Photo by Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
It has been a whirlwind 24 hours for the Orlando Magic.
In the hours leading up to the draft, the team’s leading scorer for the past two seasons, Arron Afflalo, was traded to the Denver Nuggets for Evan Fournier and the 56th pick (Devyn Marble). Then, in the draft, they acquired Aaron Gordon with the fourth overall pick — which was immediately received as a reach — and later traded the rights for Dario Saric and future first and second round picks to the Philadelphia 76ers for Elfrid Payton.
By trading Afflalo away and bringing in two rookies, the Magic shed a lot of cap room, and got a lot younger and a lot more athletic — another sign that the team is committed to a long rebuild.
The Magic had the opportunity to draft Dante Exum, Julius Randle, or Marcus Smart with the fourth pick — all prospects that were ranked higher than Gordon heading into the draft — but they stuck with a high motor player whom they believe will flourish in their system.
At 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, Gordon has the size to be a power forward, but the biggest concern defensively, as of now, is that he’s not strong enough to guard opposing fours in the NBA. Nevertheless, he was a versatile defender at Arizona, capable of sticking with wings on the perimeter and defending big men on the low post, so the potential for him to develop further is there.
He’ll have to bulk up if the Magic plan to use him primarily as a power forward, but he’s got a good frame to build on and he’s only 18 years old (turns 19 on September 16). He’s also a high energy guy who is willing to do all the little things on the basketball court, which is something Rob Hennigan values greatly.
However, the biggest drawback with Gordon is how raw he is offensively. He’s not a big threat on the block and he’s a very poor shooter. He’s shown the ability to knock down 3s — shot 16-for-45 in his lone year at Arizona — but his mechanics are inconsistent and he connected on just 42.2 percent of his free throws last season. He excels on the fast break and is an excellent leaper, but it may take him some time to adjust offensively to the NBA level.
Payton is similar to Gordon in many ways despite playing a different position. He loves to get out in transition, which will be a perfect fit alongside Victor Oladipo, and he has a knack for getting to the rim and drawing fouls. He is also an outstanding perimeter defender. Payton was named the Defensive Player of the Year in the Sun Belt Conference for the 2013-14 season, and he should be able to guard both guard positions once he develops.
Yet perimeter shooting is another big drawback — Payton shot 4-for-22 on catch-and-shoots last season, and 15-for-55 off the dribble, per Draft Express. He’s also a turnover machine, which doesn’t bode well for a young team that was in the middle-of-the-pack last season in that department.
Both players have tremendous upside and they pride themselves on outworking their opponents, but they also have some glaring deficiencies, many of which are correctable. By parting ways with their best shooter from last season and bringing in two who struggled mightily to stretch the floor, the Magic will be in the running to be one of the worst shooting teams in the NBA next season.
While time is on their side, they were second-to-last in offensive efficiency last season (slightly ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers), and with a young core of Payton, Oladipo, Harkless, Gordon, and Vucevic, there are no signs of that improving any time soon.
Defensively, though, they should flourish. A lineup consisting of Payton, Oladipo, Harkless, and Gordon should wreak havoc on the defensive end of the court.
Payton will also likely fulfill the point guard duties, thereby allowing Oladipo to play his more natural position at shooting guard, and with Afflalo no longer rocking the pinstripes, he will have free roam from that position. The franchise also has a ton of cap room to work with, which they could use on a free agent if the right fit arises.
Gordon was one of the best players in college basketball last season and he has all the tools in place to develop into a scary two-way player. Payton showed a lot of promise in his last two years at Louisiana-Lafayette, and over time he’ll have the chance to iron his shortcomings out as well.
It’s easy to lose faith by trying to jump the gun on the rebuilding plan, so it’s commendable that Rob Hennigan has been able to stick to his guns and stay on course. The Magic weren’t expected to be a contender this season, nor next, but they’ve got the assets in place to make something happen in the future.
There is still a lot that is up in the air — whether or not Gordon and Payton can ever develop an outside jump shot is a major concern — but they’ve got a young, athletic defensive-minded core in place that has potential to develop into a cohesive unit.