Ranking the Magic's 10 Best First-Round Moves in the NBA Draft

Aaron Gordon, Nick Anderson, but who's No. 1 among the Orlando Magic's 10 greatest first-round picks in the NBA Draft?
Feb 14, 2024; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero (5) dribbles the ball against New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) in the first quarter at KIA Center.
Feb 14, 2024; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero (5) dribbles the ball against New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) in the first quarter at KIA Center. / Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
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ORLANDO — First-round picks are often the backbone of any team.

Whether it's developing the players into core pieces or using them to trade for a proven star, making the right picks can make or break your franchise.

The Orlando Magic is no different. You can trace their level of success to their picks and draft-day trades — whether it's getting Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway in consecutive years, taking Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson in the same draft in 2004, or selecting Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, and Jalen Suggs with their three first-round picks from 2021 to 2022.

Here are the top 10 first-round picks n the Magic's 35-year history. For this exercise, the rank is determined based on the player and the team's success during their time together.

10. Aaron Gordon
No. 4 overall pick in 2014

Gordon was one of the franchise's steadier players in six-plus seasons. The Magic went from a rebuilding roster to one that made the playoffs twice before fully committing to a rebuild in 2021. In his lone playoff series with the Magic, Gordon was the leading scorer, averaging 15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals.

The Arizona product delivered his best season in 2017-18, averaging a career-high 17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game and earning votes for Most Improved Player of the Year. The Magic franchise was mostly directionless before he was traded to the Denver Nuggets and became an important starter in their championship season.

9. Jalen Suggs
No. 5 overall pick in 2021

Suggs, 23, was the first draft pick when the Magic embarked on their most recent rebuild. After an up-and-down first two seasons, he has been a vital piece as the Magic improved by 13 wins this past season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2020. Suggs averaged 12.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.4 assists per game. All of those averages improved in the postseason.

Suggs' defensive prowess earned him a place on the NBA's All-Defense second team. Orlando ranked second in defensive rating and fourth in points allowed per game. Suggs had 31 games with at least two steals, and the Magic were 20-11 in those games.

Suggs is a player in ascension and a cornerstone of the Magic's effort to become a conference contender.

8. Franz Wagner
No. 8 overall pick in 2021

Wagner was expected to be one of the Magic's more reliable scorers the moment he stepped on the court and he has answered the bell at every turn through his first three seasons.

Wagner, the second of the 2021 first-round picks, made the NBA All-Rookie first team, averaging 15.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He has increased his scoring with each season and had a solid showing in his first career playoff appearance, averaging 18.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists against the Cavs. Wagner also became the third player to have at least 30 points and 10 rebounds with no turnovers in a playoff game in the past decade.

If Wagner can continue his year-to-year improvement, he may develop into one of the best No. 2 options in the league.

7. Dennis Scott
No. 4 overall pick in 1990

Ranking first in 3-pointers made and 10th in points, Scott was one of the most prolific scorers in franchise history. The 6-foot-8 sharpshooter made 40.3 percent of his threes in his seven seasons.

While Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal rightfully get a lot of the credit, Scott's 3-point shooting and defense was integral in turning the Magic into a playoff team and championship contender in the 1990s.

6. Nick Anderson
No. 11 overall pick in 1989

Anderson was the first draft pick in Magic history, a daunting task for any player, but he became one of the Magic's most reliable players in his 10 seasons in Orlando.

Anderson did it all for the Magic, averaging 15.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. He ranks in the top five in points, rebounds, assists, 3-pointers made, field goals made, and minutes played. He's the all-time leader in steals and games played.

Anderson also flies under the radar because of the Penny-Shaq tandem, but his importance to Orlando can't be understated, especially as the franchise's first draft pick.

5. Paolo Banchero
No. 1 overall pick in 2022

Suggs and Wagner helped lay the foundation for Orlando to change its fortune, but Banchero is the player who cemented the Magic as a team with one of the brightest futures in the NBA.

In the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against Cleveland, Banchero scored 30 or more points three times, including a 38-point, 16-rebound highlight reel in Game 7. The 6-foot-10 forward is also the second-youngest player to have at least 25 points and eight rebounds in a Game 7, trailing only LeBron James.

The former No. 1 overall pick stepped in and immediately became the No. 1 option, averaging 20 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game en route to winning Rookie of the Year. He took another giant step forward in his second season, making the All-Star team and becoming the first No. 1 overall pick since James to average at least 20 points, five assists and five rebounds within their first two seasons.

Any time you share company with James after your first postseason appearance, you're on the right path.

4. Jameer Nelson
No. 20 overall pick in 2004

Nelson was the quintessential point guard and a perfect fit alongside Howard. The one-time All-Star averaged better than five assists per game in five consecutive seasons.

Like Nick Anderson, Nelson's name appears frequently in the Magic's record book:

  • all-time leader in assists.
  • second in games played.
  • third in minutes played.
  • fourth in 3-pointers made.
  • fifth in field goals made and steals.

The 6-foot Nelson was also at his best in the playoffs, averaging 15 points in 44 postseason games with Orlando.

The tandem of Howard and Nelson was one of the best in the league at its peak and helped lead Orlando to four straight seasons with at least 50 wins, plus an NBA Finals appearance in 2009 — the best stretch in franchise history.

3. Penny Hardaway
Draft-day trade with Golden State Warriors

Before Howard and Nelson, there was Penny and Shaq. In the 1993 NBA Draft, the Magic selected Michigan Fab Five star Chris Webber with the No. 1 overall pick. Fifteen minutes later, the Magic shocked the basketball universe by trading Webber to Golden State for Memphis point guard Hardaway, the No. 3 overall pick, and three future first-round picks.

Penny made an immediate impact, finishing second in the Rookie of the Year vote after he averaged 16 points and 6.6 assists per game and helped lead Orlando to a 50-win season and its first playoff appearance in franchise history. The Magic made the playoffs their next four seasons, including the 1995 NBA Finals and a franchise-best 60-win season in 1995-96.

At his peak, Penny was one of the best point guards in the league, finishing in the top 10 in MVP voting in his second and third seasons. He was a four-time All-Star and made the All-NBA team three times, twice on the first team. He was also at his best when it mattered most, averaging 21.8 points and 6.5 assists for his 45 postseason games with Orlando.

The influence of an elite point guard can't be understated. Hardaway arguably was one of the best draft-day trades in NBA history.

2. Shaquille O'Neal
No. 1 overall pick in 1992

This is where the list gets controversial. Had these rankings been based on the totality of each player's career, Shaq would be No. 1 with a bullet. But each player's history with the Magic is the decisive factor, and Shaq played only four seasons in Orlando.

That said, Shaq was a dominant force. The Magic set a franchise record for victories in each of his four seasons. Shaq won Rookie of the Year in 1993 and finished in the top 10 in MVP votes. He was an All-Star every year in Orlando, averaging 23.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.

Despite his brief stint with the Magic, he ranks sixth in franchise history in points, third in field goals and rebounds, and second in blocks.

There is no questioning Shaq's importance to the Magic and why they retired his number this year. But there is the nagging question of what could have been had he stayed in Orlando.

1. Dwight Howard
No. 1 overall pick in 2004

Similar to O'Neal, Howard was tasked with the astronomical expectations that come with being a No. 1 overall pick, especially one coming right out of high school.

Howard lived up to them and then some in his eight seasons with the Magic:

  • Defensive Player of the Year in three consecutive seasons.
  • NBA leader in blocks twice and rebounds four times.
  • All-NBA first team five times.
  • Six-time All-Star.

Howard, who averaged 18.4 points and 13 rebounds per game with Orlando, leads the franchise all-time in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes played. He ranks third in games played and field goals, and fourth in steals.

Howard was the catalyst for Orlando's best stretch of basketball — six consecutive postseason appearances, including an NBA Finals. Orlando won at least 52 games four seasons in a row and was 222-106 in that stretch.

In the Magic's best-ever stretch from 2006 to 2012, Howard played every game in three seasons. That durability and his performance at both ends of the floor make him the Magic's greatest draft pick.

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Nathaniel Marrero