Elfrid Payton has a promising future with the Orlando Magic. The No. 10 pick of the 2014 NBA draft boasts a lot of potential and is their only true point guard, now that Jameer Nelson is gone. The question remains: What can fans realistically expect from the talented rookie in his first season?
Payton finds himself in a great situation.
Prior to the draft, Orlando had several young options at any given position—except at the 1. The lack of a playmaker besides Nelson was painfully obvious whenever Victor Oladipo had to bring the ball. Last year's runner-up for Rookie of the Year honors turned the ball over way too many times to be considered an effective point guard.
Nelson was an important part of the Magic. He handled the ball, distributed it and all the while mentored his younger teammates.
Now he's gone.
While the team may suffer from his absence as a whole, Payton will see many minutes as a result. He could have benefited from the veteran's guidance, but the increased playing time coming his way will be very helpful for his development.
Payton is bound to make rookie mistakes—but what else does he have in store for Orlando Magic fans next season?
A lot will depend on Jacque Vaughn's decision whether to throw the youngster into the shark tank right away or ease him into his duties.
Will Payton Start Right Away?
In this case, expect a lot of pressure facing the rookie from opposing defenses. They will often trap him, press him full-court and play the passing lanes, waiting for a mistake.
Payton seemed somewhat overwhelmed during the first game in the NBA Summer League.
The intensity in these games is high. There is one simple reason: Players are trying to secure a place on a limited roster. Nonetheless, the quality of players is not equal to the regular starters of most teams.
The positive aspect, however, is that Payton did pick up his game in the following outings—considerably. He started to ease into the flow of the game and seemed to learn from contest to contest.
Sometimes he tried to do too much, which resulted in many turnovers. An assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.75 is far from stellar. He has to concentrate and play within his limits to avoid the wrong kind of triple-double.
Speaking of triple-doubles: Payton came close in two games, showing his versatility. That's the way to bounce back from a shaky first contest.
Will Payton Come Off the Bench?
Payton and Oladipo will be a terrific, high-energy backcourt for years to come. But if Vaughn thinks that the No. 10 pick would still be overwhelmed, he may opt for Oladipo to start as point guard. The past season showed that Orlando's head coach didn't want to admit to himself—or anyone else—that VO is more suited for the 2, using him as playmaker 59 percent of the time.
Why would he think otherwise now?
After waiving Nelson, the playmaker position has become even more of a question mark. Payton is the only true point guard, but it will be a difficult transition from college to the NBA.
This is especially true for such a vital role that demands quick decisions.
By now Coach Vaughn must realize that playing Oladipo at the 1 doesn't help the team and can only be a temporary solution. Not only does it force the second-year player into an uncomfortable spot, it also hinders the development of Payton.
Last year's No. 2 pick made his feelings clear a while ago, according to the Orlando Sentinel's Brian K. Schmitz:
Magic rookie SG/PG Victor Oladipo said "it would be nice" if team defined his position after season.— Brian K. Schmitz (@MagicInsider) January 16, 2014
That is not to say that Oladipo shouldn't handle the ball at all. Just like with many other shooting guards, it can be an effective weapon to have him bring the ball at times to throw off opponents. Last year's heavy duty as ball-handler will surely help in this regard.
Nonetheless, Payton has to become the starting point guard at some point this season.
The learning curve for the rookie is steep and will be rocky at times, but the sooner he learns from his mistakes, the better for the Magic in the long run. The former Ragin' Cajun has to become the man who controls the offensive flow in Orlando's game.
How Will Payton Handle the Pressure?
The first games as a pro can be a daunting task. Some players want to prove they were rightfully picked early, while others want to make teams regret passing on them.
The spotlight is on Payton.
Over the course of the Orlando Summer League, he already managed to make many Orlando fans forget about Dante Exum. Nevertheless, Payton sometimes seemed too passive on offense. He has to become more assertive, demanding the ball whenever the team gains possession.
While the first few games as a pro can be a bumpy ride, fans can expect him to improve quickly. Over the first couple of weeks, it may be a tough experience for him as well as the franchise—but the Orlando Magic were not a title contender to begin with.
They may still end up fighting for a playoff spot. Never underestimate a young squad playing with tenacity and nothing to lose.
Also, never underestimate just how weak the Eastern Conference is.
So What Can Fans Expect of Payton?
Payton will have his share of troubles adjusting to the physicality and intensity of the NBA. He is used to being one of the most athletic guys on the court, but once he faces his professional colleagues, the 6'4" guard will realize that nothing comes easy at this level.
That doesn't mean he will not succeed.
It merely will be a speed bump for the talented youngster. Expect him to overcome his initial problems very quickly. He has a huge upside and is willing to learn. If Coach Vaughn gives him the opportunity to make mistakes, the rookie will reward the team with considerable improvement over a short period of time.
The question remains whether general manager Rob Hennigan acquired Ben Gordon and Channing Frye with the goal to reach the playoffs or simply to have some veterans to guide and teach the young guns. Magic fans certainly wish for another playoff berth after two frustrating losing seasons.
If Hennigan feels the remaining fans will accept another losing season in order to improve the young core of the Magic and bring even more talent on board in the next draft, expect Payton to start games and play major minutes sooner rather than later.
In case Orlando's GM doesn't want his players to enjoy another early holiday, he will try and ease the rookie into his new job. With the recent acquisition of Luke Ridnour, Hennigan brought a backup on board who is likely to be a third-stringer.
That means the Magic seem intent to play Oladipo out of position—at least for stretches.
In any case, Payton is likely to struggle early on. After a short period of adjustment, he will show fans why Hennigan was so keen on trading for him. His defense will help him in that regard.
There are days when shots don't fall, the ball doesn't bounce straight and easy passes end up in the hands of a random fan. The one thing to rely on during these times is tough defense. The rookie loves to do that and on rough nights it can help him get into the flow.
Do you think Payton should be a starter?
Once Payton gels with his teammates and gets comfortable with Vaughn's system, his assist-to-turnover ratio will improve significantly. His confidence and assertiveness will also benefit.
He will have to address his shooting woes. In his three years in Louisiana-Lafayette, he connected on 61.1 percent of his free-throws and 26.8 percent from downtown. His aggressive style of play will frequently see him at the charity stripe. It will be vital to make opponents pay for fouling him.
At this point in time, Magic fans should be more concerned about Aaron Gordon delivering the goods.
Payton seems set to make his way.
You can follow @KurtJonke for more on the NBA in general and the Orlando Magic in particular.