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The Magic May Finally Get the Game-Changing Big They’ve Been Searching For

After years of stockpiling centers, Orlando lucked into the no. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft, and the right to select one of three top big-man prospects

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Before Tuesday, the Orlando Magic had won the NBA draft lottery three times. First, they drafted Shaquille O’Neal. Then, they picked Chris Webber (only to trade him on draft day). Next, they selected Dwight Howard. That’s three Hall of Fame (or future Hall of Fame, in Howard’s case) big men in three tries.

So it’s good news for the Magic that when they won the lottery for the fourth time, the top options for the 2022 no. 1 pick are all big men, too.

It’s not yet clear whom the Magic will take with their first selection on June 23, but now that they’ve landed the top pick, they have the luxury to spend the next five weeks deciding. Any of Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr., and Paolo Banchero would immediately become the most promising player on a roster in need of a talent infusion. It just so happens that they fit the Magic’s mold, too.

In recent years, Orlando has stuffed its rotation with too many big men, only to find itself cramped by redundant skill sets and a lack of spacing. But in theory, the team’s frontcourt next season falls nicely into place now, with Wendell Carter Jr. and Franz Wagner flanking the top draftee.

Carter impressed in his first full season in Orlando, supplying stout defense and averaging 15 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. He also expanded his range to make 70 3-pointers, versus just 27 total 3s in his first three seasons combined. Wagner, meanwhile, likely played his way onto the All-Rookie First Team with a 15 point-per-game average and decent shooting splits after being taken with the no. 8 selection in last year’s draft. They were Orlando’s two most valuable players last season, according to advanced stats like RAPTOR and estimated plus-minus.

Orlando acquired both Carter and the pick that became Wagner as part of the Nikola Vucevic trade at the 2021 deadline—but the Magic landed this new pick all by their own tanking selves. Over the past two seasons, Orlando has a 43-111 record, tied for the second worst in the NBA.

Yet whomever Orlando picks should boost that lowly winning percentage, if not right away then in another season or two. Holmgren, Smith, and Banchero all provide different versions of a superstar-in-waiting skill set—Holmgren with all-court defense and efficient offense, Smith with shooting, Banchero with versatile scoring—and should be flexible enough to play next to any combination of Orlando’s current group of youngsters. Besides Terrence Ross, every Magic player under contract for next season is 25 or younger.

Of course, the Magic should take the player they think is best, rather than focusing on roster fit. Since trading Howard and resetting the roster in 2012, the Magic have drafted in the top six six times and never found a foundational star. Now is their latest, and best, chance to do so.

Victor Oladipo (no. 2 in 2013) didn’t develop into an All-NBA player until reaching his third team. Aaron Gordon (no. 4 in 2014) has always been more of a role player than a centerpiece, and now fills that optimal role in Denver. Mario Hezonja (no. 5 in 2015) busted. Jonathan Isaac (no. 6 in 2017) flashed tantalizing defensive potential but hasn’t played in the last two seasons after tearing his ACL. Mo Bamba (no. 6 in 2018) wasn’t worth an extension and enters restricted free agency this summer.

And most recently, Jalen Suggs (no. 5 in 2021) still has time to improve but just suffered a brutal rookie season that raised significant questions about his long-term potential. Out of 178 players who attempted at least 500 shots last season, Suggs ranked last by a massive margin in effective field goal percentage. Suggs’s eFG mark was 40 percent; nobody else in the league was below 45.

Suggs was also teammates with Holmgren in high school, if that connection matters at all in Orlando’s planning. But Holmgren, whom The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor has going no. 1 in his updated mock draft, would be a worthy selection regardless. In one season at Gonzaga, Holmgren posted statistics reminiscent of Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Evan Mobley in college. He looks the part of the prototypical modern big man, the kind of 7-foot, two-way positionless star that every team is searching for.

On the other hand, Smith and Banchero are surer things than Holmgren, and each would give the Magic a go-to scorer they haven’t enjoyed in decades. The last Orlando player to average 25 points per game in a season was Tracy McGrady in 2003-04.

Any of the three top prospects would be a welcome addition, though. The Magic have been mired in the middle and bottom of the league since trading Howard, but it’s hard to imagine Orlando messing up now, no matter the final decision.

If history is any indication, whichever player dons a Magic hat on June 23 will reach the Hall of Fame one day. He’ll probably drag the Magic to the Finals, too—and then he’ll leave for the Lakers a few years later.