Successful Week for Magic Rookies at Summer League

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By John Denton
July 11, 2014

ORLANDO -- Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton squared up on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, made a shimmy-shake move to get free and drove right into the heart of the Detroit Pistons’ defense to draw up center Tony Mitchell.

And that’s when Payton’s true gift as a point guard shined through.

Rather than forcing up a shot or trying some sort of high-degree-of-difficulty dunk, Payton glanced to his right, dished to his left and found a cutting Devyn Marble for a nifty reverse layup.

The play was a thing of beauty and a revelation to all of the players on the Magic’s summer league roster of just how dynamic Payton can be in helping free up others for one easy shot after another.

``I love (Payton). I have never really played with a point guard like him who can get into the lane and create for me,’’ Marble said of Payton’s abilities as a drive-and-dish playmaker. ``He makes the game a lot easier for everybody around him and that’s what you want in a point guard.’’

Payton, whom the Magic acquired on draft night in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, capped a stellar week at the Orlando Pro Summer league on Friday with an 18-point, eight-assist, four-steal masterpiece. He showed an ability to get just about anywhere he wanted on the floor with his quickness and ball-handling skills and that allowed him to average 9.2 points, a summer league leading 7.0 assists and 5.2 rebounds a game.

Payton’s play was so strong that he somewhat outshined No. 4 draft pick Aaron Gordon, who was also making his professional debut in the Orlando Pro Summer League. The Magic were 3-2 in five games, and the overriding buzz coming out of the week was Payton’s ability to stuff the stat sheet on a nightly basis with various contributions.

Payton, a 6-foot-4, 20-year-old point guard, was admittedly nervous and overwhelmed in his pro debut last Saturday, but he showed a tremendous comfort level and improvement over the Magic’s five summer league games.

``I learned the pace of the game and how quick you have to make decisions,’’ Payton said while summing up what he culled from this week. ``I think I have a pretty good foundation. I think every day I got better and better playing with my head.’’

Payton lived in the lane and at the free throw line as a junior at Louisiana-Lafayette, and predicted upon getting drafted by the Magic that he would be able to shake other guards off the dribble at the NBA level. That proved to be true at the summer league level as Payton was usually able to get anywhere he wanted on the floor with his dribble and create opportunities for others.

``This is his first taste of the NBA pace and he was able to make the right reads in pick-and-rolls,’’ Magic summer league coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. ``As he gets more comfortable and learns to get downhill, it will be an even bigger step for him.’’

Added Magic GM Rob Henningan, who watched all five of Orlando’s games from his courtside location: ``He tries to keep it simple and he understands what he’s good at. He enjoys driving the ball and finding guys.’’

Gordon, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward, was especially good at the beginning and the end of the week of games for the Magic. Gordon had one of the best highlights of the week in his first game when he soared high into the air and snatched a K.J. McDaniels shot. His effectiveness waned a bit in Magic losses on Tuesday and Thursday, but he responded well on Friday even though he was asked to play out of position at center. Gordon had 12 points, five rebounds and three assists in the Magic’s 96-87 defeat of the Pistons on Friday.

Gordon said that despite his uneven play at times, the summer league experience will be extremely beneficial in helping him know what to work on this summer as he transitions from college basketball to the NBA.

``I thought it was a great,’’ Gordon said of his pro debut. ``It was the first time that I got to play against NBA players. It was really fun. Statistically, I didn’t do great, but it was fun basketball. I took a lot out of it and when I get back into the gym I’ll have an idea of what I need to work on.’’

Marble, the son of former Iowa star Roy Marble, had a stellar collegiate career with the Hawkeyes, but he fell to the 56th spot on draft night. The Magic were more than happy to snag him because of his versatility of being able to play shooting guard and small forward – both offensively and defensively – and his toughness.

Marble was somewhat of a surprise for the Magic by averaging 9.4 points and 6.2 rebounds in the five summer league games. He made just 37.2 percent of his field goals and five of 16 3-pointers, but he opened eyes with his willingness to compete and attack the rim.

``I was looking forward to today and I almost didn’t go to sleep last night because I was real upset with how I played (on Thursday),’’ Marble said of Orlando’s loss to Boston a day earlier. ``I came out really ready to play and I made a concerted effort to be aggressive on both ends of the floor.’’

Hennigan, who officially announced the signing of veteran shooting guard Ben Gordon earlier in the day, said that no decision has been made on whether Marble will be offered a contract or an invite to training camp in October. But he sounded like the 6-foot-6 swingman has a bright future with the Magic are displaying toughness in the Summer League.

``We thought Devyn played really well. He competed on both ends of the floor and his overall understanding of how to play the game of basketball is a positive for him,’’ Hennigan said. ``I think he’ll have a good chance to make our team.’’

The Magic were often at their best during the summer league when Payton was on the floor with fellow standout guard Victor Oladipo. Last season’s runner up for the Rookie of the Year award was solid in three games (17 ppg., 6 rpg. and 2.7 apg.) and the emergence of Payton allowed Oladipo to play off the ball some. Payton feels that the two of them can feed off one another – offensively and defensively – next season.

``I think we can really cause teams trouble defensively as far as creating chaos,’’ Payton said.

Payton said after taking a couple of weeks off he will be back in the gym working on his game to prepare himself for his first NBA season. He is well aware that veterans will try and test his mettle as a ball-handler, but the rookie is confident that he will be able to have an impact on the Magic next season with his unique skill set as a playmaker and a defender.

``I think (playmaking) is one of my best qualities, that and my defensive abilities,’’ Payton said. ``I’m just going out there trying to make the right play whether it’s for myself or my teammates. I want try and continue to get the speed of the game down, continue to run my team and continue to shoot the ball at a high level. I know I have to keep my handle tight, shoot the ball and get in the gym to get better to build on my foundation.’’