Daniel Orton was a five-star recruit while in high school but the three years after graduation have not been very glamorous. It’s been a challenging road for him, but he may have finally caught the break he needed.
With Dwight Howard missing time because of a herniated disk and Glen Davis injuring his right knee in Sunday night’s game, Daniel Orton saw minutes that he has not gotten since high school and he made the most of them.
In Orlando’s 100-84 victory over Cleveland on Sunday night, which clinched a playoff spot for the Magic, Orton played 29 minutes, scored 11 points, grabbed four rebounds, blocked three shots and had a team-high five steals—solid production for a player who has not been relied upon in recent years.
Orton committed to Kentucky in 2009 and came off the bench to back up DeMarcus Cousins. He averaged only 13.2 minutes per game, 3.4 points per game and 3.3 rebounds per game. He did have 1.4 blocks per game but his other numbers were low. Still, he opted to go to the NBA Draft.
The Magic selected him with the 29th overall pick, making him a first-rounder and hoping he could add some size behind Dwight Howard.
There were many concerns about Orton. Despite his soft shooting touch and shot-blocking abilities, Orton was not considered a tough back-to-the-basket forward. There were even bigger questions about his conditioning and the health of his knees, which proved to be an issue.
Still a raw prospect, Orton was sent to the New Mexico Thunderbirds of the NBA Development League to get more experience. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in his second game.
Before even playing a game for the Magic, the team declined his option for a third season, so he will be an unrestricted free agent in the off-season.
This year, he has only played in 10 games. He’s averaged 7.4 minutes per game, 1.7 points and 1.4 rebounds. But now he has a legitimate opportunity to prove himself, and earn himself a big payday in the upcoming months.
“Defensively, he was great on rotations and he’s a sharp kid. If he’d really decide to really, really work at it and everything, I think he showed that he’s capable of some things, especially on the defensive end,” head coach Stan Van Gundy told the media after the game. “But even offensively, I thought he did a good job in our pick-and-roll game. He knows how we want to play; he’s trying to play that way. I’m really happy for him.”
Without many big bodies, Orton will be called upon to protect the rim. But he also needs to be productive on both ends of the floor, because Orlando is built around working the ball down low, drawing defenders, then kicking it out for open jump shots. If Orton can’t make teams play him honestly, then the defense will just lock on the shooters and the offense will stagnate.
Orton will be playing key minutes for the Magic down the stretch run as they prepare for the playoffs. He will also be auditioning for a team to be named later that hopefully will provide a brighter future than the path his young career has started on.