The Orlando Magic own the first-overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, with many believing that they will be taking Jabari Smith Jr., and not Chet Holmgren as was initially expected. Wildly different players, the sheer uniqueness and upside of Holmgren could potentially come back to haunt the Magic if they don’t take him.
Then again, in Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba, they have two long and wiry individuals who haven’t exactly worked out for the franchise up to this point. That is not to say Holmgren is smilier to either of those guys outside of his frame, but they do say the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.
This is where Smith Jr. enters the conversation. He already looks like a more put-together player and one who will be able to help this team right away.
Will Orlando Magic fans be happy with Jabari Smith Jr.?
But will you be happy when the Magic make that selection, as most now expect them to do? When Holmgren and even Paolo Banchero end up playing for different organizations and getting off to hot starts, will you still believe that Smith Jr. was the right pick?
In case you’ve forgotten, the Magic ended up getting Jalen Suggs last season with the fifth pick, a guy who most thought had the potential to go top three. That feeling on draft night was amazing for their fans, only Scottie Barnes went and ruined those good vibes by year-end.
Barnes was taken one spot ahead of the Magic and was the guy who most thought would fall to Orlando as a viable consolation prize. But the Toronto Raptors took him and he went on to win Rookie of the Year. Magic fans need not worry though, as Smith Jr. looks like a much surer thing than Suggs, Barnes, or even Holmgren, for that matter.
If you watched this year’s NBA Finals, you will know that the importance of Andrew Wiggins defensively was crucial in the Golden State Warriors winning another championship. His long frame ensured he could stay with Jayson Tatum, and he just about hit enough outside shots to ensure he could then drive to the basket when needed as well.
If you look at Smith Jr. in college, he has got that Wiggins/early Paul George type frame. A wing that has the size to get anywhere on the court, and the vision and shooting to be a problem for opponents right away.
This is surely one of the key reasons the Magic zoned in on him over Holmgren. Is Holmgren a generational talent? Maybe. But he hasn’t been talked about even close to the same way as previous can’t-miss picks like Anthony Davis and Zion Williamson. He could be amazing in about three years, whereas if you look at the roster the Magic have, Smith Jr. can prosper from day one.
With Markelle Fultz feeding him the ball, Franz Wagner creating some alongside him, and Wendell Carter Jr. turning in some fearsome defensive performances, think about how beneficial and complimentary Smith Jr.’s skillset will be next to them. He will form a fearsome defensive pairing with Carter Jr., take some playmaking responsibility off Wagner, and the potential for a pick-and-roll game with Fultz is so enticing.
Right now, it is still unclear what direction Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley is taking the franchise. On the surface, another defensive identity makes sense, with Carter Jr., Isaac, and even Fultz being above-average defenders for their positions. The roster is young and athletic, and at times last year, annoyed opponents who came to Florida looking for an easy game.
Smith Jr. can slot into this way of playing pretty easily, but the big upside here is his ability to be a shot creator. Returning to the Wiggins and George types in the league today, finding a wing who can create and score at a high level is one of the foundational pieces required to win a championship.
In the last two years, Tatum and Devin Booker were those young players whose scoring and creation got their teams to the Finals. In no way are we comparing Smith Jr. to either of those guys, but if he can show some potential as a creative hub in his rookie year, the Magic will have made the right pick.
Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics might actually be the better comparison, even though he appears to have forgotten how to dribble a basketball. He was the best player for the Celtics in the Finals, a player known more for his defensive ability who all of a sudden was hitting some big shots and creating for others at pivotal moments across their playoff run.
For Smith Jr. to be compared to any of these guys shows you exactly why the Orlando Magic have seemingly changed course and opted for him instead. He will easily be the most complete and ready-to-go draft choice for the franchise in a decade, which is what this up-and-coming roster needs.
So, whether or not you’re happy come Thursday night when Smith Jr.’s name is called, you absolutely should be.