Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith Jr. and the mystery that surrounded the NBA draft's No. 1 pick

Paolo Banchero's odds to be the No. 1 pick moved multiple times before the Magic called his name on draft night. AP Photo/John Minchillo

AROUND MIDNIGHT THE evening before the NBA draft, Orlando Magic president Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond walked together to their cars, talking about the event -- and decision -- that could change the course of their franchise. Less than 24 hours before the team's first No. 1 pick since 2004, the Magic's top two basketball executives weren't quite at peace.

That day, in meetings with their scouts and personnel specialists, the group had reached a tentative decision to go with Paolo Banchero, the powerful 19-year-old big man from Duke. Probably.

"If you told me Jeff would've walked into the office with a different decision in the morning," Hammond said, "I wouldn't have been shocked."

That next day, the Magic created a modern rarity: genuine surprise with the top pick on draft night. They selected Banchero after most of the league had for weeks believed they were leaning toward Jabari Smith Jr., a sweet-shooting, defensive-minded forward from Auburn.

The late reveal was a jolt to Smith, who had been preparing to join the Magic after a workout in Orlando in early June. And Banchero, who bypassed an offer to travel to Orlando for formal meetings because he wasn't sure the team was seriously considering him. And the Houston Rockets, who had prepared to pick Banchero with the third pick.

All the primary characters come together Thursday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN) as Banchero and the Magic face off against Smith and the Rockets at Las Vegas Summer League, hoping to shake off the awkwardness of the draft-night drama.

"We didn't know [Orlando was taking Banchero] until 10 minutes before the draft," Rockets general manager Rafael Stone said.

"I didn't hear from the Magic telling me for sure until a few minutes before," said Mike Miller, Banchero's agent and a 17-year NBA veteran.

And as Banchero said, "I didn't find out I was actually getting picked until about 20 seconds before the commissioner got on the stage."

THE INITIAL THEORY was that the Magic had run a misdirection on the rest of the league, and particularly Houston, by hiding their intentions. But multiple members of the Magic said it was merely the product of a grueling process to choose between top prospects that also included Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren.