One week out, Smith remains ‘favorite’ to be first overall selection

The 2022 NBA draft is officially a week away, and there still seems to be at least some mystery as to who will pick the Orlando Magic first overall in the draft.

The Magic will pick first place next Thursday night for the fourth time in franchise history and the first time since Dwight Howard was first picked overall in 2004.

There seems to be a consensus among league executives and draft industry pundits that the top three players in this class (in various combinations/orders) are the versatile big men Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith Jr. Smith has overwhelmingly held his ground since the NBA lottery results were announced last month as the favorite to be picked first by Orlando. You can currently bet Smith Jr. is the best pick at DraftKings Sportsbook with odds of -145.

Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Auburn’s 6-10 sniper worked for the Magic at the Amway Center last Thursday.

“I just feel my desire to win and there’s so much I can do,” Smith Jr. told reporters when asked why he should be the first pick in the draft. “I feel like I can come in right away and just make an instant impression (for any team) with my shooting ability, my ability to play defense, get a rebound and push it, ability to defend multiple positions – I feel like that separates me from a lot of people.”

The SEC Freshmen of the Year made 42 percent of his 188 three-point field goal attempts last season. He finished in the SEC top 5 in scoring (16.9 points per game), three-point field goals (79), player efficiency rating (25.0), box plus/minus (11.1), and Defensive rebound percentage (23.5 percent). 2021-22. In case you missed it, you can read all about Smith Jr. in our Orlando Pinstriped Post 2022 NBA Draft scouting report series.

We’ll find out next week how much Smith’s magicians are. But what struck me when the Georgia native came to Orlando for training was how familiar he was with the organization.

“I watch a lot of NBA games and the games I watched I could tell how much fun they were having,” Smith Jr. told local media after his practice session last week. “Regardless of the record or the struggles they faced this season, you would never guess their record was what it was. Just watching them play (and) the joy they had, you’d think they’re playing game seven of the Finals every game. You play to win every game. No one left their misery because it was a tough season. Everyone still has that pop and that energy.”

2022 NBA Draft Combine Circuit

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While Smith Jr. could be the betting favorite (right now) to travel to Orlando, the Magic are expected to continue evaluating their options into next week. Two other candidates selected first overall, Holmgren (+120 at DraftKings) and Banchero (+2,000 at DraftKings), also offer immense benefits and opportunities to the organization. Holmgren, who took home both West Coast Conference Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors last season, led the nation in defensive rating, the two-point field goal, in 2021-22 percentage and effective field goal percentage. Banchero, who won ACC Rookie of the Year, scored 20 points or more in a game 15 times last season.

Orlando Pinstriped Post 2022 NBA Draft Scouting Report: Chet Holmgren
Orlando Pinstriped Post 2022 NBA Draft Scouting Report: Paolo Banchero

Digging through some of the industry’s most respected draft content will return you with the same result over and over again. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony has Smith Jr. on his way to the Magic in his latest mock draft (Smith is in second place — behind Holmgren — on ESPN’s “best available” board), as does The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor in his latest mock (Smith ranks second – behind Banchero – on the O’Connor big board) and The Athletic’s Sam Vencenie in his. Even SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell, who wrote an article in May advocating that the Magic choose Banchero as the overall winner, has Orlando Smith Jr. take over in his latest mock draft (although he still believes Banchero is the is a better option).

In case you missed it, O’Donnell was kind enough to answer a few design questions for us at the Orlando Pinstriped Post last week.

While Holmgren and Banchero still have some time to win the hearts and minds in Orlando’s front office, the odds seem to be in Smith Jr.’s favor. The Magic will control the top of the draft, and let’s not forget… they have two of the top five picks in the second round again this year (numbers 32 & 35).

All eyes in the league will be on Orlando next Thursday night (well, at least for a while). And honestly, that hasn’t been the case with Magic for a while. Now all they have to do is hit the pickaxe.

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