AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
There have been no shortage of conspiracy theories surrounding the NBA Draft lottery since its inception in 1985, but I have an only-half-joking hunch that the Magic are going to end up with the top overall pick in 2013. This doesn’t mean they’ll finish with the worst record in the league, although anything is possible.
Over the last three years, an unprecedented number of top-tier players have changed teams, leaving their old clubs temporarily without direction. The teams that lost the biggest stars have been paid back in the form of the prize of that particular year’s draft class.
LeBron James spurned Cleveland for Miami in 2010 and the Cavs ended up with Kyrie Irving the following year. Then, last offseason, Chris Paul navigated his way to the Clippers from the Hornets, who were rewarded with Anthony Davis in June. If the pattern holds, it would stand to reason that everything the Magic have had to deal with over the past 18 months with Dwight Howard would land them at the top of the lottery.
Half-baked conspiracy theories aside, it’s become clear that this Magic team isn’t good and they have a solid shot of finishing the season in range of one of the top few selections. This is a surprise to no one.
College basketball is underway and three weeks into the NBA season, it’s safe to say that we have an idea of what Orlando can do this year. Which is why now is as good a time as any to begin diving into the pool of prospects.
Unfortunately, the early analysis of the 2013 draft class is that it’s a weaker one than the much-lauded 2012 crop. The general consensus is that there are three players favored to be the top picks in some order: UCLA guard Shabazz Muhammad, Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, and Indiana center Cody Zeller.
After a controversial NCAA investigation into his eligibility that delayed the start of his college career, Muhammad finally made his UCLA debut on Monday to mixed reviews. He scored 15 points and shot 2-for-3 from three-point range, but it was clear that the 19-year-old’s game is still a work in progress. Noel has been similarly inconsistent thus far, putting up solid numbers and displaying flashes of his phenomenal physical ability, but still showcasing a raw set of skills. Zeller is the most polished of the three, but has perhaps the least long-term upside. There’s no clear number one like Davis or Blake Griffin and not even these three players can be considered sure things.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports had one particularly telling quote from an executive:
As one Western Conference executive was leaving Barclays on Monday night, he knew he’d have to see Shabazz Muhammad over and over this season. After watching Zeller and Muhammad, he did have a suspicion about this spring’s draft. “I think you’re going to see a team who gets that first overall pick who will seriously think about trading down and moving out of it.”
All of this is to say, Hennigan will have plenty of options in June. Even though the Magic stand a good chance of having one of the top picks, there’s no telling what Hennigan will do with it.
This roster is still very much in flux. Through the early season, a few youngsters (Moe Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, and E’Twaun Moore) have impressed, but there is nobody on the team who could be considered “untouchable” in a trade of any kind. And depending on how the rest of the college basketball season shakes out, a pick near the top of the 2013 lottery may turn out to be similarly movable.