The Orlando Magic are revving up the rebuild engines. If they truly are to turn the corner of their current rebuild process, they will need Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon to cement themselves as cornerstone pieces.
The Orlando Magic believe they have improved their roster heading into next season. The team has added eight new players this summer in an attempt to further the development of the team. They also have tenured players working hard this summer to expand their games. Of those tenured players, Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon are the two who must take the next step in expansion for the Magic to build off last season.
Elfrid Payton had a season of mixed results last year. Payton saw his starting role relinquished twice in favor of inferior players. And twice he was able to regain his starter status. Amidst trade rumors, he finished the year on a statistical increase in points, rebounds, and assists. Payton is the Orlando Magic’s all-time triple-double leader. He trailed superstars Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, James Harden and up-and-comer Nikola Jokic in triple doubles last season at five on the year. Payton did not have the resources needed last year to improve his game. He desperately needed shooters and he started the year with a roster full of big men who lacked the ability to knock down perimeter shots. The only legitimate threats were Evan Fournier and Jodie Meeks — when he was healthy.
Elfrid Payton is naturally a pass first point guard. His strength is attacking the paint and breaking down defenses. He plays solid defense on the perimeter but needs to improve his ability to guard the pick and roll.
What makes this coming year outlook so different with Payton is his performance after the all-star break last season. The cohesion and chemistry with the starting five improved vastly after the trade of forward Serge Ibaka. After figuring out everyone’s role and how coach Frank Vogel wanted the team to play, Payton was visibly more comfortable and began to play up to his forecasted potential that made him a lottery pick in 2013.
The Orlando Magic have a slew of other capable defenders such as Jonathon Simmons, Jonathan Isaac, and Aaron Gordon to help fight over pick and rolls and screens which should allow Payton to become more aggressive on defense
This summer he has been working with the likes of Chris Paul on improving his game and it should pay dividends for him this year.
Aaron Gordon‘s career has been defined with injuries. Many Magic fans were getting frustrated with Gordon and his never-ending series of freak injuries. It seemed as if every year right before the season started he would endure an injury. Last season was about staying healthy for Aaron Gordon and starting the season on a positive note.
With the addition of Serge Ibaka, Aaron Gordon was anointed as the team’s starting small forward. While he showed signs of improvement as the season went on, he was clearly out of position. After the all-star break, the line-up changed and he was moved back to the power forward position exclusively. That’s where he displayed the playing style that got him to the NBA. Gordon excelled by using his size and athleticism to exploit mismatches. After the break, Gordon nearly averaged a double-double in points and rebounds.
Aaron Gordon’s shooting woes, doomed him as a small forward. While capable of knocking down the three ball, he failed to do so efficiently. His current strengths, indicated he needed to be close to the basket. Recent indications are for Gordon to become a versatile stretch-four who can mix and match his court duties. The ideal scenario for Gordon is to develop into a more athletic Draymond Green type of player. He is surely capable of affecting the outcome of a game in multiple ways, and Orlando will surely want to see him take a leap in his game this season.
The case for optimism
Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon have both been working hard to improve this summer. What both of these guys need is consistent coaching schemes and more defined roles — both of which should occur this season. Coach Frank Vogel still believes in both players being able to develop consistently into their late season forms from last year. The team added competition and veterans to the roster to help develop the young players and reach their full potential. Both Payton and Gordon came into the league billed full of untapped potential and as project players. The coaching staff behind Vogel excel at getting the most out of players. A second year in Orlando will bode well for everyone involved.
So the question is will both players make the splash that Orlando needs them to make this season?