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By John DentonOct. 30, 2014
ORLANDO – Two nights after Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton enjoyed a memorable debut played before dozens of family, friends and former college teammates, fellow rookie Aaron Gordon got to revel in a homecoming of sorts himself.
Gordon had his parents, Ed and Shelly, fly in from San Jose, Calif., to be at the Amway Center on Thursday night for the first regular-season home game of his professional career. Also, Gordon’s older brother – Drew, who was recently waived by the Philadelphia 76ers – was in Orlando and was in a familiar role as a mentor while staying at Aaron’s apartment.
Gordon, the youngest player in the NBA this season at 19 years old, is extremely close with his family. He credits Drew and sister Elise – a member of the Harvard women’s basketball team – for pushing him all throughout his childhood and helping him to mature at an early age. Gordon said that while it is surreal that he is accomplishing his dream of playing in the NBA, it is made even sweeter by the fact that his family is Orlando to celebrate the journey with him.
``We’ve got the whole family together,’’ Gordon said. ``We were all sitting there together (on Wednesday) night just kind of reminiscing. My family is really cool and they keep me level-headed and they keep (distractions) out of the way. I know that they love me and if I know that, all I have to do is go out and operate.’’
Gordon, the No. 4 draft pick last June, played well in his debut in New Orleans, scoring 11 points by making five of eight shots and confidently stroking a 3-pointer from the right corner. Gordon said that he was flooded with text messages from friends, family and former teammates following his first official game as a professional.
``The people that I care about, the people who have been in my life while I was growing up, they all wanted to send me their best wishes. It was really nice,’’ Gordon said.
QUICK LEARNER: Payton started pre-school when he was three years old, he played pick-up ball against grown men as an early teen and he graduated from high school at 16 years old – all signs that he has a high IQ on and off the basketball court.
So it’s not surprising that Payton needed just one game to realize that he needed to make some changes to his approach of getting to the rim after just one regular-season NBA game.
Payton made just two of eight shots against New Orleans – largely because three of those attempts were blocked while he was at point-blank range of the rim. Jrue Holiday, a bigger point guard, blocked the first shot attempt of Payton’s pro career and emerging superstar Anthony Davis twice picked off Payton’s tries for layups. The 20-year-old Magic rookie still found ways to be productive by handing out seven assists, grabbing five rebounds and swiping a steal.
Payton, who lived in the paint as a small-college star, quickly realized the need to develop a mid-range shot or a high-arching floater shot because of the length and physicality of the big men in the NBA.
``I’ve been working on finishing around the rim and things like that,’’ Payton said on Thursday. ``I was getting to places that I wanted to get to, but it’s all about finishing. I was able to do other things like hitting open guys (with his passing), but I’ve also got to do other things like helping on the boards, too. It’s going to be up to me and the other guards to help the bigs on the boards.’’
ALL BUSINESS: Tobias Harris acquired the nickname ``All Business’’ at an early stage of his basketball career because of his serious, no-nonsense approach to the game. Accordingly, Harris didn’t take the manner in which the Magic lost the opener – they surrendered 32 second-chance points and 26 offensive rebounds – very well and he wasted no time reviewing where corrections could be made.
The Magic’s charter flight from New Orleans landed about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning and Harris got to his suburban Orlando about 2:15. He said he didn’t go to sleep until after 4 a.m. because he had to re-watch the game film again before retiring for the night.
``That one was hard. I watched (the game) almost as a coach and I know our coaching staff is doing all of the right stuff for us to be successful,’’ said Harris, who had 25 points and eight rebounds in the opener. ``There was stuff that I saw and I took it to Coach (Vaughn) and said, `What do you think about this?’ We’ve communicated and that’s the beauty in this game the way we talk. I can tell by the emotions of our team that we’re disappointed by how we lost that game. That’s the right attitude to have.’’
ETC: Channing Frye, who missed all of the preseason after spraining a ligament in his knee, not only played his first game with the Magic, but started at power forward. … Standout guard Victor Oladipo, out all preseason because of a knee injury and a facial fracture, joined his teammates on the bench Thursday night. Oladipo, who had surgery last Saturday to repair the fractured bone below his right eye, wore glasses and a bright, plum-colored jacket. … The Magic will be back at the Amway Center on Saturday night to host the Toronto Raptors. Game time is 7 p.m. and tickets – that can be purchased at OrlandoMagic.com – remain. After that, Orlando plays its first back-to-back of the regular season, travelling to Chicago (on Tuesday) and Philadelphia (on Wednesday). … One offshoot of Orlando’s poor performance on the glass in the opener was New Orleans getting 101 field goal attempts. There were only 24 times last season when NBA teams got 100-or-more shot attempts in a regulation game. When factoring in overtime games, it happened 53 times last season.