Elfrid Payton has arrived.
The 10th overall pick and third point guard off the board in the 2014 draft has used the NBA Summer League as a launching pad for his pro career. So far, it looks like the Orlando Magic have hit the jackpot.
To be fair, it's quite early. Nevertheless, after a sluggish first pro contest in which he was initially stifled when pressured, the Louisiana-Lafayette product has hit the ground running and already won over the fanbase with his work ethic and his attitude.
The reviews, such as one from Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears, have been positive:
The perfect embodiment of the new philosophy in Orlando, which centers around an unlimited motor and a defensive-minded approach—No. 4 overall pick Aaron Gordon fits this mold, too—Payton has looked strong on the stat sheet thus far:
While far from perfect, Payton has shown exactly why the Magic were hard at work on the phones after Philadelphia scooped him up two picks before their selection.
NBA.com lists him at 6'4" and 185 pounds with a 6’8" wingspan, and his athleticism has been an early positive.
Coupled with his vision as the court general, that attribute has already produced strong plays for those around him:
Ditto in the way of plays for himself, as his wicked first step has seen him blow past plenty of defenders before a strong finish:
The defense has been there, too:
So far, these are the infancy stages for a player who looks to be rather well-rounded, even if his ability to stretch the court via the deep ball—he shot .268 from behind the arc in three years at the collegiate level—is a point of criticism and an aspect that certainly needs improved upon.
According to NBA.com's David Aldridge, one Western Conference executive perfectly described what we are already seeing so far from Payton before the draft:
He's extremely young for his age -- a junior who just turned 20. He's got good size, he's long, he's got all the tools to be a terrific defender. But he really struggles shooting it from the perimeter, so he has to be an elite attacker. He's a good athlete, but not like [Suns guard] Eric Bledsoe. But he's got a niche. He's got good vision, plays at good pace, he doesn't play out of control. He's got a lot of upside because of his age. He does a really good job of moving on from one play to the next.
How he fits the puzzle is key.
Logic says Payton will assume point duties thanks to his ability to get anywhere on the court and take care of the ball, while Victor Oladipo slides to the 2-guard. However, the two are truly interchangeable.
Beneath the rim, Payton has the athletic Gordon to work with and put where he pleases in the confines of the offense, which also applies to young center Nikola Vucevic.
Perhaps the most underrated aspect of the offseason thus far was the signing of long-ball artist Channing Frye, who has shot an outstanding .385 from deep over his career. His presence on the court will provide the space necessary for young guards such as Oladipo and Payton to slash at will and properly develop.
Of course, the real focal point and philosophy behind the current build of the roster is on the defensive end of the court.
“I think we could be real good,” Payton told Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders about himself and Oladipo. “We’re both athletic and long. I think we both take pride in our defense and that’s one thing that will go a long way.”
On an individual level, Payton enters the league after averaging 14.3 points, 4.9 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting .485 from the field and being named the 2014 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, so it should not come as a shock that his confidence is sky-high.
That much was evident when he spoke with Kennedy:
I feel like I can be one of the best in the league. It’s all going to come down to how hard I work and how it works out. I feel like I can be one of the best along with my teammates' help. … My goals are just making the All-Rookie team and maybe being the Rookie of the Year, but most importantly trying to win games and trying to make the playoffs.
There is no doubt Payton is an obvious boost to a team that won just 23 games a year ago. Individual accolades aside, the Magic stuck to their guns and grabbed the perfect fit for their system with Payton.
As a result, even though it won't always be pretty, the franchise is on the right path to playoff contention and might just have the steal of the draft if Payton's upward swing continues at this rate.
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