This is a guest post from one of the site’s former editors, Brett David Roberts. Brett is currently the editor of FanSided’s SpaceCityScoop, a site that covers the Houston Rockets. You can follow Brett on twitter @BDRHoops.
Orlando Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan has started to unveil more about his approach towards building an NBA franchise, and by all early indications, it is a strategy heavily dependent upon the acquisition of both great athletes and elite defenders. The Magic first showed this by selecting Indiana University’s Victor Oladipo No. 2 overall in 2013. Hennigan followed that in the 2014 draft by taking Arron Gordon No. 4 overall and trading for the rights to No. 10 overall pick Elfrid Payton, the latter of whom could eventually be considered one of the best ball hawks in the league.
“But what’s in a name?” asked Shakespeare.
NBA comparisons can be a bit of an inexact science to say the least, but it almost seems too coincidental that one of the best for Elfrid Payton is NBA legend Gary Payton. “The Glove’s” illustrious career began with the Seattle Supersonics in 1990, after being taken second overall coming out of Oregon State and culminated in 2013 by being elected into the Hall of Fame.
It was expected that Gary would be a superb defensive player initially, and Elfrid is expected to be much the same. Gary Payton had developed into a premier scorer at Oregon State, averaging 25.7 points and 8.1 assists per game his senior season, while shooting 50.4 percent from the floor. Elfrid, by comparison, averaged 19.3 points and 5.8 assists per contest. It’s not an unimpressive line, but it lacks the punch of the Hall of Famer from the playgrounds of Oakland.
Elfrid, though, has been tested to be sure. He ranked third among all NCAA point guards in usage last season, while also finishing third in points per-half court possession (.828). His shooting ability is not as good as Gary’s was as a college senior (50+ percent from the floor), but that’s because he wasn’t a shooter at all. Moreover, Elfrid Payton is just 20 years of age; and already is more developed offensively than many are giving him credit for.
And while his perimeter shooting certainly does need a lot of work, up until this point it hasn’t been imperative given his ability to break it open in transition and finish well at the rim. He creates plays for others around the basket, and his length makes him a terror defensively.
Elfrid sports a 6’7” wingspan and makes the most of it in controlling other point guards. He plays passing lanes well, but isn’t prone to gambling enough to impair the defense behind him. There is a lot to be polished; but most of that is going to be along the ways of learning how to run an NBA team—and refining a shot badly in need of some TLC. His playmaking abilities are not in question and being 6’4” helps him see over defenses well — another commonality he has with Gary.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of Elfrid is the tandem he and second-year combo guard Victor Oladipo will create in the backcourt once both start. Oladipo has already shown himself to be an exceptional defender of both point guards and off guards, and given that both Vic and Elfrid are approximately the same height, it will be no problem to switch on screens; mismatches will never occur.
The Magic will be capable of playing a lot full-court pressure, and intensifying team effort can begin on the defensive end. Great defense creates great offense. This has to be a dictum that Hennigan embraces to have begun constructing this team in the manner in which he has.
It’s an understatement to say that comparing Elfrid to Gary is the “ultimate ceiling.” Gary Payton made nine NBA All-Star teams, won the Defensive Player of the Year in the 1995-96 season and made the All-NBA 1st defense team nine times and won a title in 2006 with the Miami Heat. His best season’s for Win Shares align with the best of all-time at his position (Steve Nash, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, John Stockton, et al). Simply, he’s a true legend.
Expecting Elfrid to make that long procession towards an HOF career is a heady task to put it mildly. But the culture in Orlando is beginning to be built, and Hennigan’s hefty investment in trading up to secure Payton is a pretty clear cut indication of how much Magic brass thinks of his prospects.
Again: the biggest issue for Elfrid will be developing the kind of jump shot it will take to have that kind of career. Gary Payton ascended to the level of a single season three-point field goal leader (177 in 1999-00), and right now Elfrid will be left open just about every time he seeks to tee up from behind the arc.
Given that Oladipo is at best a streaky shooter, the Magic are going to have a lot of trouble keeping the court open offensively. The additions of Ben Gordon and Channing Frye will help immensely, but the long-term plan can only function if the Magic’s youngsters begin to drill down the open looks.
In time, Oladipo and Payton could be the signature on this young team and a defensive backcourt that every NBA guard fears. The Boston Celtics currently have the best working model of this, with Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley there to haunt ball handlers on a nightly basis. When a defense is spearheaded by strong ball coverage in the backcourt, it helps the 4/5 men stay out of foul trouble, while also finding themselves in better position to rotate for weak-side blocks and defensive gambles. The Magic could initially even be a very good defensive team this season.
Expect Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn to throw both Vic and Elfrid into the fire plenty, given that the team opted not to keep long-time starting point guard Jameer Nelson. While Nelson may have been valuable as a mentor to both Oladipo and Payton, his salary was still costly and the team has shown its commitment towards giving Payton as much burn as possible from an early point in his career.
The commitment shown in both his acquisition and clearing the way for his emergence, shows that Hennigan expects him to have a great NBA career. Will it be as great as the guy who once even gave Michael Jordan some headaches? Will it be a Hall of Fame career? Let’s get that ball tossed up in the air already.