In the hubbub of Draft night, Aaron Gordon did not actually get the chance to follow the picks as they came down.
Usually after picks get selected and go up to the stage to shake Adam Silver’s hand, there is a whirlwind of media obligations and photos that get completed before the night is threw (followed by a typical overnight trip to wherever he gets drafted). Gordon was excused for not knowing the Magic had traded the 12th pick in the draft to Philadelphia for Elfrid Payton’s draft rights.
Gordon heard the news from the Orlando media when he got on the phone and called in to the Amway Center to speak to media who would cover him on a daily basis.
“We got Elfrid? Elfrid is on our team? Oh my goodness! That is absolutely incredible,” Gordon said, excitement clearly building at this news, not yet made official but widely reported. “He’s my kind of player. He plays both ends. He handles the ball. He’s a good defensive point guard. He’s very very unselfish. He plays with a lot of heart. And he has a good character. He’s a good guy to play around.”
Gordon was extremely familiar with Elfrid Payton by the time the draft came around.
Gordon and Payton teamed up often in 2-on-2 workouts before the Draft with various teams. They claimed they lost only once or twice. The chemistry to do that was built the summer before.
The Magic’s two first-round picks have been teammates before. Their joinder in Orlando is a rekindling of their union from July 2013 when the two were starters on the USA team for the FIBA U19 World Championships. The partnership then was successful for both of them and they hope it can be again.
Team USA won the gold medal. Gordon was named MVP and averaged a team-high 12.6 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game. This was a roster that included projected 2015 Lottery pick Jahlil Okafor. Payton was great too, outplaying Marcus Smart and even Dante Exum. He averaged 6.1 points per game and 2.1 assists per game.
The two showed a lot of chemistry in that tournament and a tremendous amount of respect.
“It’s great, man,” Payton said of playing with Gordon again. “Aaron is a great person and a great player also. We have a lot of chemistry from the U19 team. We were together in some workouts and wound up playing on the same team. I’m just excited to play with him.
“He has a great motor. He is extremely athletic. He is a great player. I’m excited to play with him.”
There is obviously tremendous respect between the two players. They had great chemistry working in Billy Donovan’s intense trapping defense and that turned into turnovers and easy offensive opportunities. The fast break was clearly where Payton and Gordon thrived and Team USA, with its superior depth and talent, just continued to pour it on and put pressure on opponents.
They won the gold medal easily.
When Rob Hennigan assessed his draft picks, the chemistry they had built together last summer was part of the valuation.
“It was a factor,” Hennigan said. “I think as we were watching those games, their competitive nature stood out to us and their ability to impact the game in a variety of ways left a positive impression with us. It was a factor, to be honest with you.
“When we had them in for visits, they had mentioned each other when we asked them about the experience in Prague. As we watched that tournament, you could just really see the competitive that botht hose guys played with. That was attractive to us.”
During Summer League, the chemistry was not readily apparent on the offensive end. Gordon struggled to find his fit offensively and injuries to Romero Osby and to Dewayne Dedmon forced Gordon to play more power forward than he had prepared to play. The chemistry and versatility on defense though were readily apparent.
As Jay King of MassLive.com wrote, both Gordon and Payton share fond memories of their time in Prague with that team. Gordon noted how the games were often more competitive and intense than the games. It was an incredible time of growth for both Gordon and Payton. They likely owe their high draft selection to the work they put in and the confidence they gained that summer.
The chemistry they developed then should help them as they grow as professionals now. The Magic are certainly banking on that.