HOUSTON — The Orlando Magic created a form of wizardry Thursday evening at the start of the 2022 NBA Draft. The Magic, who held the No. 1 overall selection, took Duke's Paolo Banchero over Auburn's Jabari Smith Jr.
Orlando's selection of Banchero left everyone stunned. The consensus belief had Orlando taking Smith as the first selection of the night, with Banchero falling to the Houston Rockets at No. 3.
But despite having the former Duke Blue Devil at the top of their draft board, general manager Rafael Stone had the Rockets prepared for any situation regardless of who the Magic took with their top overall pick.
"I had a lot of people tell me that they knew exactly what was going to happen," Stone said when speaking to the media following the draft. "I always thought that was kind of funny because I didn't. We were ready for anything. There were a couple of phone calls to make. We made them. And we are really excited."
The curveball thrown by the Magic may have caught Smith off guard. The 6-foot-10 prospect did not hold a pre-draft workout with the Rockets. And when speaking to the media before the draft on Monday, Smith revealed that he only worked out for the Magic and the Oklahoma City Thunder because he did not see himself falling below the second pick.
Stone and his staff managed to feel confident in their selection of Smith due to the game film Houston had on the reigning SEC Freshman of the Year winner. Despite not having a workout, Smith's shooting caught the eye of Stone — who later declared the former Auburn Tiger the "best shooter in the draft."
In addition to his shooting, Stone became more enamored by Smith's versatility on the defensive side of the ball. His ability to move his feet out on the perimeter while contesting an opponent's shot attempts made Smith a prominent contingency plan after missing out on Banchero.
Smith is thrilled to be joining the Rockets but says that falling to Houston at three has added a chip on his shoulders. Following the draft selection of Banchero, the Thunder took Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren at No. 2.
"I'm motivated," Smith said during his post-draft media availability. "Real motivated to get down there, get to work and just meet my teammates, meet my staff, just meet everybody down there. Just building relationships, getting to know the family and just getting to work."
"God makes no mistakes, so I'm happy to be here. I'm happy to be where I'm wanted. I'm happy to get to Houston and just show them, give them what they picked. Just happy to be here."
Whether it was Banchero, Holmgren or Smith, Stone always felt confident in the Rockets' ability to add an exceptional talent regardless of the player available at pick No. 3.
The Rockets are paring Smith with the likes of Alperen Sengun to create one of the most intriguing frontcourts in the league. The addition of Smith will also give the Rockets a dynamic offensive trio playing alongside Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr.
Smith, who shot 42.0 percent from behind the arc last season, averaged 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals and a 1.0 block in 34 games played during his freshman campaign at Auburn.
"At the top of the draft, there were talented guys who all were very different," Stone said. "We felt that we were going to get an unbelievable talent where we were. And we did. We knew that going in, and we are really happy."
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