Los Angeles Clippers, who have had the top pick on five occasions.

With those first picks, the team selected Shaquille O’Neal (1992), Chris Webber (1993, which became Penny Hardaway) and Dwight Howard (2004).

Jan 20, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins inducts Penny Hardaway into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame during the first half against the Milwaukee Bucks at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Now, to have luck like that and draft two generational centers is something few other teams in the league have ever experienced.

Between O’Neal (1995) and Howard (2009), they brought the Magic to an NBA Finals each, and on both occasions the team came up short.

So while drafting the players in the first place was half the battle, the lack of true success once in the pinstriped blue is concerning.

Even worse is the fact both players eventually left the team for the Los Angeles Lakers, and once they’d done so the franchise endured some tough times.

Depending on your outlook on this, the fact that O’Neal and Howard are the best things to ever happen to the organization is either a clear indicator the Magic excel at the draft process or it’s extremely sad these two players, who left the team in the manner that they did, are the highlights of the team’s very existence.

In any event, there’s no denying the team’s ability to draft well, although the trade to bring Hardaway to the team instead of Webber is something they’d probably like to do again.

There should be talent available at No. 6, and a look back at NBA Draft history shows quite a few noteworthy names who were selected at this spot in the past:

Of the other 17 players not named O’Neal/Webber the team drafted in the 90’s, Dennis Scott (1989, 11th overall) was without question the best.

A career 39.7 percent three point shooter, he was ahead of his time as a threat from deep and a key piece on those contending teams featuring O’Neal/Hardaway. He was also their first pick in franchise history, but the other 16 players since then hardly inspired confidence.

In fact looking at some of the guys on that list, it may be that this team can only get it right when they’re picking first.

The 2017 draft class is a deep one, but the fact they’re picking sixth is worrying, especially when you look at some of the other names who are about to pop up.

Of those remaining 16 players, 10 of them were first round picks. Some of the names on that list?

  • Amal McCaskill: Played 17 games for the Magic as a second round selection before spending four seasons overseas.
  • Michael Doleac: A 12th overall pick, he spent three seasons with the team as a backup center. He averaged 6.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game during his time with the team.
  • Bison Dele: Their highest pick (10th) other than O’Neal, Webber and Scott that decade. Spent two years with the team, started two games and was done at 29 years old.
  • Geert Hammink: A first round pick out of LSU (26th) the year after the team took O’Neal, Hammink played five games for the Magic. He played eight total in the league.

Clearly then, the team missed on quite a few of their picks during this period. It’s also interesting to note the Magic’s insistence on going after big men.

Including O’Neal and Webber (who didn’t suit up for the team but was technically still drafted by them), eight of the players picked in this decade were centers.

They picked a center every year between 1991-1993.

Big men were the key to success then, but had O’Neal not fallen into their lap, it’s scary to think of some of the centers who would have played even more minutes for that team.

Moving into the 2000s, things improved somewhat. The key drawback here however is the team’s inability to hold onto players who would one day have value.

Howard is the marquee name from this era. But other players of note who the team drafted but didn’t hold onto include:

But this was a time when the Magic were contending once more, and so the draft wasn’t their preferred method of acquiring talent.

Still, they managed to get Redick with the 11th pick in 2006, and he gave the team some much needed floor-spacing when introduced.

They also managed to get Jameer Nelson in 2004 at No. 20 thanks to a draft-day trade with the Denver Nuggets, and getting the point guard/center tandem that brought them to the finals in one go is impressive.

So we can call this decade of drafting successful as well, as it landed them back in the Finals and brought them two All-Stars in Howard and Nelson.

With Howard’s departure in 2012 came another rebuilding phase, although it remains to be seen quite how well the Magic have drafted this time round.

Unlike in previous years, they have not been fortunate enough to land the first overall pick, and so the team have had to be more shrewd in the players they draft.

To date that has not brought them much success, although former general manager Rob Hennigan deserves some of the blame for that.

The Magic have had nine picks since Howard left town, five of which were first rounders.

The best of that lot was Victor Oladipo, and he no longer players for the team. Both Dario Saric and Domantas Sabonis were also drafted, but both were moved before ever playing for the team.

In Saric’s case he was traded for Elfrid Payton, and although he’s only played one season with the Philadelphia 76ers, he has looked promising.

Sabonis, meanwhile, slotted right in as a role player for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Had the Magic held onto both, and paired them with Oladipo and Aaron Gordon (currently the best player they’ve drafted and kept this decade, which says a lot), they’d have their young core set.

They’d been in even better shape if they’d held onto one of either Kyle O’Quinn or Andrew Nicholson, both of which they drafted.

O’Quinn especially would have been cheaper than paying both Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic pricey deals, but he is a member of the New York Knicks now.

So we can see that, despite such a strong start, the Orlando Magic’s draft luck and ability to spot talent has faded over time. Had they not gotten the top pick on years when generational talent came through, this could look a whole lot worse as well.

Really though, this just confirms what we already know, especially given how their recent draft picks have gone.

This is the most important NBA draft for the Magic in this decade so far, and they need to get their first No. 6 overall pick in franchise history right.

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