By John Denton
May 31, 2017
ORLANDO – When the All-NBA awards were announced on May 18 much of the focus was on standout forwards Paul George and Gordon Hayward being snubbed and potentially missing out on lucrative paydays with their current teams.
One largely overlooked fact among that exclusive 15-player grouping on the three All-NBA teams was this: Nearly half of those elite players started their careers as non-lottery pick draft selections. That’s a remarkable feat considering that the NBA has historically been dominated by players selected with top-five picks of the draft.
Considering that some of the NBA’s best players have come from outside of the lottery, that gives great hope to an Orlando Magic team that will enter the June 22nd NBA Draft armed with a wide array of picks. Not only will Orlando select No. 6, it will also have the No. 25 pick thanks to its February trading of forward Serge Ibaka to the Toronto Raptors. The Magic also possess the Nos. 33 and 35 picks – early second-round selections that teams covet because of the history of success in mining talent from there.
The Magic, a disappointing 29-53 this past season, dramatically re-tooled their front office last week and will head into the upcoming draft with a one/two punch of President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond calling the personnel shots. Both have had tremendous success in finding hidden gems in the draft in years past, evidenced by their work in uncovering second-team All-NBA forward Giannis Antetokounmpo with the No. 15 pick of the 2013 NBA Draft. Also, Hammond found guard Malcolm Brogdon – a finalist for this year’s Rookie of the Year award – with the No. 36 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
“(Evaluating potential and fit) is the art of the draft as opposed to the science of it,’’ Weltman said. “Whatever analytical prospectives we have we’ll use and we’ll be doing background checking and we’ll measure them in every way that we can. And what makes this such a great business is this, `Who is this kid? Who is this person? Is he one of us?’ It’s easier to identify the talent as opposed to the person and we’ve got to look at both.
“We have two first-round picks and two quality second-round picks, so we get a lot of bites at the apple,’’ Weltman added. “It’s very important that we start to add some depth and have a roster that is trending the right way and growing. So this is a huge opportunity to do that in this draft.’’
Another factor potentially working in favor of the Magic is the success that head coach Frank Vogel has had in the past working with players picked with mid-to-low selections. Lance Stephenson (No. 40 in 2010), George Hill (No. 26 in 2008), Roy Hibbert (No. 17 in 2008), Danny Granger (No. 17 in 2005), David West (No. 18 in 2003) and the aforementioned Paul George (No. 10 in 2010) all evolved into standouts while working with Vogel in Indiana – where the coach enjoyed tremendous success prior to taking over in Orlando a year ago.
FROM SECOND-ROUNDERS TO ALL-NBA PICKS
Back to the recently released All-NBA picks, three former No. 1 picks (LeBron James, Anthony Davis and John Wall) and other high picks such as Kevin Durant (No. 2 in 2007), James Harden (No. 3 in 2009), Russell Westbrook (No. 4 in 2008) and Stephen Curry (No. 7 in 2009) dominated the field. But there were just as many players on the first, second and third teams who overcame nearly improbable odds to reach the pinnacle of their profession.
First-team All-NBA forward Kawhai Leonard (15th in 2011) and Antetokounmpo (15th in 2013) were picked just outside of their respective lotteries (the top 14 selections). Second-teamer Rudy Gobert (No. 27 pick) was one of the final first-round picks of the 2013 draft, while third-teamers Jimmy Butler (No. 30 in 2011), Draymond Green (No. 35 in 2012) and DeAndre Jordan (No. 35 in 2008) have thrived despite being second-round picks. Then, there’s the remarkable rise of 5-foot-9 point guard Isaiah Thomas, who averaged 28.9 points and 5.9 assists a game to make second-team All-NBA despite being the final pick (No. 60) in 2011.
MAKING MAGIC IN THE SECOND ROUND
Those success stories affirm to the Magic that it will be possible to add difference-making talent to their roster with their arsenal of picks. By controlling four of the draft’s first 35 picks, the Magic could gamble on high-risk, high-reward players who are sliding for whatever reason or they could potentially package picks in a trade that would allow them to move up or deal for veteran talent.
Orlando has found keepers high in the draft in recent years (Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Mario Hezonja), but the franchise has struggled to gain much traction late in drafts. Second-round picks Kyle O’Quinn (No. 49 in 2012), Romero Osby (No. 51 in 2013), Devyn Marble (No. 56 in 2014 by Denver) and Tyler Harvey (No. 51 in 2015) are no longer with the Magic. Stephen Zimmerman (No. 41 in 2016) is considered a long-term project after spending three stints in the D-League as a rookie.
The second-round is where Hammond – a veteran of 26 NBA seasons, the GM in Milwaukee the past nine seasons and a keen judge of talent – could be the greatest asset to the Magic. In his time in Milwaukee, Hammond pulled the trigger on drafting Brogdon (No. 36 in 2016), Norman Powell (No. 46 in 2015), Ricky Ledo (No. 43 in 2013), Jon Leuer (No. 40 in 2011), current Magic 3-point specialist Jodie Meeks (No. 41 in 2009) and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (No. 37 in 2008).
“I don’t look at bringing John Hammond in as `we have to master the second round.’ I look at bringing John Hammond in as `He’s a great basketball guy,’ and one of the ancillary facts of that is we’re going to do well in the second round,’’ Weltman said with conviction. “The second round is tough and that’s why many teams just collect as many picks as they can to get as many bites of the apple as possible. They just spray out buckshot and say, `Of these six picks, I hope two of them become players.’
“I feel adding John and our whole group, we’ll have a good approach to finding the kind of people that we’re looking for and we’ll do well in the second round,’’ he added. “These are good second-round picks.’’
Another bit of history shows what an inexact crapshoot that judging talent in the NBA Draft can be. So often, elite, difference-making talent can be found in the second round of NBA Drafts. Some players slide because of injury, attitude or contractual concerns, while others are late-bloomers, end up in the perfect fit or their talent is simply overlooked.
Alex English, Willis Reed, Hal Greer, Tiny Archibald, Calvin Murphy, Spencer Haywood, Dennis Johnson and K.C. Jones are all-timers who were uncovered in second rounds of drafts. Former Magic standouts Rashard Lewis and Gilbert Arenas, Carlos Boozer, Michael Redd, Stephen Jackson, Anderson Varejao, Danny Ainge, Dennis Rodman, Mark Price, Mo Cheeks, Toni Kukoc and New York Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek all came from the second round and had highly successful NBA careers.
Current NBA players Manu Ginobili, Paul Millsap, Marc Gasol, Monta Ellis, Nikola Jokic and Jordan Clarkson have thrived despite getting their starts as overlooked second-rounders.
History has shown that top talent – both as All-NBA performers and long-time NBA contributors – is there to be had late in drafts. It’s up to the Magic now to find that talent to fortify a roster greatly in need of 3-point shooting, defense and depth.
“Any time you are talking about building and building toward a championship, one of the most important elements of doing that is through the draft,’’ said Hammond, who was a part of Detroit’s championship-winning team in 2004. “That terminology, `the more swings that you have at it, the better off you will be’ is so true. You want to get those right and you want those guys to be long-term players for you.’’
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