With the No. 4 pick in the 2014 NBA draft, the Orlando Magic are bound to have plenty of options. Sure, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins will likely be off the board—presumably in that order, according to DraftExpress—but it's not as though this draft class lacks talent past the third selection.
After all, it's deep and filled with players who can make immediate impacts while also bringing plenty of long-term upside to their new teams.
Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart is one of the prospects who fits that description, and the Magic are thinking about making him the fourth player off the board when Adam Silver steps up to the podium at the end of the month.
"Orlando Magic executives love Smart's intangibles," reports Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. "They value his leadership, toughness and competitiveness so much that they might select him fourth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft on June 26."
By doing so, the Magic would be pairing Smart with Victor Oladipo in an extremely youthful backcourt.
It's hard to complain about that combination of guards, but is it the best decision when Orlando will have so many impressive options with its No. 4 pick?
Position of Need
The Magic are brimming over with potential at most every position.
Over his few years in charge of the team, general manager Rob Hennigan has been doing quite the job accruing talent, even if it's come at the expense of playoff berths throughout recent history.
When Dwight Howard forced his way out of Orlando, Hennigan not only accepted that his team had little leverage during the Dwightmare, but he still managed to make the best of the situation.
"I implicitly believe in Rob Hennigan, his abilities and his plan," R.C. Buford recently told Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel. "He’s going about it [the rebuild] the right way. He’s not skipping any steps or taking any shortcuts. Orlando is going to be very happy with Rob Hennigan."
For those of you who aren't immediately familiar with Buford's name, he's the longstanding general manager of the San Antonio Spurs. In other words, he's a guy whose praise should mean something.
So, what is Hennigan working with?
|Orlando Depth Chart|
|Starter||Jameer Nelson||Victor Oladipo||Arron Afflalo||Tobias Harris||Nikola Vucevic|
|Primary Backup||Ronnie Price||Doron Lamb||Moe Harkless||Andrew Nicholson||Kyle O'Quinn|
|Secondary Backup||Dewayne Dedmon|
Although the team is lacking the star who will put it over the top—one who can be acquired through either free agency, the draft or internal development—there are solid options at each and every position.
Oladipo has the highest upside on the team and Arron Afflalo was a fringe All-Star candidate during the 2013-14 season, even while spending plenty of time at both the 2 and the 3. Tobias Harris still possesses unrealized potential and has consistently looked good when healthy, and Nikola Vucevic is an up-and-coming center.
The only position without a true or potential standout is point guard.
While Jameer Nelson has performed admirably throughout his time with the Magic, a tenure that's spanned a full decade now, he's 32 years old and no longer capable of truly leading the charge. It's time to find his long-term replacement, especially while the timing works so perfectly.
Nelson is still quite capable of starting as the Magic's floor general, but drafting a new one this offseason would allow him to serve as a mentor.
The incoming rookie wouldn't immediately be thrown into the fire, but would learn from a veteran of the Association who's seemed willing to step into that teacher role.
"I love Jameer," Oladipo told OrlandoMagicDaily.com's Philip Rossman-Reich before the start of his rookie season. "He teaches me a little bit of everything every day. I don't even have to ask him to. He's a great vet. He's a great person to have around. I'm glad he's on my team. I'm looking forward to learning from him throughout the year."
And learn he did.
But now there's the potential to land a true point guard, or at least a combo guard whose primary position—as opposed to Oladipo's—is actually the 1.
Franchise Point Guard
Smart is absolutely capable of settling in as the point guard of the future.
Even though he's a hulking 6'4" and generally serves as the strongest backcourt player on the court, he's more of a 1 than a 2. Smart is best with the ball in his hands, picking apart a defense with his ability to back down opponents, create looks off the dribble and distribute the ball to his teammates.
"I think he's probably more of a point guard than a shooting guard," an anonymous NBA scout told Robbins. "Of course there are things that he's going to have to learn as a point guard to become better and an efficient point guard in our league. I wouldn't say he's a 'true point guard,' but he's got point guard skills."
One of those areas of improvement will certainly be his jumper.
However, focusing on the positives, Smart brings quite a bit to the proverbial table. Particularly on the Magic, where Oladipo is still learning how to function as a primary ball-handler and might not be best-served in that role down the road, his ability to control the rock would be highly beneficial.
Then there's his defensive ability, even if he sometimes failed to stand out during his time at Oklahoma State.
As Daniel O'Brien notes for Bleacher Report, while also identifying leadership and offensive aggressiveness as Smart's core strengths, defense is definitely a positive:
There's not really anything to dislike about his defensive game. He has the foot speed and shiftiness to mark the best point guards in the league, and he also has the wingspan and bulk to stop most shooting guards.
This is what makes him particularly appealing alongside Oladipo.
Both guards have the ability to shut down either backcourt position, which allows them to switch constantly and guard the player they match up against most strongly. There doesn't have to be any notion of positions in the Orlando backcourt, at least on the defensive end.
According to 82games.com, Oladipo performed fairly well against both positions during his rookie season.
He held opposing floor generals to a 13.8 player efficiency during his first season out of Indiana, and the other team's shooting guards posted a 15.8 PER against him. Both are respectable marks, and it's likely that he gets even better as he continues adjusting to the sport's highest level.
Smart, given his physical tools and foot speed, would be able to make a similar impact on two positions, which makes him quite intriguing at No. 4.
But is he the best option?
Better Option Available
"He will compete every game as if it's the championship game. It's just a unique trait. It's just the way he's wired. It is who he is," Travis Ford told Robbins about his former star player at Oklahoma State. "He has never ever in his two years with me had a bad practice, not been ready to go."
But is competitiveness really what pushes a player over the top?
At this level, most of the top guys are going to compete in every game, or else they wouldn't have reached the upper echelon of draft prospects. Evaluating mentality is often as important as every other facet of the game, and poor mental games are often exposed at this point in the process.
In fact, there's another competitive point guard who should be on the board at No. 4: Dante Exum.
The Australian guard has been an international man of mystery for most of the predraft proceedings, but he's carrying a significantly higher upside, thanks to his additional height and explosiveness. The intangibles are all there, and so too is just about everything that Smart brings to the table.
Smart is stronger, sure. However, Exum is a better-rounded offensive player with just as much defensive potential—even when guarding both positions.
The biggest advantage Smart has over his backcourt competition is the ability to compete right away, and even that's not a guarantee.
Exum hasn't faced the same level of competition and is generally thought of as needing a bit of time to make the adjustment, but his upside trumps Smart's readiness—especially on the Magic, who aren't yet ready to compete for a playoff spot in the weak Eastern Conference, much less a title.
Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman is one of many who has Exum fitting in at No. 4, this time in his post-Finals mock draft:
f Embiid, Parker and Wiggins are off the board, it's just hard to picture the Orlando Magic passing on the potential tied to Exum, who'd fill an immediate need at the point while offering the highest upside left of anyone available.
Marcus Smart also works here, as does Noah Vonleh, but until we hear the Magic aren't interested in Exum, who will work out for them next week, per Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, this match is just too fitting to write off.
As Wasserman writes, Smart does indeed work in Orlando. There's no doubt about that.
He's a great option; he's just not the best one.
Unless something dramatically changes during the coming weeks, Exum is the clear-cut No. 4 player on most big boards, and he happens to play at the Magic's primary position of need.
Of the prospects not named Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker or Joel Embiid, he has the most potential and remains the only player with a true chance of moving up into one of those first three spots, though that still feels quite unlikely.
So should the Magic look to pair Oladipo and Smart in their backcourt?
Sure, but only as a secondary plan, just in case the beginning of the draft doesn't go as expected. A certain Oklahoma State product might be a Smart choice for Orlando, but drafting Exum at No. 4 would be the Smart-er decision.