Could Magic Start Using the D-League?

Mar. 25, 2010 - Syracuse, Kentucky, USA - Kentucky's Daniel Orton blocked the shot of Cornell's Jeff Foote for one of his two blocks in the game as Kentucky defeated Cornell 62-45 in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament on Thursday March 25, 2010 in Syracuse, NY. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff.
Could Daniel Orton be just the third player
Orlando sends to the D-League?
Mark Cornelison/ZumaPress/PicApp

The drafting of Daniel Orton brought up many questions.

He never really fit a need and his inexperience has earned him the dreaded “project” label. That is not necessarily a good thing for a team with championship aspirations. The same could be (and should be) said for second-round pick Stanley Robinson, who signed a contract with the team last week and will be in training camp at the end of September.

Orlando is not exactly a bastion for player development. Jameer Nelson and Courtney Lee are really the only non-lottery picks that have developed for Orlando the last few years. Finding value at the end of the Draft is very very tricky.

But Orton had a lot of buzz around him — good and bad — before the Draft. A lot of prognosticators had him going in the lottery or into the teens in the first round. It was quite a surprise when the backup center from Kentucky slipped all the way to number 29. From a pure talent standpoint, Orton was by far the best player available. And at that end of the Draft you know you are getting a work in progress or someone with some question marks. So you take the best player available.

Orton is in an interesting position then. He could potentially be a very solid contributor to future Magic teams — a potential backup for Dwight Howard or a potential power forward in the future. How he is brought along will be crucial to his development. I think it is safe to assume he is being groomed to one day replace Marcin Gortat, whose contract is a large burden on the salary cap and who is the most coveted move-able piece on the team’s roster.

Orton is far from ready. And so the Magic are left with the question of what to do with him this season.

One suggestion? The NBA D-League.

The D-League, like Orton, is the big quagmire, not just for the Magic but for the whole league really. Orlando has rarely used its D-League affiliate, the Reno Big Horns New Mexico Thunderbirds and formerly the Anaheim Arsenal and Reno BigHorns, since the league’s creation. The only time the Magic have sent players down to the minor league is James Augustine in 2006 and Marcin Gortat in 2007. Neither stayed in Anaheim very long.

Orlando is not like San Antonio, Oklahoma City or Utah. The Magic do not own their own D-League affiliate. Those three teams use their D-League more effectively because of this independent affiliation. If Orton or Robinson were to go down to the D-League they would not be running the Magic’s sets and would not be learning how to play on the team.

That is what the Magic will have to balance.

Otis Smith is very much in favor of having guys learn from the bench and get their reps in practice. But for a young guy like Orton, that may not be the best approach.

Orton really has not played the last two seasons. His senior year in high school he tore his ACL and missed most of the season. Last year he backed up DeMarcus Cousins at center for Kentucky and did not receive ample amounts of playing time. So why not allow Orton some time to play a little at the D-League level to get acclimated to the NBA game?

The D-League has been somewhat proven to be good preparation for the NBA. Many undrafted rookies and journeymen veterans choose the lower pay of the D-League over European and International leagues because of the exposure it gives directly to the NBA and because its rules are similar to the NBA’s. The competition is a step down from the ACB League in Spain and several other international leagues, but it is still a relatively high level of play.

Especially for someone new to the NBA.

Last year, there were 40 “Gatorade Call-Ups” from the D-League involving 27 different players. It included Utah’s Sundiata Gaines, Chicago’s Chris Richard and Boston’s Oliver Lafayette. In the league’s history there have been 183 call-ups of 113 different players. It may not be as much of a financial or competitive success for the NBA as Stern would like, but this little experiment has been quite successful. NBA teams are using.

The Magic are not.

In all likelihood, Smith will have Orton play some at both levels. Orton will likely start the season with the Magic and he will learn everything he can going up against Dwight Howard. That will be invaluable experience for him. But, barring injuries, when the team hits December and January, Orton will likely be off to Reno New Mexico. He needs game experience and to build on whatever confidence he has gained and learned from playing with the Magic.

Robinson is much in the same boat. If he can get a contract and make the roster, Robinson too could use the D-League to improve his “NBA skills” and play some in practice to learn the Magic’s offense.

The whole season will be a lesson of experimentation and implementation for the team’s two rookies. They may not see a lot of NBA action, but he can still show what he has learned. And the Magic will be watching closely.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily