By John Denton
April 26, 2017
ORLANDO – Head coach Frank Vogel is hopeful that continuity – something many of the Orlando Magic’s players have not had over the past three years – will be beneficial going forward as the franchise looks to end its five-year playoff drought.
For a fifth consecutive season, the Magic are being forced to watch the NBA playoffs instead of participate in them. That happened because the team fell well short of expectations and ended up just 29-53 this past season.
Major changes could come – as evidenced by the recent firings of GM Rob Hennigan and Assistant GM Scott Perry – following a season worth of struggles. Still, there were plenty of positives to come out of the season considering the major strides made by some of Orlando’s key players.
Vogel, who recently completed his first season with the Magic, feels the Magic aren’t as far away from becoming a playoff team as some might think following a difficult season. He is excited that much of the Magic’s core is signed through next season and should return barring some major personnel moves in the offseason. And, after the franchise has gone through plenty of coaching turmoil in recent years, Vogel will be back to bring some much-needed continuity to the sidelines for the Magic.
Orlando has plenty of avenues with which to upgrade its roster this offseason. The Magic possess two first-round picks and they could have as many as four of the top 34 picks in the draft. They will find out the position of their top selection in the May 16 NBA Draft Lottery.
The actual NBA Draft is slated for June 22. Free agency, where the Magic figure to have a much as $15 million to spend, opens on July 1.
Before looking ahead too much, OrlandoMagic.com will look back at the regular season that just ended. We’ll break down what went right and what went wrong with many of the Magic’s key players over the next few weeks. Without further ado, here is today’s player analysis:
PLAYER: Elfrid Payton
POSITION: Point guard
NBA SEASONS: 3
2016-17 SEASON STATS: 82 games (58 starts), 12.8 ppg., 6.5 apg., 4.7 rpg., 1.1 spg., 47.1 percent FG, 27.4 percent 3FG, 69.2 percent FT.
CAREER NBA STATS: 237 games (190 starts), 10.8 ppg., 6.5 apg., 4.2 rpg., 1.3 spg., 44.6 FG percent, 28.9 3FG percent, 61.1 FT percent.
2016-17 SEASON HIGHS: 28 points, Jan. 14 at Utah; 14 rebounds, March 8 vs. Chicago; 15 assists, March 31 at Boston; three steals, 10 times, most recently March 17 at Phoenix; three blocks, Dec. 6 at Washington; 39 minutes, twice, most recently Jan. 22 vs. Golden State.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: No one on the Magic benefitted more from the change in style of play than Payton, who proved to be the engine in an Orlando offense that pushed the pace over the final 24 games of the season. Teaming with fellow third-year player Aaron Gordon, Payton averaged 13.5 points, 8.4 assists and 7.0 rebounds over the final 24 games – big jumps over the 12.5 points, 5.7 assists and 3.8 rebounds he averaged in the first 58 games of the season. Payton notched five triple-doubles after the all-star break – giving him seven his three-year career and making him the Magic’s all-time leader in that category. Also, Payton was the only Magic player to appear in all 82 games this season. It’s the second time in three years that he’s played in every game.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Forced to play a slow-down game as the Magic tried rotating big men Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka early in the season, Payton couldn’t push the pace or use his magnificent driving skills to open 3-point shots for players on the wing. Also, that style of play resulted in the Magic having to play in half-court sets too often – something that often resulted in Payton having to take shots from the perimeter. His 3-point accuracy (27.4) and free throw percentage (69.2) still leave a lot to be desired. Then, there’s the defensive end where Payton too often struggled with containing dribble penetration from the many standout point guards around the NBA. Payton’s ability to improve defensively and become something of a pest to opposing point guards could go a long way in helping the Magic be a playoff contender by next season.
FUTURE ROLE WITH MAGIC: Undoubtedly, Payton is at his best when he can operate in space, push the pace and get into the lane for either layups or drop-off passes to teammates. The question surrounding the point guard – still, three years into his career – is whether he can shoot the ball well enough and stop opposing guards well enough to be a reliable starter? The Magic want to see what kind of effect Payton can have on the team over a full season while playing the up-tempo style introduced by Vogel in mid-February. He was a double-double and triple-double machine late in the season, but the Magic still need more from him. Orlando desperately needs Payton to be engaged nightly on the defensive end of the floor and to not shy away from wide-open 3-point shots. Improve in those two areas and Payton could very well be holding the keys to the Magic being back in the postseason a year from now.
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