It has been a tough go for Orlando Magic fans lately. Between the sagas surrounding Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard that eventually led to their departures, and the ineptitude that has seemingly permeated this team, there’s not too much to be excited about. But despite the recent history and struggles surrounding this 22-50 team that sits in the basement of their division, the Magic’s backcourt can be formidable in a few years. And if this happens, we may see a team that can make some noise in the Eastern Conference.
Victor Oladipo, drafted with the second overall pick last year by the Magic, has come on strong after the All-Star break posting averages of 21.1 points on 44 percent shooting, 4.7 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. These are pretty impressive numbers for a second-year player. His ability to get to the rim and finish in traffic can lead to positive results for this team. According to NBA.com, he’s 12th in the league in total drives to the basket on the season. This relentless penetration will open the floor for Oladipo, but he will also need to ameliorate his three-point shooting abilities as he only shoots 34 percent from beyond the arc on the year.
Perhaps his success can be attributed to playing with much more confidence than he did in his rookie season, which is always critical in a young players growth and development. After only starting in 44-of-the-80 games he played in last year, Oladipo has started in 61 games this year (played in 62 total). He has improved his field goal, three-point and free throw percentages and has decreased his turnovers.
This fine play by Victor Oladipo has warranted praise from Denver Nuggets interim head coach Melvin Hunt. Cody Taylor, who covers the NBA, tweeted that Hunt compared Oladipo to Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade. In his statement, he said that he was “D-Wade like” and could be the next Wade “with his ability to penetrate.” Wade is a three-time champion and one of the greatest players to ever step foot on a basketball court, so Oladipo has a significant amount of work to do if he wants to reach that level of greatness. Of course the Magic would welcome that kind of production any day.
Oladipo is joined by his backcourt mate, Elfrid Payton, who has also played exceptionally well on the season. He recently became the first player in Magic history to ever record consecutive triple doubles. Payton is just the seventh player in NBA history to do this as rookie as he joins elite company, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
In the 12 games he’s played in March, Payton is averaging 12.7 points, 8.1 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals. His field goal percentage (46%) is the best it’s been in any month of his young career. Having been drafted by the 76ers and traded on the same night, there’s no question he has to be playing with added motivation. Philadelphia is in the midst of a lengthy rebuild and didn’t consider Payton a piece to the puzzle.
Payton told the Orlando Sentinel that he isn’t going to allow the talk about his strong play of late to deter him in any way. While he acknowledges that it’s flattering to be apart of elite company, he realizes his main job is to contribute to his teams success by propelling them in a positive direction. And surely that was the case in their last win against Portland. His 22-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist performance helped snap the Magic’s six-game losing streak.
According to NBA.com. Payton is fifth in the league in total drives to the basket, which tells you that this backcourt makes a living in the painted area. He will most definitely need to improve his three point shooting (24%) and free throw woes (53%) because doing so would allow him to become more of a dynamic player. But if you’re the Magic, you really have to be impressed with what you’ve seen so far from him.
There’s immense pressure on these two to develop into great players because this team desperately needs it. As young guards, the task will be to develop their outside games, while continuing to get to the rim. Taking care of the basketball will also be critical.
Orlando has to be cognizant of the fact that excellent guard play is needed to be successful in this league. It would be in their best interest to surround these two players with an adequate amount of talent.
Although they may lose Tobias Harris to free agency, Orlando will still have an opportunity to improve their roster. Nikola Vucevic has shown signs of becoming an outstanding big that can man the middle for the Magic. With this team destined the lottery, they will be able to add another young impact player to boost their roster. They’ll also have the ability to build around their nucleus via free agency.
Might they look for shooters? That would be ideal of course. They are ranked 12th in the NBA in shooting from three-point range, but with the likes of Payton and Oladipo forcing the issue in the lane, it would behoove you to surround them with more shooters.
Guess we’ll just have to wait and see what decisions the Magic will make. They’ve already made one so far this season, and that was to rid Jacque Vaughn of his duties. But what we do know is that in order for the Magic to turn their franchise around Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton will need to be right in the thick of things.