As the 2014 NCAA Tournament has hit full stride, many Magic fans are probably watching the biggest names (Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, etc.) with the hopes of landing one of them in this year's NBA Draft. There are several intriguing questions surrounding "March Madness", so we went 5-on-5 with a few of our fellow Magic bloggers in an effort to voice our opinions on the tourney and make a few bold statements and predictions. A big thanks to Zach Oliver of Baller Mind Frame and Crab Dribbles, Philip Rossman-Reich of Orlando Magic Daily, and Adam Papageorgiou of Magic Basketball Online and Orlando Magic Greek for joining us. On to the questions.
As March Madness has kicked off, who is number one on your “Big Board” and why?
Jake Smith: Andrew Wiggins. While the casual basketball fan would say that the freshman has underachieved this year after coming in with monstrous expectations, I’d actually argue that he has overachieved. He still has the highest upside among all of his counterparts in this draft class and could be a franchise-changer for an Orlando team that needs a bona fide superstar following Dwight Howard’s departure in 2012. Aside from his world-class athleticism and already impressive defensive abilities, Wiggins’ improving jump shot and recent uptick in confidence have given me ample reason to believe that he’ll be a stellar professional.
Scott Fisher: Andrew Wiggins. I was on the Joel Embiid bandwagon for quite a while, but with his back injury and Wiggin’s recent stretch of great games, the Canadian has regained my top spot. He has grown so much over the course of his freshman year at Kansas, and his 71 points over two games have quelled my biggest concern when watching him early on: His ability to assert himself. He isn’t Jabari Parker on offense, but he’s improving and is lightyears ahead of his freshman counterpart on the defensive end. His potential to become an elite perimeter defender is what seals his spot atop my big board.
Zach Oliver: Andrew Wiggins. The Kansas Jayhawk has had an interesting season. He’s playing in a system that favors big men, but has proven that he was worth all of the hype he had coming into college. He plays the game extremely smoothly, and has shown he’s got the tools and ability to be a lockdown defender, along with being an incredibly dynamic scorer. He can come into the league and start right away at multiple positions, while giving you another potential ball handler on offense. While his numbers may not be as impressive as Jabari Parker, he arguably has the most upside of anyone in the draft.
Philip Rossman-Reich: Jabari Parker. He is the most NBA ready and I do not quite buy the “he is close to his ceiling” argument. All these guys are 18, they are going to get better. Reading about Parker, he seems like a really good kid (Sports Illustrated has done two revealing cover stories on him in the past year) who has really grown in the game. Of the top prospects, he looks to be the most polished and ready to contribute. I think he could step onto an NBA court tomorrow and hold his own. That has to count for something. His game seems much more rounded and ready to play.
Adam Papageorgiou: Andrew Wiggins. The best thing that could’ve happened for the Canadian was Joel Embiid hurting his back. Obviously not good for Embiid, but it forced Andrew to put one of the best college teams in the country on his back over the past few weeks. Wiggins is showing NBA executives how much of an offensive weapon he is and can be. He’s only a teenager! Andrew can put up points as easily as Jabari Parker while doing it with as much variety. At the same time, Wiggins’ defense and overall intangibles are what places him above Parker when it comes to wing prospects for me. I’ll also add that I like Dante Exum (I see the Penny in him) a lot and that he’s second on my board.
The Magic have the worse pick between the Nuggets and the Knicks this season. If you could pick a guy for them to take with the WoNK (worse of Nuggets/Knicks) selection in the 8-16 range on DraftExpress, who would you choose and why?
Jake Smith: Willie Cauley-Stein. While it’s hard to choose him due to the fact that Orlando already has two upcoming centers in Nik Vucevic and Kyle O’Quinn, I’ll bite the bullet and stay with the “Best Player Available” strategy with this one. The Kentucky big man has always impressed me with his athleticism and lateral quickness, and it would be hard for me to pass up on a seven-foot guy with those physical attributes this late in the lottery. Cauley-Stein certainly deserves the “project” label, and he probably wouldn’t make a huge impact at first in the Association, but I think that he could be an even better Tyson Chandler when he reaches his prime.
Scott Fisher: Aaron Gordon. I doubt he will be there, but freshman from Arizona could be the perfect glue guy on a championship team. He’s uber-athletic, plays great defense, and seems like he would fit perfectly with the culture Rob Hennigan is trying to build. If he had any remnants of an offensive game, he would likely be a top-five pick, but I believe his struggles on that end are fixable. He will never be a great offensive player, and some have given him the dreaded “tweener” label, but if Gordon is available, he would be a great get for the Magic.
Zach Oliver: I think it depends on what happens with the first pick. If they end up getting Dante Exum with the first pick, then I’d go with Rodney Hood to add another dynamic wing scoring option. If they are able to select Wiggins, I’d like to see them take one of Noah Vonleh (who will be gone most likely), Montrezl Harrell or Aaron Gordon. Both Vonleh and Harrell would give them a defensive power forward to play next to Nikola Vucevic and give him a rim protector. Gordon, who has been underratedly good on the defensive end, would give you an athletic freak who has a lot of upside on both ends. Going with one of these guys who show the team really does believe that Victor Oladipo can play point guard, and that they have the faith in his continued growth there.
Philip Rossman-Reich: If the Magic could somehow end up with Tyler Ennis at this stage, it would be a great Draft. Orlando needs a point guard or at least someone who can share the load with Victor Oladipo. I am not sure Oladipo is the answer at point guard long term, although the experiment is worth continuing for his development. It would make sense the Magic take a point guard at some point in this draft whether it be Dante Exum or Marcus Smart with the first pick or Tyler Ennis with the second. Otherwise, the Magic should still think about picking the best player available no matter who that is.
Adam Papageorgiou: Tyler Ennis. If the Magic draft Marcus Smart or Dante Exum with their first pick, a forward is the logical choice. If Orlando grabs Parker or Wiggins, well then you’re looking at best guard or PF available. Center is the sturdiest position on Orlando’s roster currently with Nikola Vucevic, Kyle O’Quinn, and possibly Dewayne Dedmon covering that spot. A lot depends on the fates of Arron Afflalo and Tobias Harris. If we’re assuming that second 1st round pick will be at #12 (which it currently is) once the Draft Lottery concludes, I will be stunned if Aaron Gordon or Dario Saric is still available with the WoNK pick. If either is there, you snag them. Ennis is beginning to win me over and Orlando is desperate for point guard depth. Ennis isn’t undersized and he has the clutch gene in him. Most importantly, Ennis is still a teenager and can be molded in any system. All opinions can change by the time the NCAA Tournament concludes, that’s the fun and insanity that the tourney provides. Who is to say Doug McDermott, Gary Harris, or Rodney Hood won’t be logical choices as well?
Give us a name of a potential Magic prospect who is flying under the radar as of right now and tell us what makes him intriguing.
Jake Smith: Nik Stauskas. Besides the fact that the dude could possibly be J.J. Redick 2.0, you’d be picking a guy whose floor as an NBA player would be a consistent shooter off of the bench. From what I’ve seen out of the Michigan Wolverine in his games this season, I think that he could be a Gordon Hayward-type player who can do several things for you on the offensive end of the court. Stauskas' game should translate well to the NBA-- as a role player, he'll be a dependable option off of the bench or perhaps even a decent starter if he can continue to improve his game. He’s slotted at 17th on DraftExpress’s mock right now, but there’s legit lottery talent in the Michigan guard.
Scott Fisher: Adreian Payne. His 41 point game against Delaware on Thursday was a work of art. He is expected to go at the end of the first round because of his age (he’s already 23), but that shouldn’t stop a team like the Magic from taking a flier on him, especially if the Knicks make the playoffs and knock the WoNK pick out of the lottery. He can do just about everything on offense, and is a true “stretch four”. Payne is the type of guy the Spurs snatch up late in the first round and turn into an extremely productive player, so I’d love Orlando to take a look at him.
Zach Oliver: K.J. McDaniels. The 6’6” high scoring forward from Clemson is very interesting. DraftExpress has him going 22nd to the Utah Jazz currently, but if he does declare and does well at the combine, he could start to inch up draft boards. He’s a guy who can score in multiple ways, and in his time as a Tiger has continually improved on the defensive end. He’s got the tools and size to be a nice 2-3 combo type player in the league, and could bring that scoring punch they need on the wing if that’s what they truly need with the second pick. Another guy to watch is guard Zach LaVine from UCLA.
Philip Rossman-Reich: Doug McDermott. OK, he is not exactly flying under the radar as the likely winner of the Naismith Award this season. But the guy is a scoring machine and guys who can score always find a spot in the league. Some have called him the next Adam Morrison. But he is definitely not Morrison. McDermott can work off screens but he can also work to create his own shot and he has NBA range already. Any team, especially one like the Magic which needs shooters, could use a guy like him on the roster. Now, McDermott will have to work extremely hard to improve his defense. The Magic should not use the WoNK pick on him unless it is late in the lottery or outside the lottery. But I will be intrigued to see if his masterful scoring prowess translates to the next level.
Adam Papageorgiou: Jerami Grant. Can’t go wrong with another DeMatha guy on the Magic. He seems have lost zero momentum after missing time due to back spasms. The 20-year-old forward is 6’9” with the wingspan of a 7’3” man. Grant can jump out of the roof and provides outstanding athleticism on both ends of the court. He’s ranked #21 on DraftExpress currently, but he’ll be in WoNK pick territory if he finishes the tourney healthy and continues shooting as efficiently as he has. Back spasms are a worry with someone that young, but your back would be hurting too if you contorted and utilized as much strength and power as much as Jerami does. For a guy who supposedly can’t score, Grant does a lot of it. I’ll always look to his 24 points and 12 rebounds he posted in that overtime thrilling win over Duke. Grant can do more than dunk. His jumper has huge potential, he knows how to cut in lanes, and Jerami can also put the ball on the floor and score.
Judging by how the Victor Oladipo: Point Guard experiment is going, would you say that the Magic NEED to take a floor general with one of its two picks?
Jake Smith: Eh. This depends on whether the Magic want to compete for a playoff spot next year-- if that’s the goal, then I think that you have to pair another competent ball-handler with Oladipo. Has he shown us that he could be an NBA point guard? Yes. Has he shown us that he’ll definitely become one? No. The perfect duo for orlando would have to be Dante Exum and Oladipo, but if they can’t get the Australian guard then you start to sail into some shaky waters by saying that you NEED a floor general. That didn’t really answer the question that was presented, but it did show that the Magic will have some tough decisions to make come June.
Scott Fisher: NEED is a strong word for me, and Oladipo hasn’t been a bad point guard this year. He’s growing at the position, and has looked really good at points (remember the Knicks game?). But he still has a lot of growing to do, and the Magic would be smart to pair him with another ball handler. Dante Exum would be perfect as that other ball handler, which is what makes him so intriguing for Magic fans at the top of the draft. Oladipo and Exum would be a lengthy, defensive-minded backcourt that could become one of the top duos in the league. But if the Magic don’t go with Exum, there’s no reason that they can’t address the issue in free agency or in a future draft.
Zach Oliver: Maybe. I don’t think you pick one just to pick one, unless that person is the best player available at the time. The team has other questions all over the roster, and a lot depends on how things fall during the draft lottery. I’ve seen enough from Victor this season in his time that tells me he deserves to get another year to see if he can continue to grow. This is a draft that you go best player available and figure out fit later no matter what you may need at the time, especially for a team like the Magic who could arguably go with someone at any position at this point.
Philip Rossman-Reich: Only if it makes sense. The Magic are not in a position to draft by need quite yet. They need so much. If they feel their foundation is best built by taking a wing and a center in the draft and allow Victor Oladipo to run point for one more year, so be it. A point guard would be nice though as I said earlier. I do not believe Victor Oladipo is the long-term answer at point guard although the experiment has been good for him as a player overall. If a guy like Tyler Ennis is available and he is at the top of the board, the Magic should pick him. Same goes for the first pick. If Smart or Exum are at the top of the board, the Magic should pick him. They can figure out needs later once the puzzle becomes clearer to solve.
Adam Papageorgiou: Yes. It’s absolutely imperative the Magic find a way to get Exum, Smart, or Ennis. Even if it involves trading assets. Victor Oladipo’s season at point guard will end up being invaluable the same way it was for Dwyane Wade in his rookie season. But come this summer, it’s time to put Oladipo back at his more natural off-the-ball guard spot and allow one of the 3 previously mentioned floor generals to come in and build impeccable chemistry with Vic. The need for a PG is more obvious with Jameer Nelson possibly walking out the door and E’Twaun Moore and Doron Lamb being incapable of playing long minutes at PG.
Finally: who do you have winning it all in the NCAA Tournament and why?
Jake Smith: The Florida Gators. Even though I pick them every year for homer reasons, this is the time where they’re actually favored to win! Billy Donovan is arguably the best coach in the country and has this senior-laden squad playing fantastic team basketball, and I don’t see anyone out-willing or outsmarting them at any point in this tournament. Add in the fact that they have one of the best floor generals in the country in Scottie Wilbekin and you’ve got a recipe for a champion. Go Gators.
Scott Fisher: Wichita State. Even though they are undefeated, they still have the “nobody believes in us” label and an underdog feel. I love a good underdog, so I’m partly making this pick with my heart. But there’s a reason the Shockers haven’t lost all year. Fred Van Vleet is one of the best floor generals in the country, Ron Baker provides some shooting, and Cleathony Early can do it all. They gave Louisville a run for their money in the Final Four last year, so they have the tournament experience to make a long run. Why not Wichita State?
Zach Oliver: The Florida Gators. They’re a deep, senior led team who has a chip on their shoulders to go and get past the elite eight. They lock down defensively, and have one of the toughest presses in the country, which can turn a one point game into a 15 points game in a heart beat. Scottie Wilbekin is the leader and could possibly be the most impactful point guard in the country. Big man Patric Young is built like a hybrid of a boulder, a tree stump and a brick wall. He could very well kill one of the children he’s playing against by the end of the tournament. They’re well coached, and rank highly on Kenpom, which in recent years has been a great indicator of teams who go deep and win the tournament.
Philip Rossman-Reich: I have Louisville. The Cardinals did not play great against the Jaspers in the second round. I tend to believe that it was because Steve Masiello was calling every single Louisville offensive and defensive set from his sideline for Manhattan. They run the same stuff. The Cardinals play some great defense and the press is difficult to prepare for on a short week (let alone two days). Russ Smith is one of the best leaders in the country and I do not think we will see another bad game for him, not for a while. And even if we do, Montrezl Harrell is a force in the paint and will be tough for any player to contain. And Luke Hancock is a knock-down shooter. This is an experienced team who knows how to win. They did it last year.
Adam Papageorgiou: *Looks at which brackets are performing best* Kentucky Wildcats. I think John Calipari sold his family’s souls to the Devil. One for each championship he’ll win. Seriously though, in the 2nd half of that SEC Championship Game, I believe Kentucky realized during their just short comeback against the Gators that they have the talent and size to bully their way to winning the whole thing. Or they’ll get embarrassed by Kansas State or Wichita State and I’ll look like an imbecile, but that’s the fun of the tourney!
Again, a big thanks to the guys who joined us for this roundtable. Head to the top of the page and click on their names to find their Twitter pages and make sure to give them all a follow. Enjoy the rest of the madness!