The Magic surprised draft forecasters by taking Aaron Gordon the 4th pick of Thursday’s draft.
The first shock of the 2014 NBA draft came when the Orlando Magic passed on the consensus number one point guard in the draft, Dante Exum, in favour of power forward and full-time athletic superhero, Aaron Gordon.
What jumps off the page during a cursory glance over the Orlando Magic’s roster is their trouble at the point guard spot. In a league with so many talented floor generals, the Magic have bottom of the barrel prospects.
And this is not meant to be a critique of Jameer Nelson, who, while not being an elite level talent, has much needed experience at the point. Nelson, however, is owed $8 million next year should the Magic pick up his team option and shooting 39% last year saw him have the second worst field goal percentage of his career.
The only other set of hands on the roster that Orlando may want to see the ball in are Victor Oladipo's. We saw Oladipo run the Magic’s offense at times last season and while he’s a fantastic player, he’s not a great fit at the point guard spot. Exum looked like a fantastic fit for the Magic.
Him and Oladipo had the makings of a great partnership, with Exum potentially playing the point on offence and then guarding the opposition's 2 guard on defence, allowing Oladipo to do what he does best and get after ball handlers. But the Magic took Gordon.
The Magic must have really loved what Gordon brings to the table for them to avoid addressing their need at point guard with their number 4 pick. Though, to be fair, Gordon does bring some pretty exciting stuff.
Arguably the best defender in this year’s draft, Gordon has lockdown potential. His lateral quickness, explosiveness and intimidating physique give Gordon the tools to defend multiple positions on the floor with great effectiveness and this ability should translate immediately to the NBA.
Along with Oladipo the Magic will have 2 of the best young defenders in the league and should be able to carve out an strong identity on that end of the floor. This athleticism also allows Gordon to play above the rim on the offensive end of the floor and will be target for lobs from day 1.
Gordon does have his limitations though. There are questions surrounding Gordon’s shot and whether he’ll be able to produce on the offensive end in the NBA and for the first few years of his career he’ll be relying mostly on put-backs, dump passes and alley-oops.
Gordon’s lack of immediate offence raises questions about his fit in Orlando. The Magic had the 2nd worst offensive rating in the league last year and could have really used a scoring injection, something one imagines Exum could have brought when we look at Michael Carter-Williams' exploits last year.
There are, however, areas where Gordon makes sense for the Magic. Orlando were a pretty average rebounding team last season, something that Gordon can immediately change, especially on the offensive glass.
He’ll also contribute to improving the Magic’s finishing ability at the rim, something they struggled with, being 1 of the 11 teams in the league who converted less than 60% of their shots in the restricted area.
While not their most pressing need, the power forward spot is relatively vacant in Orlando. Last year Tobias Harris, Andrew Nicholson, Glen Davis, Jason Maxiell and Kyle O’Quinn all logged minutes at the 4 spot for the Magic. Davis is gone, Harris is more of a small forward and none of the other candidates are particularly appealing prospects meaning that Gordon will be starting games next year, with a chance to make an immediate impact.
One detail we should not overlook is that the Magic acquired Elfrid Payton via a trade with Philadelphia, filling the Magic’s hole at point guard.
With this in mind we can see that much this debate boils down to the comparative values of Exum against Payton and Gordon against whoever the Magic could have picked up with their 12th pick.
It can’t be denied that Exum was a risky pick. His game is still relatively unknown and no one can be sure how he will pan out in the NBA.
His upside is certainly impressive but should the Magic have taken him and he turned out a bust, they would have failed to address their needs at point guard while also failing to pick up any significant talent on one of the most talent laden draft classes in years.
Payton and Gordon represent the Magic’s safe route through the NBA draft. They may have missed a chance for a home run but they’ve at least pulled in some safe NBA talent.