When the Orlando Magic traded the rights to Dario Saric to the Philadelphia 76ers for the rights to Elfrid Payton during the 2014 NBA Draft, I would have needed Indiana Jones to lead me through that maze of Magic fan boos.
All of my friends and colleagues who follow the Magic, they all deployed the face-palm reaction.
The writing was on the wall for Jameer Nelson. Orlando knew it was time to make a change at point guard – so did Nelson.
The cloud of negativity hovering over that pick created a mountain of doubt after the not-so-kind treatment of the No. 4 pick, Aaron Gordon, whom the Magic drafted instead of everyone’s favorite 19-year-old Aussie, Dante Exum.
For months, Magic fans were bombarded with propaganda that led them to believe Exum was heading to O-town, and depending on how the chips fell, the No. 12 pick would turn into either Noah Vonleh or Doug McDermott.
The animosity was high. General Manager Rob Hennigan was drawing more criticism than applause for the first time since he signed, sealed and delivered Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers.
But fast forward about four months later, and Payton looks like he is going to start alongside Victor Oladipo in the backcourt for Orlando to start the regular season.
The Magic are young, versatile and extremely athletic. Neither Gordon nor Payton can shoot very well, but shooting is the easiest thing to teach at basketball’s highest level.
However, what gives Orlando’s rookies the edge is their defensive abilities. The Magic look to have one of the best young, defensive teams in the league, and they will give their new additions the chance to grow with playing time early and often.
So it begs the question: which other rookies should be starting?
For the sake of conversation, let’s ignore three obvious choices. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker should start and will start. If they do not, I might have to have myself committed because the insanity will creep in quickly. Plus, though I do not agree with him being defined as a rookie, Nerlens Noel is going to start as well for Philadelphia.
Who else deserves to hit the hardwood when the game tips off?
I cannot shy away from “McBuckets.” Doug McDermott is everything the Chicago Bulls are looking for in a small forward. He is deceptively athletic and contains some agility. And the guy can shoot the lights out in any fashion and from any spot on the floor.
If Derrick Rose wants to isolate, McDermott can spot up and knock down. If Rose wants to move without the ball, McDermott can facilitate and create his own shot. I have nothing but love for Mike Dunleavy, but it’s clear McDermott needs to start.
Another guy who comes to mind is Nik Stauskas. Ben McLemore is a phenomenal athlete and talent, but take a look at the Sacramento Kings’ projected starting lineup. Darren Collison and Rudy Gay are both ball-dominating players. They need the rock in their hands to be effective.
I think McLemore is too similar to them to be starting alongside them. Stauskas would be a good compliment because he can move without the ball and drain from anywhere on the court. It just seems to be a more efficient use of both Stauskas and McLemore to start the rookie from Michigan over the second-year Kansas Jayhawk. Besides, that would give McLemore the opportunity to lead the second unit and maintain the flow of the offense when the starters get tired.
It makes sense.
This next one makes more sense because Rajon Rondo is now injured, but how does Marcus Smart not start for the Boston Celtics?
He has phenomenal vision and can score at will when he wants to. Why didn’t he average 10 assists a game at Oklahoma State, you might ask? Well, he played at Oklahoma State – that is why.
Rondo will be leaving in one way or another very soon. It is logical to start Smart and allow him to gain experience and the fans’ trust now. That’s why you drafted him, Danny Ainge. He is your next franchise point guard – maybe.
I could make a case for Julius Randle too. The Lakers may have picked up Carlos Boozer, but there is no way you draft a guy like Randle with a top-10 pick and let him ride the bench for very long. He’s quick, strong and athletic.
I would like to see him start, though Boozer is probably a better fit next to Jordan Hill in the lineup. So I will not say Randle should start, rather, it would be entertaining to see him play with Kobe Bryant as much as possible.
If there was any less reason to be excited for this rookie class beforehand, it should become apparent now as these guys appear set to get their first taste of NBA action in a major way.