Chemistry Already Established Between Magic Rookies

By John Denton
June 27, 2014

ORLANDO -- Minutes into his first media interview as a member of the Orlando Magic Aaron Gordon received some revealing information that elicited an unfiltered emotion that was genuine and filled with excitement.

Told that the Magic had just traded for point guard Elfrid Payton, the tone of Gordon’s voice raised a couple of octaves higher and joy came across the No. 4 overall pick’s already bubbly persona. Payton, you see, wasn’t just any other standout point guard worthy of being a top 10 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft. He was a former teammate of Gordon’s last summer on the Team USA entry of the FIBA Under-19 Championships. Also, Gordon and Payton had been repeatedly been paired together in pre-draft workouts for various teams, and their instant chemistry and fast friendship helped each of them thrive.

``Elfrid is on our team? Oh my goodness, that’s absolutely incredible,’’ Gordon said incredulously. ``He’s my kind of player because he plays both ends, he can handle the ball and he’s a good decision-maker. He’s very unselfish, he plays with a lot of heart and he has good character. I played on the USA team with him and every time we’ve been in a (pre-draft) workout together we’ve been paired up for 2-on-2 and we get wins.’’

Gordon, Payton and second-round pick Roy Devyn Marble are the newest members of the Orlando Magic following Thursday’s NBA Draft. Orlando GM Rob Hennigan made a bold move in selecting the 6-foot-9 Gordon higher than most draft experts predicted that he would be drafted. Then, after targeting Payton for several months leading up to the draft, Hennigan made that acquisition happen by trading with the Philadelphia 76ers. The fact that Orlando was willing to give up forward Dario Saric and two future draft picks was extremely humbling to Payton.

``Man, that is just a wonderful feeling that someone like the Magic wanted me,’’ said Payton, a cat-quick 6-foot-3 guard. ``I’m going to try my best to show why they wanted me in Orlando.’’

Hennigan likes the fact that Gordon and Payton already have a chemistry and they are both the kind of players who are willing to sacrifice for the good of the team. That became quickly apparent last summer in Prague when Gordon wand Payton were head and shoulders the best players on a Team USA squad that rolled to a 9-0 record in the FIBA U19s.

Magic Assistant GM Matt Lloyd and international scout Marti Artigas extensively studied Gordon and Payton in Prague and saw two players who enjoy playing defense and are willing to sacrifice for others on the offensive end. In nine games for Team USA, Gordon was the leading scorer (12.6 ppg.) and leading rebounder (6.2) while playing just 18.9 minutes a game. Also, Gordon swiped 18 steals and swatted nine shots, proving that he can thrive on both ends of the floor.

As for Payton, he lived in the lane what with his ability to blow by opposing guards with a blinding first step. Offensively, he averaged 6.1 points per game and shot a whopping 65 percent from the floor on 2-point field goals. Defensively, he was a terror with his explosive quickness with 21 steals in nine games.
Gordon was a do-everything forward this past season at Arizona, while Payton was a small-school start at Louisiana-Lafayette. Their Team USA bond was rekindled earlier this month when Gordon and Payton found themselves in many of the same workouts and scrimmaging with one another. Now, they will get to be teammates again with the Magic – and Hennigan is delighted about that.

``When we had them in for visits, they mentioned each other when we asked them about the experiences in Prague,’’ Hennigan said. ``As we watched that tournament you could really see the competitive spirit that both of those guys played with. That was very attractive to us.’’

Another thing that Gordon and Payton share is a distinct love for playing defense – something that should mesh well with a Magic team that already includes strong defenders in Victor Oladipo and Maurice Harkless.

Gordon, who has a rare blend of strength, length and athleticism, had the highest vertical leap (39 inches) of any power forward tested at the NBA Draft Combine. Combine his leaping ability with his 220-pound frame and his nearly 7-foot wingspan and Gordon can make it extremely difficult for opposing players to score. Some of college basketball’s advanced metrics showed this season that Gordon’s man usually shot a significantly lower percentage than his season rate when going against 6-9 leaper.

Payton is a bigger point guard at 6-3 ¾ inches and he also has a 6-foot-8 wingspan and a 35 ½-inch vertical leap. He used his length and quickness to set a school record with 197 steals (2.3 a game) and become the Lefty Driesell National Defensive Player of the Year.

Hennigan likes that both players don’t mind playing a gritty style of basketball and they look forward to the challenge of making it difficult for the opposition to score.

``That (defensive mentality) appealed very much to us,’’ Hennigan said. ``Anytime you have someone that gets excited about defending that’s a positive thing in our eyes. (Gordon and Payton’s) desire to want to compete at that (defensive) end of the floor is genuine and it should bode well for them and our team.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.