Daniel Orton to the D-League?


A question was recently raised to Otis Smith of how likely it was that Magic rookies Daniel Orton or Stanley Robinson would see time in the D-League this year by Dan Savage of OrlandoMagic.com.  Smith was quoted as saying

"“It’s more likely than it’s been the past few years.  If we have four or five nights where we’re away then we might send them down for a couple games so they can get some games in.”"

Savage goes on to say:

"The organization believes he might be better served battling Dwight Howard and Gortat on a day-to-day basis in practice. Not only would Orton face a higher level of competition, but the sessions would also aid him in picking up Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy’s system."

There are clearly pros and cons to both sides of this argument and after the jump I will lay out why I disagree with Otis Smith and think that the best path forward for Daniel Orton is to spend the majority of the 2010-2011 season in Albuquerque with the Magic’s D-League affiliate.

Many Magic fans tend to believe in the phrase, “In Otis We Trust” and I typically find myself agreeing with them.  However, in this situation, I have to strongly disagree with the man in charge.  Daniel Orton needs to be playing competitive basketball.  Orton hasn’t played extended meaningful minutes since his junior year of High School (14ppg, 11rpg, 5bpg).  After missing most of his senior season due to a knee injury (which he still hasn’t fully recovered from), he returned to play in the 2009 Oklahoma state tournament and 2009 Jordan Brand Classic before heading to the University of Kentucky as a top 25 recruit in the country.  He obviously has promise and even during the Orlando Pro Summer League, you could see the flashes of his potential.  However, if he is ever going to truly begin to develop and work towards reaching his vast potential, he is going to need to play.

The only way that Daniel Orton will see court time for the Orlando Magic this season, outside of severe garbage time, is if Marcin Gortat or Dwight Howard gets injured (knocking HEAVILY on wood).  Bottom line, Orton is a PROJECT and is taking the roster spot of Adonal Foyle.  Foyle’s role on the team was to tell Dwight and the team when they were off and to be a big body to bang around in practice.  Foyle didn’t play a single minute last season for the Magic and you can expect the same for Orton.  I understand that Otis believes that it’s tougher for big men to develop in the lower league because they aren’t going to get fed the ball, but do you think he is going to get fed the ball more often as the 13th option in practice?  The only way to get the experience is to be in the game.  Practice, practice, just doesn’t compare.

Orton averaged 13.4 minutes last season with the University of Kentucky with his season high of 23 coming in an early season blowout of Rider.  That game also brought him his season high in scoring with 14 points.  He would only score in double figures once more last season during a game against the mighty Hartford Harks.  He clearly has a long way to go offensively, especially once he begins to face up against the complicated, aggressive defenses of the NBA.  He struggled during the Orlando Pro Summer League this season and it was clear that his confidence was left somewhere under his high school gym’s bleachers.  Where does confidence come from? Minutes! Reps! Shots going in the basket and blocks going into the stands!  These are all things Orton is capable of.

He needs to be pushed day in day out to become the best he can be.  This is where the clear antithesis to my argument comes in.  What better learning situation can he be in than being alongside the top center in the NBA, Dwight Howard, as well as the Polish Hammer and assistant coach Patrick Ewing?  There is an extremely strong argument to be made that he should be playing alongside Dwight and Marcin Gortat every day in order to continue improving his game.  Dwight and Marcin are two extremely confident players and there is hope that their self-assured attitudes would rub off on Daniel.  However, what if getting destroyed daily in practice has the reverse effect and makes Orton even more fragile?  He hasn’t shown the fire to improve thus far (he admittedly came into Summer League out of shape) so what makes us think that he will get better from being abused? Perhaps Orton just isn’t wired that way.  If we are going to groom the eventual successor to Marcin Gortat (Orton will never start for the Magic with D12 here), then the kid needs to play.  He needs to go hard every night for 30-35 minutes against players that are all fighting to get to the next level.  He struggled during Summer League against those same type players but he at least showed that he belongs at times.  Orton was a 5 star recruit and a first round draft pick for a reason.  As hard as it is to see right now, I really don’t think Otis Smith could have missed the mark that much on Orton.

Orton needs to spend the months of November through March playing in some tiny gym outside of Albuquerque or Fort Wayne, not sitting buried on the sidelines in a suit wondering what kind of trouble he can get into after the game in South Beach or LA.  If the Magic and Otis Smith want their project to succeed, and we all do, then they should choose the clear best path forward for Orton’s development. Yes, it is clearly a difficult decision as well as a decision that doesn’t have a lot of historical success behind it but I believe it is the correct one.  While Otis Smith clearly seems to be against the idea, and you probably will not see it for more than a few games at a time this season, I believe the Magic and Daniel Orton will be better in the long term if they choose the path that has Orton spending the majority of the 2010-2011 season playing for the Magic’s D-League affiliate, the New Mexico Thunderbirds.


Brian Serra is a contributing blogger at Howard the Dunk and the founder of MagicBasketballOnline.com.  You can follow/add him on Twitter and on Facebook.