NBA Draft 2022 Rumors: Magic 'Leaning Toward' Chet Holmgren with No. 1 Overall Pick

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVMay 23, 2022

Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren (34) moves the ball against Georgia State during the second half of a first round NCAA college basketball tournament game, Thursday, March 17, 2022, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer

For the next month, the main question in NBA draft circles will be a simple one: What are the Orlando Magic going to do with the top overall pick?

According to Sam Vecenie and John Hollinger of The Athletic, some of Hollinger's NBA sources believe the Magic "are leaning toward selecting Chet Holmgren. Of course, that would play to their type. This front office's track record reveals an obsession with length, so one can easily connect the dots there." 

But that report added that "some league insiders immediately second-guessed that first instinct. Are the Magic just playing on their length-based reputation to bait Oklahoma City into trading up from No. 2? Let the game of smoke signals begin."

Since the Magic hired Jeff Weltman to serve as president of basketball operations and John Hammond as general manager in May 2017, the team has undoubtedly focused on length and athleticism at the NBA draft. 

Whether that approach has borne fruit is a fair question:

  • 2017 notable picks: Jonathan Isaac (No. 6 overall)
  • 2018 notable picks: Mo Bamba (No. 6 overall)
  • 2019 notable picks: Chuma Okeke (No. 16 overall)
  • 2020 notable picks: Cole Anthony (No. 15 overall)
  • 2021 notable picks: Jalen Suggs (No. 5 overall) and Franz Wagner (No. 8 overall)

While a torn ACL has cost Isaac the past two seasons, when healthy, he's looked like a potential franchise cornerstone, especially on the defensive end. He averaged 2.3 blocks per game in the 2019-20 season. Keeping him healthy, however, is vitally important. 

While it might be harsh to label Bamba a bust, it's fair to argue he hasn't lived up to his No. 6 overall billing. He averaged 10.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 69 starts this season, shooting a solid 38.1 percent from three.

His ability to protect the rim and stretch the floor on offense makes him a fit in the modern NBA, but with Isaac set to return, Wendell Carter Jr. on the roster and Holmgren a potential draft selection, his time in Orlando appears to be over.

B/R's Jake Fischer reported last week there is an "expectation among league personnel that Bamba, a restricted free agent this summer, is likely to depart the franchise, especially after being considered a trade candidate prior to February’s trade deadline."

Power forward Okeke has largely come off the bench for the Magic the past two seasons, averaging 8.3 points and 4.6 rebounds, though his perimeter shooting (32.6 percent from three) remains a concern.

Anthony, at 6'2" and 185 pounds, broke that length trend for the Magic, though he's also outplayed his draft slot, averaging a solid 16.3 points and 5.7 assists in 65 starts for the Magic this past season. He looks like an excellent value selection. 

Finally, the jury is still out on rookies Suggs (11.8 PPG, 4.4 APG) and Wagner (15.2 PPG), though both played well this year, particularly Wagner. Both look like potential franchise cornerstones going forward. 

What the Magic don't appear to have yet is a true superstar to build around. The hope will be that they find with the top overall pick. 

Holmgren, however, represents an interesting philosophical debate for teams. On one hand, he's a natural rim protector (3.7 BPG) who also showed the ability to score on all three levels during his time at Gonzaga (14.1 PPG, 39.0 percent from three). He appears to be the rare center prospect who can protect the rim, is athletic enough to handle switches on the perimeter and can score at a high level on the other end.

If he bulks up, he could be a force.

Mike Schmitz @Mike_Schmitz

Spent some time with potential top pick Chet Holmgren in Santa Barbara. We broke down film and talked through some of his go-to moves on the court. Here’s a portion of the interview that aired this afternoon on NBA Today. Much more to come on ESPN YouTube. <a href="https://t.co/5A7C46olIU">pic.twitter.com/5A7C46olIU</a>

On the other hand, it is hard to build around a center as a team's best player. Lengthy, athletic two-way wings and point guards who score at a high level seem to rule the postseason year after year. Neither MVP Nikola Jokic or MVP runner-up Joel Embiid are currently playing in the conference finals. 

Meanwhile, the "big men" who have had the most playoff success in recent years are marvels like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant. The former is a unique combination of facilitator, elite defender and runaway freight train when he drives to the basket, and the latter is an elite shooting guard in a seven-foot frame. 

Is Holmgren that level of unicorn? Is he even a better prospect than players like Jabari Smith or Paolo Banchero? Would players like Jokic and Embiid claim titles with better perimeter supporting casts? 

Those are the types of questions the Magic will be pondering heading into this year's draft.