While everybody else is focusing on free agency, there are some player movements that need to be discussed in the next few weeks.
With Summer League play in Orlando already under way and set to tip off in Las Vegas shortly, one team in particular will look to improve their roster in the next few months while also building off of the pieces they already have in place.
Of course, we’re talking about the Orlando Magic, who are hosting the first session of Summer League games starting Saturday (July 5-11). The three biggest names on Orlando’s Summer League roster are also the three players that are poised to bring the Magic back to respectability and excitement.
First up is Victor Oladipo, the player taken with the second overall selection in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Magic. After struggling with his shooting for the first part of the year, Oladipo picked things up dramatically and even made veteran point guard Jameer Nelson an option off the bench rather than being a starter.
In 80 games last season, Oladipo put up 13.8 points per game, four rebounds, four assists and nearly two steals per game. His shooting, which was suspect while at Indiana, improved dramatically, converting on nearly 33 percent of his 3-point attempts last season.
While that’s not a great percentage, it has improved steadily.
Oladipo finished in the top five in most major statistical categories among rookies and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting behind Michael Carter-Williams. He instantly improved Orlando’s athleticism and energy on the court, making him a future star for the Magic.
Building around Oladipo has been Orlando’s main priority this offseason thus far, all starting with their 2014 draft picks. With the fourth overall pick, Orlando surprised many and picked up the athletic freak in Arizona’s Aaron Gordon.
His immediate offensive impact is questionable right now, but Gordon is touted as one of the best defensive players in this draft class. Not even 20 years old yet, Gordon has time to evolve his offensive game, which mostly consisted of dunks and easy put-backs.
He shot just 30 percent from 3-point range last year, but with more reps that can easily be fixed.
Then Orlando made a draft day trade by getting Louisiana-Lafayette point guard Elfrid Payton from Philadelphia for the rights to Dario Saric and some picks. Payton shot up draft boards in the final weeks before the big day because of his quickness, drive and personality.
Although an athletic player, Payton isn’t much of a shooter either. He’s solid at getting to the rim, but his size could make that a disadvantage in the NBA for a little while (Isaiah Thomas hasn’t had a lot of trouble and he’s shorter than Payton).
Payton is also very much defensive minded. His quickness and active hands created problems for opposing teams in college.
These three players are the start of something very interesting and unique in Orlando. None of them are electric offensive talents, but bring a lot of defense to the table.
Payton and Oladipo could be one of the most feared backcourts to play against in the next two or three years. Supreme athletes and quality teammates while in college, Payton, Oladipo and Gordon have the makings of something beautiful.
It’s not going to happen immediately, but with time, reps and effort, we could see an Oklahoma City Thunder-like explosion from the Magic in the coming years.
OKC built their team from the ground up by going with young, emerging rookies, putting them together and letting them play. So far, their process has worked beautifully.
They landed Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, all three of which were suspect in a few areas coming into the NBA, but with time and persistence, OKC has become a force in the league. Now, it’s not to say that Orlando is going to do the same thing, but they’re letting the process play out and aren’t forcing anything.
That’s how you build a winning franchise.
A lot of teams like to rush the process of building by spending money, bringing in free agents instead of using their draft picks and letting things play out. Nobody likes the slow play these days, but Orlando is on its way to doing just that.
With a solid trio in place, along with Nikola Vucevic, the Magic could be in playoff contention sooner than most would like to think. After all, they’re playing in the dismantled Eastern Conference and, if the Miami Heat get blown up in the next few weeks, Orlando could once again be Florida’s best team in the NBA.
Processes take time and Orlando’s kicked off Saturday. Payton, Gordon and Oladipo are all on the Magic Summer League roster.
While starters don’t normally play a lot in these types of game, even having that early edge of playing time could be a huge benefit to them. It gives them a chance to get a feel for each other against different opponents, get timing down and make a connection on the court.
Don’t expect this to be quick, but keep the Magic in the back of your mind when thinking about up-and-coming NBA teams. They have the foundation laid, now it’s time for them to start hammering away.