Magic Draft Gordon at No. 4; Trade for Payton

By John Denton

June 26, 2014

ORLANDO -- When Aaron Gordon worked out for the Orlando Magic earlier this month he saw his first jump shot go in and he knew it was going to be a very good day.

As it turns out, Gordon’s day – and his dazzling one season at the University of Arizona – was good enough to convince the Magic to select him with the No. 4 pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft.

Magic GM Rob Hennigan bucked many of the mock drafts by picking the ultra-athletic, defensive-minded Gordon higher than most expected. Hennigan then pulled off one of the first trades of the draft by landing cat-quick 20-year-old point guard Elfrid Payton in exchange for the Magic’s No. 12 selection (Dario Saric) and two future draft picks.

``We’re very excited to add Aaron. As we went through the process, there were quite a few things about him that stood out that we grew to like,’’ Hennigan said of Gordon. ``Mainly his competitiveness, his desire to want to play team basketball and to impact the game in a variety of ways. His toughness, athleticism are good building blocks for him to develop into a good player.’’

As for Payton, Hennigan admitted that the Magic have long targeted the Louisiana-Lafayette guard who specializes in getting into the paint offensively and swiping the ball on defense.

``The draft is a fluid thing and Elfrid is someone going into the draft who we had targeted,’’ Hennigan said. ``Again, I’m going to sing a familiar tune (as with Gordon). We loved his competitiveness and his toughness. We love his desire to want to play defense and compete at that end of the floor. As the draft started to fall and shake out, we felt it was worth it to go and acquire him with some of the assets that we have.’’

Not long after Payton’s trade to Orlando became official, Gordon excitedly learned of the news. The two were standout teammates on Team USA’s Under-19 entry in the FIBA World Championships last summer and they thrived together.

``Elfrid is on our team? Oh my goodness, that’s absolutely incredible,’’ Gordon said to the Orlando media. ``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.’’

Payton said that he was honored that the Magic believed in him enough to trade two future picks for him. He described himself as an attacking point guard who plays a fearless brand of basketball.

``I think that I have a nice first step and I’m always looking to draw contact,’’ said Payton, who was second in the nation in free throw attempts (302) this past season. ``I try to live in the paint and I think that’s why I usually live at the free throw line.’’

The Magic’s selection of Gordon was the first shocker of the 2014 NBA Draft. Orlando scouted Gordon extensively during the college basketball season and the forward stunned the organization with his all-around skills during a workout at the team’s headquarters earlier in the month.

``There were probably 30 to 35 people sitting there, I found my jump shot and I shot the ball pretty well,’’ said Gordon, who doesn’t turn 19 years old until September. ``I knocked down my first jump shot and it kind of just relaxed me. I was a little nervous in the beginning, but after that I found my groove. They got me going up and down and once I found my groove I was all good.’’

Gordon, a 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward, impressed the Magic with his rare combination of strength, athleticism and speed. He can play both the small forward and power forward positions in certain lineups. Gordon also prides himself on being a defensive stopper who can shut down both wing scorers and certain post players.

``Championships are won by defense. Obviously, I want to be a lockdown defensive player and I want to be a defensive player of the year at some point – that’s one of my aspirations,’’ Gordon said. ``I love to win and I want to continue to show the traits of a winner.’’

Gordon said he prefers to play facing the basket as opposed to playing in the post. He’s often referred to himself simply as ``a forward,’’ rather than locking himself into one particular position.

``I’m really comfortable as a perimeter player,’’ said Gordon, who met Magic forward Tobias Harris at the draft on Thursday night. ``I do love posting up because it’s very easy (to score) from 3 or 4 feet. I’m very capable of blowing by people and my jumper can be used a lot more than I used it at Arizona. When it comes down to it, it will all be up to (Magic) Coach (Jacque) Vaughn.’’

Payton was picked 10th by the Sixers and then moved to the Magic for Saric and a protected first-round pick from the 2017 NBA Draft. Payton, a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder, is another defensive specialist. The 2013-14 Lefty Driesell National Defensive Player of the Year had a school-record 197 steals. He averaged 19.2 points, six rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals this past season for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Payton’s arrival could spell the end of Jameer Nelson’s 10-year run in a Magic uniform. Also, it could mean that Oladipo will play primarily at shooting guard next season after splitting time at the point and on the wing during his rookie year. Hennigan said both issues would be determined in the coming weeks and months.

Orlando passed on point guards Dante Exum and Marcus Smart in order to grab Gordon. Exum, somewhat of an international man of mystery because of his Australian roots and his lack of competitive experience over the past year, went fifth to Utah. Smart, an Oklahoma State product, was selected sixth by the Boston Celtics.

Gordon also wowed with his scrappiness as a defender, and he gives the Magic another gritty ball-stopper along with Victor Oladipo. He led the University of Arizona to a 33-5 record and a spot in the Elite Eight by being a solid two-way player for the Wildcats. Gordon averaged 12.4 points and 8.0 rebounds a game, 2.0 assists and 1.0 a game.

While Gordon is an elite-level athlete with tremendous strength and athleticism, the knock on him is his unorthodox shooting stroke. He made 49.5 percent of his shots at Arizona, but most of those field goals came on post-up baskets and transition layups. A highly recruited high school prospect, Gordon actually chose Arizona so that he could play for Coach Sean Miller in hopes of improving his jump shot. Additionally, he shot just 42.2 percent from the free throw line.

``Definitely one of the reasons that I looked at Arizona is because of their shooting program,’’ Gordon said. ``I’ve always been able to hit the three periodically. I want to be a knockdown shooter. I don’t want to be able to hit it periodically; I want to hit it consistently.’’

The addition of Gordon creates somewhat of a logjam at the small forward position what with Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless already on the roster. With a similar build to that of Gordon, Harris can play both the power forward and small forward positions.

Cleveland, which was picking first overall for the third time in the past four years, selected small forward Andrew Wiggins with the top spot. Milwaukee then picked Duke product Jabari Parker, while Philadelphia gambled on hobbled center Joel Embiid with the No. 3 pick.

The Magic then opted for Gordon and decided to pass on Exum. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas described Gordon as ``not a good athlete, but a world class athlete.’’

The Magic have spent the past two years stockpiling a foundation full of young and dazzling talent. Center Nikola Vucevic, guard Victor Oladipo, power forward Kyle O’Quinn and small forwards Tobias Harris and Maurice Harris give the Magic hope that many of their core pieces are already in place for the future.

The draft was the third with the Magic for Hennigan, who took over in the spring of 2012 and proceeded to dramatically remake the roster with promising young talent. Hennigan found a couple of late-round gems with Andrew Nicholson and O’Quinn in 2012 and he nailed the 2013 No. 2 selection with Oladipo.

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.