A day Solomon Jones has been waiting for all of his life. With four overall picks, including three in the second round, mock drafts all over the Internet have Jones going to the Orlando Magic. One such projection from CNNSI.com has Jones being selected at No. 50, while Sports.yahoo.com and Draftexpress.com have him going at No. 44.
Either way, Orlando and Jones are a perfect match.
After playing two seasons at USF, Jones proved he belongs in the NBA. Competing in college basketball’s toughest conference, he was second in the Big East in rebounding with 9.8 per game and third in blocks with 3.07 per game. His blocks per game tied him with LSU’s Tyrus Thomas for No. 10 in the NCAA. Standing at 6-foot-10, Jones is a defensive presence with a tremendous wingspan that will be welcomed by any team.
If there is one thing the Magic lacked last season it was a strong defender off the bench. Orlando was No. 17 in blocks (4.41), No. 23 in rebounds (40.17) and No. 15 in opponents’ field-goal percentage (.454). The Magic was ranked No. 13 in total defense and allowed 96 points per game. Adding Jones to the frontcourt could significantly improve those numbers.
Executives in Orlando’s front office have stated they want to improve the team’s interior defense, especially at the center position. If they expect to do this, it must be addressed in the draft – the 2006 free agent class is weak at the center and power forward positions. Among those available are Ben Wallace – a player the Magic already gave up – Joel Pryzbilla, Drew Gooden, Al Harrington, Nazr Mohammed and Alonzo Mourning.
Jones won’t be expected to score many points, but he sure has the ability to. Many of the 13.2 points per game he scored during his senior season came in transition and off rebounds on the offensive end. He improved his midrange jump shot from his junior year, but he needs to shoot more consistently and expand his range to be an effective scorer in the NBA.
This season, the Magic struck a deal with the New York Knicks by acquiring Penny Hardaway and his expiring $15.7-million contract. This move will allow Orlando to make a splash in the 2007 free agent market, one that is going to include LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony.
With Thomas and Texas’ LaMarcus Aldridge as the best centers available, those two should be selected in the top four picks. Jones could see his stock rise on draft day and could sneak up to an early second-round choice. Orlando would be wise to select him with its No. 44 pick because he might not be available when they choose again at No. 50.
If the Magic provides Jones with an ideal situation in which he could come off the bench to defend the basket and grab rebounds, he could be an asset to Orlando’s decent frontcourt duo of Dwight Howard and Tony Battie. A midseason trade brought in Darko Milicic, the primary reserve for Howard. Mario Kasun and Bo Outlaw round out the team upfront, and Jones would be an immediate improvement over both.
Orlando has made some wise selections in the second round of the draft, but those selections have enjoyed more success for other teams. In 2003 the club selected Zaza Pachulia, who ranked third in the league in offensive rebounds last season while averaging 11.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game – for the Atlanta Hawks. Anderson Varejao was selected by Orlando in 2004, and he provided a spark off the bench that helped tremendously during the Cavaliers recent playoff run. Travis Diener was the latest second-round choice of Orlando, and he led the Magic in three-point field-goal percentage last season as Jameer Nelson’s backup.
But since he will be a second-round pick, Jones won’t feel any pressure. Unlike other sports in the NBA, almost nothing is expected of second-round selections.
When crowds see Jones’ athleticism on the defensive end and hustle on the offensive glass, Magic fans will feel good about the pick.