In yet another sign of how unpredictable the 2013 NBA Draft already is, the Orlando Magic hosted Indiana Hoosiers big man Cody Zeller for a second consecutive day on Tuesday, fueling speculation that the Magic could hurl the draft into an unanticipated direction.
Zeller has been on the Magic's radar for some time, but his trip to Central Florida serves as a reminder of how wide-open Thursday's draft might become for the Magic, especially if the Cleveland Cavaliers use the first overall pick to select Kentucky center Nerlens Noel.
Orlando holds the second overall pick, and Magic officials are more inclined to acquire the best player available instead of filling a specific positional need. If Noel is off the board, the Magic's options would include Hoosiers shooting guard Victor Oladipo and Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore.
The Magic have listened to offers for the second pick, and it remains possible that they would trade down. The Minnesota Timberwolves, for instance, own the ninth pick and likely want to move up, probably to select either Oladipo or McLemore.
Selecting Zeller second overall seems like a significant reach. None of the major mock drafts that populate the Internet predict Zeller being selected higher than 10th overall.
Oladipo, McLemore and Noel have traveled to Orlando in recent weeks, as have UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett, Michigan point guard Trey Burke, Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams, Lehigh combo guard C.J. McCollum and Georgetown small forward Otto Porter Jr.
Magic officials placed a high value on interviews during those visits. In addition to formal conversations, General Manager Rob Hennigan took each of the prospects to either lunch or dinner, largely to get to know each player on a one-on-one level.
Despite all the talk about the Magic front office's affinity for statistical analyses, Hennigan likely relies more on his gut feeling about individual players' character and on the background research his scouting staff has collected.
Some players enhanced their stock during their interviews in Orlando, while others fell out of consideration.
The Magic don't appear to be considering Alex Len, a 7-foot-1 center from Ukraine who attended the University of Maryland, even though most mock drafts rank him among the top-five prospects.
The Magic did not interview Len during last month's NBA Draft Combine, and it's believed that the team hasn't hosted Len in Orlando, either.
Meanwhile, with the Los Angeles Clippers' hiring of Doc Rivers all but ensuring that Chris Paul will re-sign with the team, speculation is intensifying that the Clippers and Magic will complete a trade headlined by L.A. point guard Eric Bledsoe and Orlando wing Arron Afflalo.
Some news outlets reported that the deal could be completed as early as Thursday, but a league source indicated to the Orlando Sentinel that any deal involving Bledsoe is not likely to be completed that quickly.
Zeller, who measures 7 feet tall in sneakers, is believed to have worked out for the Magic once on Monday and again on Tuesday.
At the combine, Zeller jumped 35.5 inches from a stationary position, the highest jump by any player. He also ran a three-quarters court sprint in 3.15 seconds, a faster time than Oladipo or McLemore.
Noel, however, is the most athletically gifted big man in the draft — provided, of course, that he recovers fully from his knee injury. Magic officials almost certainly sought out the opinions of at least three different doctors in an attempt to gauge how well Noel is healing and to determine whether Noel is likely to suffer further injuries.
The Cavaliers might use the first overall pick to select Noel. But if the Cavaliers pass on Noel, his potential, especially on the defensive end of the court, might be too great for the Magic to pass up.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun