The upcoming 2017 NBA Draft Class has frequently been compared to the famous 2003 class, that brought us Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade. This year’s group is stacked with talent; particularly at the point guard position. The emergence of young stars including Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and Dennis Smith Jr. has made the top five picks in the draft even more prestigious. One of the teams that are likely to hold on of those picks come June, is the Orlando Magic.
It’s been no secret that the Magic are looking to rebuild in the offseason, and with that comes the realization that some players will not make the cut. For the Magic’s starting point guard, Elfrid Payton, the jury could not be more divided.
Can Elfrid Payton still become a franchise Point Guard?
On paper, Payton has made leaps in his game this year on both ends of the court. Despite averaging career highs in points per game and field goal percentage, the former 10th overall pick has still struggled to perform on a consistent basis.
Dealing with Inconsistencies
At the start of the NBA season, coach Frank Vogel made it clear that Payton was to be the starting point guard. With hopes that the team would make a deep playoff run, the emphasis was for Payton to step up and help carry the team. As we are all aware, that has simply not been the case. In late November, Payton was benched with the Magic in the middle of a three-game slide, and in truth, he has never fully recovered. Inconsistencies were evident for Payton at the start of the season, so much so that Vogel elected to drop the Louisiana native, following a spell in which he was averaging just 10.7 points, 5.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game.
Upon his move to the bench, Payton showed signs that had initially earned him the starting role. His shooting became more consistent overall, with a significant improvement from beyond the arc. Payton made a habit of attacking the rim with aggression and became a solid scorer off the bench, averaging 12 points, 6.3 assists, and 3.3 rebounds, in a 20 game spell. With an improvement in his play, Payton was once again inserted into the starting lineup, yet regressed in his play once again. The trend has continued over the course of the season, with Payton failing to mount a consistent run of performances, that warrant him keeping the starting job on a permanent basis.
Without a doubt, Payton played his best basketball of the season so far in January. Despite the team falling to a 4-12 record during the month, Payton seemed to really embrace his role as a starter. Subsequent injuries to C.J. Watson and D.J. Augustin saw him granted more playing time. During a five-game spell in January, Payton averaged 21 points, 8 assists, and 4.6 rebounds a game, whilst shooting a stellar 43.5% from beyond the arc. His fine form over the month was encapsulated in a 28 points, 9 assists and 9 rebonds performance against the Utah Jazz, which earnt him significant praise from Jazz coach, Quin Snyder. Ultimately playing the best basketball of his career, Payton displayed signs of quality, driving to the basket with intention, whilst improving his overall shooting and ball movement.
Despite his strong mid-season spell, the one thing that may prevent Payton from developing into a franchise point guard is his mediocre three point shooting. One dominant asset most starting NBA point guards possess is the ability to shoot well from beyond the arc. Payton is one of just five current starting point guards who is shooting below 30% from three. This could prove to be a major difficulty for Payton moving forward, with the game becoming increasingly orientated around shooting from deep, the inability to develop a stellar three-point game could be costly for Payton. Averaging just 26.6% from three this season, Payton has seen his average fall as low as 18.4%.
Ultimately, the remaining 21 games of the NBA season will prove crucial for Payton moving forward. If he can once again show signs of improvement, it is likely that the Magic will continue to build around him for years to come. However, although unlikely that the Magic will move Payton in the summer, the 2017 NBA Draft could see the Magic tempted into finding a more consistent starting point guard.