Orlando Magic lottery history: Shaquille O'Neal changed franchise's course
With one glaring exception, no one can accuse the Orlando Magic of not choosing wisely whenever they have found themselves with a lottery pick in the NBA draft.
Thanks in large measure to a combination of smart selections and getting their pingpong balls to bounce in their favor two years in a row, the Magic made the playoffs in eight out of 10 seasons beginning in 1994. After three consecutive trips to the lottery, they started a run of six consecutive postseason appearances before their current three-year run of having one of the top five picks in the draft.
The Magic had the No. 11 pick in their very first draft, one turn after their fellow expansion entry, the Minnesota Timberwolves. Nick Anderson wound up spending almost all of his rookie season backing up veteran Reggie Theus at the shooting guard position and averaged 11.5 points while hitting 49.4 percent of his field-goal attempts. While Anderson currently ranks second on the Magic's all-time list for 3-point field goals made with 900, just one of those came during the 1989-90 season.
The only player to hit more 3-pointers in his Magic career than Anderson is Dennis Scott, who they took with the fourth pick in 1990. Scott did not miss a game as a rookie while averaging 15.7 points for a team which increased its victory total from 18 to 31. The forward from Georgia Tech connected on 125 3-pointers, or nine more than the entire team did the year before. Over the six years which followed, Scott would continue to build his reputation as one of the deadliest long-range shooters in the game. From an individual standpoint, he reached his peak against the Atlanta Hawks in April 1996 when he set a league single-game record with 11 3-pointers made.
In 1991, the Magic used the 10th overall pick on Brian Williams, who they thought could give them some much-needed rebounding help at the power forward position on a team with Greg Kite as its starting center. But Williams, who would later change his name to Bison Dele, missed all of training camp and the first several weeks of the regular season in a contract holdout. He never quite caught up and never quite fit in, playing a total of only 69 games over a two-year stretch before being traded to the Denver Nuggets in August 1993. In fairness, the only power forward drafted after Williams who went on to have a significantly better career than him was Dale Davis.
Whatever disappointment there was over Williams' rookie season was soon forgotten the following year when the Magic won the draft lottery and the right to select Shaquille O'Neal, who would alter the course of the franchise's history. The 7-foot-1 center from LSU made an immediate impact on the court, averaging 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks while playing in 81 of 82 games -- the only game he missed was when the league fined and suspended him for getting into an altercation with Alvin Robertson of the Detroit Pistons. Not only did he go on to win Rookie of the Year honors, but he was chosen ahead of Patrick Ewing to start for the Eastern Conference All-Star team. And who will forget the dunks he had which broke the backboard standards in both Phoenix and New Jersey?
Despite all of O'Neal's accomplishments, the Magic's 41-41 record wasn't good enough to get them into the 1993 playoffs. But they would send shock waves throughout the league twice within the span of little more than a month. After having just one of 66 pingpong balls in the cylinder, the Magic came up with the No. 1 pick, a development which caused the NBA to change the lottery format before the following year. Then after taking Michigan forward Chris Webber, the Magic traded his rights to the Golden State Warriors for Memphis State guard Penny Hardaway -- who had been selected third -- and three future first-round picks.
Hardaway started every game as a rookie and averaged 16.0 points, 6.6 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 steals as the Magic reached the 50-victory mark in only their fifth year of existence. Things only got better for him and O'Neal the next two years as the Magic won 57 and 60 games while twice reaching the conference finals and advancing to the NBA Finals in 1995.
After missing the playoffs in 1998, two years after the departure of O'Neal to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Magic had the final two lottery picks. They used the 12th selection in the first round on Michael Doleac, a center from Utah who was primarily a backup over the next three years before being traded in June 2001 to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Keon Clark, a forward from UNLV who was picked immediately after Doleac, never suited up for the Magic, who traded his rights to the Nuggets in January 1999 after the conclusion of a league-wide lockout.
Until this year, the only time the Magic had the No. 5 pick was in 2000. They ended up selecting Florida guard Mike Miller, who remains their only first-year player other than O'Neal to receive Rookie of the Year honors. Miller started in 62 of 82 games and led the Magic in 3-pointers made with 148. They also had the 10th and 13th picks that year but traded the draft rights to Keyon Dooling to the Los Angeles Clippers and the rights to Courtney Alexander to the Dallas Mavericks.
When the Magic won the lottery in 2004, they confounded more than a few observers on draft night by taking Dwight Howard, an 18-year-old from a small high school in Atlanta. Howard started every game for them as a rookie but was used mostly at power forward while veterans Kelvin Cato and Tony Battie split duties at center. Howard averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds as the Magic improved from 21 wins to 36, although their progress wasn't enough to prevent a late-season coaching change. Howard would be paired with Battie the next two years and wouldn't become the Magic's undisputed starting center until Stan Van Gundy was hired as their coach in 2007.
The Magic envisioned another young big man alongside Howard when they used the No. 11 pick in 2005 on Fran Vazquez, a native of Spain who scuttled those plans by choosing to continue playing in Europe. A decade later, the Magic still retain his rights.
They had the 11th selection again in 2006 and took a player far more familiar to their fans in guard J.J. Redick, who was coming off a prolific four-year college career at Duke. But Redick languished at the end of their bench for the majority of his first two seasons until his minutes and productivity started to increase during their march to the NBA Finals in 2009. He ended up shooting almost 40 percent from 3-point range in his time with the Magic before they traded him to the Milwaukee Bucks in February 2013.
Victor Oladipo was chosen second in 2013 after the Magic found wins hard to come by in their first season after trading the noticeably disgruntled Howard. The guard from Indiana twice earned Rookie of the Month honors, which no Magic first-year player had received since Miller in March 2001, despite playing behind Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo for nearly half the season. He averaged 13.8 points in 80 games and become the first Magic rookie since Hardaway with at least 1,000 points, 300 assists and 100 steals.
And last June, the Magic used the No. 4 overall selection on Arizona forward Aaron Gordon, whose missed two months of his rookie season because of a fractured bone in his left foot. Their bigger success came later in the lottery, when they traded the rights to No. 12 pick Dario Saric and two future draft picks to the Philadelphia 76ers for the draft rights to Elfrid Payton. The point guard out of Louisiana-Lafayette came on strong after becoming a fulltime starter in December, and all indications suggest Payton and Oladipo will be the Magic's starting backcourt for years to come.