NBA draft picks: Making the case for No. 1 between Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero
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NEW YORK — The Orlando Magic have the No. 1 pick in the draft for the first time since 2004 when they drafted Dwight Howard. It worked out pretty well for the franchise back then as Howard led them to the NBA Finals.
Prior to that, the franchise had the No. 1 pick in 1992 and 1993 and drafted Shaquille O'Neal and Chris Webber (traded to Golden State for Penny Hardaway), both Hall of Famers.
It's clear the Magic have had success drafting power forwards and centers with the top pick in the past, and the stars aligned this year with three great options at No. 1. All three prospects — Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren — are 6-foot-10 or taller and have tremendous skill off the block. There is no clear-cut No. 1 pick this year, and Oklahoma City and Houston should follow suit and select whoever is left on the board from these three options.
The Magic are set in the backcourt with Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Markelle Fultz and R.J. Hampton and are hoping to add some size to the roster to change the trajectory of the franchise.
Yahoo Sports takes a look at the projected top-three players and how they would fit with the Magic.
Jabari Smith, PF, Auburn
Ht./Wt: 6-10, 220 pounds
Smith is emerging as the consensus favorite to go No. 1 to the Magic. Orlando desperately needs a perimeter shooter and Smith fills that void, knocking down 43% of his shots from deep during his one year at Auburn. At 6-foot-10, Smith will add some size in the post defensively alongside Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba.
Smith worked out for the Magic on June 9 and according to him, it went well.
“I think I can fit in it really well,” Smith told reporters after the workout. “Seeing the guys and seeing the players, this is a young team, one of the youngest in the league. So, adding me would just add another young player who was hungry and got a lot left in the tank. So, I’ll add some energy and just another person wants to come in and work and get this organization where it needs to be.”
Smith averaged 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds in his lone season at Auburn, shooting 43% from the field and 43% from 3-point range. Against teams that were ranked in the AP Top 25 when facing Auburn, Smith averaged 20.8 points and 6.4 rebounds.
Chet Holmgren, C, Gonzaga
Ht./Wt: 7-0, 195 pounds
Holmgren is truly a unicorn-type prospect. His coordination for a player with his lanky frame is incredible, and he has the ability to take guards off the dribble with ease.
Holmgren averaged 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, 1.4 assists in 27 minutes over 32 games. The Minneapolis native led the WCC in blocked shots, rebounds and field-goal percentage (61%) and was fourth in the country in blocks (117). He has a decent outside jump shot and started stepping into 3-pointers confidently in transition at the end of the season, instead of taking a one dribble pull-up to collect himself.
"At the end of the day, Jabari [Smith] and Paolo [Banchero] are both great players, but I feel like any team that picks me is getting a great player who's conducive to winning and whatever is asked of me to help the team win," Holmgren told Yahoo Sports.
He could be reunited with his high school and AAU teammate, current Magic guard Jalen Suggs. The pair have logged countless games, dating back to sixth grade, and already have a point-center on-court chemistry the Magic can take advantage of right away.
"Me and Jalen talk a lot of basketball, we talk about life or whatever it may be," Holmgren told Yahoo Sports. "At the end of the day, the decision isn't up to either one of us, so whether we're wearing the same jersey or not, we're still going to support one another."
Holmgren could also fill a much-needed void in the paint and rim protection alongside Carter Jr. and Bamba next season as the Magic look to improve from their 22-60 record from 2021-22.
Paolo Banchero, PF, Duke
Ht./Wt: 6-10, 250 pounds
Banchero is the least likely to go No. 1 to the Magic because the other two prospects fit more of a team need, but there has been a late swing in the Vegas betting odds that are evening the playing field.
Regardless, there's a lot to like about Banchero's game, which was put on full display during the NCAA men's tournament. The point-forward has the best handle out of the trio and could adopt more of a LeBron James-type role at the NBA level with his size and versatility as a primary ball handler.
Banchero averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game during his one year at Duke and was named the ACC Rookie of the Year and first-team All-ACC.
He also fills a need for the Magic with his NBA-ready body (the other two will need to add weight to bang in the post) and his playmaking ability off the pick-and-roll. Banchero is a plug-and-play guy the Magic can depend on from Day 1 who can impact winning. There's a lot to be said about players who can turn it on when the game is on the line, and Banchero showed he can be that guy during crunch time.
Banchero isn't as great of an outside shooter as Smith or Holmgren, and that might be one of the deciding factors after Orlando hit only 33% of its 3-point attempts and was one of the worst shooting teams last season.