Counter-report: Most within NBA expect Magic to draft Jabari Smith No. 1

Auburn forward Jabari Smith at 2022 NBA Draft Combine Circuit
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NBA personnel, according to one report, believe the Magic will favor Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren over Auburn’s Jabari Smith with the No. 1 pick.

But it might depend which league personnel you ask.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

While Magic executives have made it clear they will conduct a thorough process — even extending beyond the widely believed top three prospects in Smith, Holmgren and Paolo Banchero — most NBA teams firmly believe that’s a formality and that Smith is all but assured to become the top pick. Smith, for his part, appears thrilled with that development. So is Holmgren over his looming marriage with the Oklahoma City Thunder, which is also the overwhelming expectation from NBA executives with whom we spoke at the draft combine.

Smith does seem like the more likely selection. The Holmgren report was surprising.

But I wouldn’t rush to assume the top of the draft is already crystalizing.

A 7-foot rail thin big who blocks a lot of shots and has good ball skills, Holmgren is a unique prospect. Smith is also distinctive as a big forward with a sweet shooting stroke and excellent defensive mobility on the perimeter but lackluster rim protection.

It’s difficult to pigeonhole either prospect into an archetype. So, attempts to predict based on the draft history of Magic executives Jeff Weltman and John Hammond could result in misguided assumptions.

Likewise, the Thunder have often bypassed consensus. Just because Smith and Holmgren are often viewed as the top two prospects in this draft, Orlando picking Smith No. 1 wouldn’t necessarily mean Oklahoma City would take Holmgren No. 2.

As difficult as it is to find comps for Holmgren, Aleksej Pokusevski – whom the Thunder got with the No. 17 pick in 2020 – shares some similarities. So, that could indicate a player type Oklahoma City likes. Or it could mean the Thunder don’t want another incredibly thin big with ball skills. (I wouldn’t worry about fit with Pokusevski when considering the No. 2 pick, but NBA teams sometimes inflate the importance of their own players.)