With the 2016-2017 NBA regular season winding down, the Orlando Magic find themselves on the outside of the post-season yet again for the fifth straight year. But there seems to be reason for hope for the future of the team and it starts point guard Elfrid Payton.
Elfrid Payton is a special type of NBA player. Not many NBA players are capable of changing the game the way he does as of late.
His journey in the NBA has been an interesting one. Somewhat of a roller coaster ride.
His 2016 – 2017 campaign has been an even more interesting than the past couple of seasons and the Orlando Magic need to make a decision on his tenure with the team.
Let’s break down Payton’s season by the month.
October: 3 gp, 33.1 mpg, 41.7 fg%, 13.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.3 TO, 0.7 spg
November: 15 gp, 28.7 mpg, 44.1 fg%, 10.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1.9 TO, 1.4 spg
December: 16 gp, 27.8 mpg, 32.4 fg%, 12.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 6.1 apg, 1.8 TO, 1.0 spg
January: 16 gp, 30.8 mpg, 46 fg% 14.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 6.8 apg, 2.6 TO , 1.3 spg
February:10 gp, 27.4 mpg, 44.2 fg%, 11.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.8 TO, 0.6 spg
March: 16 gp, 30.8 mpg, 51.2 fg%, 12.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 8.4 apg, 2.4 TO, 1.2 spg
April: 2 gp, 29 mpg, 52.4% fg%, 16.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 8.5 apg, 1.5 TO, 0.5 spg
So what is it that the numbers tell us?
They suggest that Elfrid Payton plays better when he is not pressured by the team to play great and they actually give him minutes to play.
Seems odd, right?
In the early part of the season, Payton had no pressure as he was crowned the teams starting point guard. It wasn’t until the emergence of veteran guard D.J. Augustin that Payton had pressure to perform and his on-court production started to decline. Eventually Payton found his starting job gone and started to play his worse basketball of the year, despite posting the team’s first triple-double of the year.
As the season progressed after the new year, Payton found himself back in the starting line-up with the same win now pressure. Although his per game averages increased marginally, he still couldn’t hold off another trip to the bench in favor of veteran guards D.J. Augustin and C.J. Watson.
At this point all speculation near the trade deadline indicated the Magic would move Payton for a more polished floor general like Detroit Piston’s Reggie Jackson or Phoenix Suns Brandon Knight. Suggesting by his worse month of the season, the trade rumors hit Payton hard and affected his ability on the court.
Now we move into March.
A couple of weeks after the trade deadline passed, Payton looked like a completely new player. While not even remotely close to threatening Russell Westbrook for the triple-double crown, Payton showed he was capable of being the player Orlando intended him to be on draft night.
Elfrid Payton: 5th triple-double of season, 5th most in NBA this season.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 2, 2017
Elfrid Payton has been on an irregular streak of triple doubles and barely missed out on numbers 6 and 7 of the season by 1 rebound and 1 assist in separate games. He undoubtedly has now regained his place as the teams primary ball handler as well.
Where Orlando is going wrong is not allowing Payton and other core players to consistently play above 30 minutes per game to consistently control the game. Interestingly, the top 50 players in the NBA in minutes per game all average 33 minutes per game or more with Orlando only having one player making the list in Evan Fournier.
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Its unclear what’s preventing players like Payton, Aaron Gordon, Terrance Ross, and Nikola Vucevic from playing more minutes but its something head coach Frank Vogel and staff need to address down the road.
According to an article published by Bleacher Report back in 2011, the per 36 stat is a tale of how stars could develop with opportunity.
Payton’s per 36 stat line for this season is as follows:
47 fg%, 15.4 ppg, 7.7 apg, 5.8 rpg, 1.4 spg, 2.6 TO
His per 36 line indicates he is more than capable of continuing to play the way he performed in March and so far in April on a consistent basis. All he needs is the on-court time to do.
It would seem that Payton will finish out the season strong and should secure his place long-term with the Orlando Magic despite recent mock drafts suggesting Orlando to draft a point guard.
What the Magic will need to determine is can they wait for Payton to develop into a more consistent player.
By the numbers, it seems like Orlando just needs to give him more playing time and the results will follow.