How Good Can Elfrid Payton-Aaron Gordon Combination Be for Orlando Magic?

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterSeptember 1, 2014

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With Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon, it's all about potential.

What an annoying term—potential—given the uncertainty attached to it. 

But for what it's worth, Payton and Gordon each have plenty of it. And if it hits four or five years down the road, the Orlando Magic will look back at the 2014 draft as the source for their likely success. 

Generally speaking, we could be talking about two long-term starters and cornerstones in Orlando. And together, they can help build and expand on this team's identity. 

With ball-stopper Victor Oladipo already in place in the backcourt, Payton and Gordon give the lineup two additional strong defensive assets. 

Payton was named the 2014 Lefty Driesell Defensive Player of the Year while racking up 2.3 steals a game in the process. He'll match up with just about any point guard physically, as he's 6'4" with long arms and excellent quickness.

If you're a Magic fan, you have to like the perimeter security Payton and Oladipo might be capable of providing. 

TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 3:  Elfrid Payton #4 and Aaron Gordon #00 of the Orlando Magic behind the scenes during the 2014 NBA rookie photo shoot on August 3, 2014 at the Madison Square Garden Training Facility in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expr
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On the other hand, Gordon finished No. 1 in the country at Arizona this past season in defensive win shares with 3.3, per He ranked first at the NBA combine in the shuttle run (2.76 seconds), which measures how fast a player can change directions. And at 6'9" with a near 7'0" wingspan, Gordon has the size and length to guard bigs and the foot speed to stay with wings.

Gordon's defensive versatility is likely his current core strength and something he'll lean on early while he sharpens the rest of his game.

"But what I’m most looking forward to is defending," Gordon told Jack Winter of Dime Magazine (via Zach Oliver of "I want to be able to defend the greatest players in the world and see how I stack up."

Ironically, for Gordon to really take off in Orlando, he'll need Payton to help make the game easier for him. 

Because at this point, his offensive skills just aren't there. And until he polishes them, Gordon might find himself stuck in between positions, without the post game of a 4 or off-the-dribble game and jumper shared by most small forwards. 

We'll probably be looking at a bumpy, lengthy transition, if the Orlando Summer League was any indication of what to expect early on. 

TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 3:  Aaron Gordon #00 of the Orlando Magic poses for a portrait during the 2014 NBA rookie photo shoot on August 3, 2014 at the Madison Square Garden Training Facility in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
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Still, chances are he'll never become a go-to guy down low or isolation threat outside. That's just not his game, which is what makes him one of the more unique high-profile prospects from the 2014 class. 

Gordon will make his money off his world-class athleticism and intangibles. It's a valuable blend you just can't teach or develop with time and reps. Gordon possesses a combination of strengths that most players will never add, no matter how hard they work or how skilled they become. 

From his 39" max vertical and wide receiver-like coordination to his basketball IQ and instincts, Gordon projects as the type of contributor who can make plays without needing his number called. 

Backdoor alley-oops, interior touch passes, putback slams, weak-side blocks, coast-to-coast takes to the rack—Gordon's energy and nose for the ball lead to easy buckets, rebounds and defensive activity. 

Whether Gordon hits his offensive upside might come down to just how well he improves as a shooter, as he'll need a jumper in the arsenal to maximize his potential. He hit just 16 three-pointers in 38 games as a freshman, and he shot a disastrous 42.2 percent from the line. From a glass-half-full perspective, he did look capable when left open, and he's still just 18 years old (turns 19 September 16).

I love the Shawn Marion comparison in terms of what type of two-way forward he can be. Marion was a four-time All-Star despite never owning much of a one-on-one game. 

I'd expect Gordon to eventually resemble Marion the most if I'm projecting his ceiling and a likely, realistic outlook. 

TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 3: Elfrid Payton #4 of the Orlando Magic poses for a portrait during the 2014 NBA rookie photo shoot on August 3, 2014 at the Madison Square Garden Training Facility in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
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Payton's appeal stems from his playmaking ability, both as a scorer and facilitator. He averaged 19.2 points and 5.9 assists this past season, when he finished No. 2 in the country in free-throw attempts (302), a stat that highlights his crafty attack game. 

Between his size and athleticism, we're talking mismatch at the point guard position, where he's a natural. Payton has a dangerous first step, while his 6'4" height and instincts allow him to make plays over or through the defense, whether he's finishing or dishing.'s Michael Wallace notes how Payton's physical characteristics should "help ease his transition from unheralded star at mid-major Louisiana-Lafayette to a potential impact player at the NBA's toughest position."

But, like it will be with Gordon, it's going to be a process for Payton, who's played the last three years in the Sun Belt Conference. Against Baylor and Louisville in 2013-14, two NCAA tournament teams, he shot a combined 9-of-30 from the floor.

And until his jumper improves, Payton's scoring output might suffer. In three years at Louisiana Lafayette, he's hit a total of 30 three-pointers, never finishing a season above 32 percent from downtown or 65 percent from the line. 

ORLANDO, FL - JULY 8: Elfrid Payton #4 of the Orlando Magic defends against the Memphis Grizzlies during the game during the Samsung NBA Summer League 2014 on July 8, 2014 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
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But he's a pretty good decision-maker with the ball, and if a shot isn't there, chances are he won't take it. Payton really does a nice job of picking and choosing his spots with regard to knowing when to attack versus knowing when to give it up. 

The fact that Payton could shoot 50.9 percent from the floor without a jumper as a junior tells you all you need to know about his scoring prowess around the key. 

If Payton ever learns how to shoot, he'll start looking like a steal 10 picks deep in the 2014 draft.

However, though he's just 20 years old, we've seen Payton fail to significantly improve as a shooter in three years at the college level, leaving less room for optimism and perceived room for growth.

I like the Devin Harris-in-his-prime comparison for Payton, when you take into account Harris' playmaking ability inside the arc and career 31.8 percent three-point stroke.  

TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 3: Aaron Gordon #00 and Elfrid Payton #4 of the Orlando Magic poses for a portrait during the 2014 NBA rookie photo shoot on August 3, 2014 at the Madison Square Garden Training Facility in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User ex
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While there's a lot to like about Orlando's two incoming rookies, each are looking at significant learning curves. And without much talent to play off, the trial-and-error process might take longer than most would hope. 

Still, the potential reward Magic fans are looking at should be worth the wait and chase.

Nobody can really predict whether Payton's jumper will eventually start falling or how far Gordon's offense will come. We can just project what each prospect will look like if they do improve in the areas that are currently holding them back. 

And if these guys do hit their strides and settle into their respective roles, Orlando will likely have found itself two big-time franchise building blocks.