Sometimes you don't need to complicate life. When the obvious is there don't try to think it can't be that easy.
Here we are in the NBA Draft and Orlando Magic have the sixth and 11th pick in tonight's event. The Magic can take talented young players and continue to build a team of young talent around Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. Orlando may also not want to add two rookies to guaranteed contracts on a team full of young players. The Magic are not likely to be a player in free agency this summer, but they may position themselves to be aggressive next summer and with the new media deal on the horizon, Orlando may be a free agent participant the next two years.
But let's get back to tonight and what the team may do. I personally think Orlando may look to move out of the 11th spot and slide down or even move the pick for future picks. I do think they have made calls about packaging the two selections to get up for one of the top two players not named Wembanyama. Charlotte has indicated they are down to two players(Brandon Miller or Scoot Henderson). Portland has a decision to make about keeping the pick and taking either Miller or Henderson or moving the selection as part of a trade that would make franchise player Damian Lillard happy. Portland may also keep the pick and move Lillard to advance the rebuild.
If I was the Magic and Portland would take Jonathan Isaac, either Markell Fultz or Jalen Suggs and pick six and 11 for Lillard, I would do it. There would need to be more pieces involved in such a deal for salary cap reasons. But I would need to know that Lillard would be all-in on playing with Paolo and Franz. If not, no deal. I think Lillard, Banchero and Wagner would be must-see every game and the Magic could be a top four team in the eastern conference.
But let's say no deal for Lillard and the Magic use the pick at six. If we believe Wembanyama, Miller and Henderson are the top three then Houston picks four and one of the Thompson twins(Ausar and Amen) likely gets picked. The Pistons go at five and could take a Thompson or maybe Cam Whitmore from Villanova or even Jarace Walker from Houston.
What should the Magic do at six? Run to the podium and hand in the selection of UCF's Taylor Hendricks.
I know what you are thinking. "Marc, you are biased because he played at UCF." That is fair but I am telling you he is going to be special.
First, the basketball reasons to take Hendricks. He's a legit 6-9 with a wingspan of 7-1. He's an athletic freak that plays high level defense for a player with just one year of college basketball on his resume. He was one of the best shot blockers in the AAC and most blocks came by making the smart play on defense and being in the right position. He is a solid on ball defender and can handle switching, which is so important in the NBA. Taylor's offensive game is very solid as he shot 39% from three and his ability to drive will only get better. UCF used Hendricks in a variety of ways and I have said before that I thought he needed to be more selfish at times but deferred to teammates too much at times. He did struggle at times against bigger and more physical players but he will add muscle as he gets into the NBA. But the upside is big. He has that "it" thing while being grounded. He has been a workout machine for NBA teams and everyone talks about his skillset and character.
I wanted to watch games of some of the other players projected in that four to 12 range of this draft. I asked basketball analyst Mike O'Donnell about the Thompson twins who played at Overtime Elite- a high school alternative for players to showcase their skills. I like the Thompson twins and think they are very talented but I asked O'Donnell about the level of competition they faced compared to Hendricks one year at UCF. The astute O'Donnell pointed out that by the time Taylor played games in late November opposing teams designed defenses to stop him. It was the case all season long for Hendricks. The Thompsons played a lot of isolation and rarely faced teams that excelled at defense.
The Thompsons played against the equivalent of high school AAU teams, while Hendricks faced players in the early 20s every game.
Hendricks may be a guy that comes into the NBA where he is asked to play defensive and shoot some threes until the rest of his offensive game comes around. The Magic could use a lot of what Taylor offers. And when it comes to the character of Taylor Hendricks, he is everything a team wants. In watching Taylor this past season I saw a humbled young man who knew he was the most talented player on the team yet deferred both on and off the court to older veterans. He joked like the teenager he is and made sure his brother, Tyler, was always by his side.
I've told the story before, on one commercial flight with UCF this past season an assistant coach was saving a seat in the exit row for Taylor. When they looked towards the back of the plan they saw the two brothers sitting side-by-side with Taylor in the uncomfortable middle seat. When asked to move up, Taylor said "I am good right here." It may sound like a little story but to me it showed a side of someone special. Despite knowing bigger things were just a few months away, the star player preferred being the good brother showing everyone else he is no better in that moment.
I don't want the Magic to draft Hendricks because he played at UCF. I want them to draft him because I think he is one of the best players in the draft.
I think players like Whitmore, Walker, Arkansas' Anthony Black are nice players and I won't criticize the Magic if they choose one of those players. The draft has become more of a crapshoot with so many 18 and 19 year players being taken. But I think Hendricks is better than all of them.
If the draft unfolds without drama and the Magic are on the clock at six, don't waste time. If he's there, Taylor Hendricks is the pick. Go get him!
Final note: The first ever number one pick in the pro basketball draft was in 1947 when the Pittsburgh Ironmen of the BAA (Basketball Association of America) took Clifton McNeely from UTEP. He chose to not play professional basketball and the Ironmen folded before the season even started.