The Orlando Magic declined to extend fourth year point guard Elfrid Payton during the off-season. But now is the time for them to reconsider his value to the team for the future.
Elfrid Payton is not a household NBA name. His herky-jerky style is not a common style of play. He has had question marks about his overall team effectiveness while in the NBA.
But enough is enough.
Elfrid Payton has proved he belongs in the NBA.
He may never earn an NBA all-star bid. He may never have a chance to earn a max contract or be featured in a McDonald’s commercial. His career numbers will not fit the criteria for the NBA Hall-of-Fame.
But he is an effective NBA point guard and that is important for his career.
Individual Play Has Improved
The Orlando Magic should be done evaluating Payton this season.
Elfrid Payton’s play as of late has been similar to finding a loose crinkled $100 bill on the ground — unexpected, not very pretty, but greatly appreciated and valuable.
Elfrid Payton is the type of point guard who excels in a role that allows him to get out in transition. The Magic are a team who have done well when they played a faster paced game. Make no mistake about it, this Orlando Magic team is built to run — something they failed to do after a promising 8-4 start to the season. The Magic currently rank 8th in the league in pace at just over 102 possessions per game. In the Magic’s last 13 games, Payton has increased his scoring (15.4), three-point shooting percentage (47.6) and overall shooting percentage (52.8) — areas of question during his NBA tenure.
Ironically, Payton’s recent surge in play coincides with the time frame center Nikola Vucevic has been inactive with a hand injury.
Elfrid Payton Still Has Room To Improve
Payton has been in the NBA for four years now.
And he is only 23 years old.
At such a young age, it would be foolish to believe Payton is incapable of expanding his game further as his career progresses. Some players need a bit more time to peak and Payton may be one of those players.
This year, Payton has been able to find a very respectable three-point shot as he is converting on 40 percent of his 1.6 attempts per game — 10 percent over his career average.
With nearly the same core of teammates he has been with since he entered the league, growth was expected. The longer players are together, they should develop chemistry. In Payton’s case, this may have been the opposite. It’s a possibility his teammates were simply holding him back.
Last year, Payton went through a very similar phase. The Magic attempted to play a half court style centered through big men Nikola Vucevic and Serge Ibaka. After a trade to bring in a smaller, quicker Terrence Ross, Orlando and Payton witnessed different results. While the win column failed to grow, Payton blossomed into a triple-double threat in a more up-tempo style of play. He averaged 13.5 points per game, 7 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 1 steal through the final 24 games of the 2016-2017 season.
In Payton’s last 10 games, he has been in double-digit scoring seven times. In four of those games, he went for 20 or more points. This is an indication he is capable of being a consistent offensive threat if given the opportunity — but he must remain aggressive.
Orlando has witnessed several other young prospects leave the team to blossom into fixed starters or all-stars somewhere else. The team would regret watching Payton develop into a legitimate threat at the point guard position with another franchise.
Life After Elfrid Payton
Let’s roll the dice and assume Payton is gone after season’s end. According to HoopsHype.com, the top three available point guards this summer are Chris Paul, Isaiah Thomas and — Elfrid Payton. The next three rated free agent point guards are Tony Parker, Jeremy Lin, and Rajon Rondo. Of the list, only Paul and Thomas are scoring more points per game than Payton this season. Only Paul and Rondo are averaging more assists per game. A big question mark for every other player but Payton will come down to injuries and age. Everyone on the list has had a serious history with injuries or a battle with father time. So, if Orlando chooses to move on from Payton, free agency seems to be out of the equation.
A second option for Orlando would be to allow guards DJ Augustin and Shelvin Mack run the offense. Only the former could be a legit option as a starter. Augustin is a career backup guard but proved he can lead a fast pace offense. The issue with him for Orlando is his defensive limitations and limited upside. This move would be for the short-term as the team likely explores the next option — the draft.
And here we are, the last option for Orlando. The 2018 NBA Draft. The Orlando Magic are likely to be in position to draft another point guard this summer with their expected high lottery pick. The only legitimate names to consider would be Oklahoma’s Sooners Trae Young and Real Madrid’s Luka Doncic. Orlando could go with either player in an attempt to establish some type of fixture at the point guard position. What Orlando would have to figure out is if either player is ready and capable to start from day one and be effective — not two or three years later.
If the answer is no, Payton should find his way back with Orlando until one became ready.
Payton by the Numbers Is Worth A Deal
Examining the numbers of the NBA, Payton is worth a new deal to the Orlando Magic. The average NBA starting point guard falls in one of two categories. The first category is being on a rookie contract — which Payton is currently on — and the second option is on an average annual salary contract of $18.3 million.
That’s right. The average starting point guard is making $18.3 million a year. Payton ranks 29th in terms of salary at just over $3 million a year. If Orlando wants to keep Payton it will not cost them $18 million dollars a year.
That means Orlando can get crafty and hopefully hold on to a solid point guard — on a much cheaper contract — while they figure out the long-term situation.
According to comparable stats, Payton ranks 12th in the NBA amongst all qualified point guards in PER at 18.15. That’s just below all-star guards such as Kyle Lowry (18.6), John Wall (19.48), and Kemba Walker (20.20). Amongst qualified guards, Payton ranks 3rd in field goal percentage this season converting on 52.4 percent of his attempts.
While these numbers may not hold much weight on a losing team, they do indicate that Payton is a valuable contributor to his team. This team.
Orlando must figure out a clear direction for the franchise and whether or not that includes retaining Payton beyond this season.