Victor Oladipo was a better fit for Elfrid Payton than Evan Fournier

Dec 3, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) and forward Evan Fournier (10) celebrate after beating the Utah Jazz 103-94 at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 3, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) and forward Evan Fournier (10) celebrate after beating the Utah Jazz 103-94 at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic thought their future was in Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo. Statistics show Oladipo might have been the better pair with Payton.

There was a time when the Orlando Magic’s backcourt seemed absolutely set. Victor Oladipo was the rising star former second overall pick and Elfrid Payton was the quality point guard of the future. The team was set in the backcourt for the long term if the two could grow and improve their weakness.

That weakness was probably the most important thing a team needs from its backcourt — shooting. Questions quickly emerged whether this drive-heavy backcourt could actually work together long term and make a functioning, Playoff-caliber offense. They were allowed their growing pains, but doubt always seemed to remain that they could work together successfully.

There was time for them to grow. But it was running short. The Magic were trying to push their pace to make the Playoffs sooner rather than later.

Time did run out when the Magic traded Oladipo on draft night. But even before then, it seemed a decision was on its way. The Magic had two starter-quality shooting guards in Evan Fournier and Victor Oladipo. If Elfrid Payton was the point guard of the future — or at least a player the Magic have no reason to give up on so early in his career with the promise he has shown — then they needed a great fit next to him.

The Oladipo-Payton backcourt was not coalescing clearly. Neither had developed their jumper in enough in a league that seemingly requires more shooting than ever before, no matter how much each of their percentages stepped up. The team made progress but still seemed to fall short of their promise. The 19-13 start was to tantalizing and faded away too quickly.

The Magic made their changes. It was clear to keep minutes open for Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon, the team had to decide on their future at the shooting guard position. This decision came to clearer focus with Evan Fournier’s free agency — and Victor Oladipo’s contract situation and his restricted free agency at the end of this upcoming season.

Who the Magic might go with long term between Fournier and Oladipo became the big preoccupation and big question throughout the latter half of the season. Payton though was the constant.

And now that the Magic have made their moves this offseason, spinning Oladipo off for Serge Ibaka in a major deal and signing Evan Fournier to a new five-year, $85-million contract, the question remains whether they made the right decision. If Elfrid Payton is their guy at point guard. If he is the guy the Magic will stand behind, or at least the guy they knew they were going to keep, who did he pair best with?

According to numbers from, the Magic had a 103.3 offensive rating with Payton and Fournier on the floor together, but a 107.1 defensive rating — a -3.8 net rating. This included overlap with Oladipo on the floor. With Oladipo and Payton on the floor together, the Magic posted a 106.2 offensive rating and 108.2 defensive rating — a -2.0 net rating. Again, that includes lineups where all three were on the floor.

It is clear the Magic were very good offensively with Oladipo and Payton on the floor, but the defense was terrible. The defense was bad regardless, according to NBAWowy’s numbers.

With Fournier and Payton on the floor together without Oladipo on the court, the Magic posted a 104.9 offensive rating and 104.9 defensive rating. That is not a positive, but it is not a negative. The defense is a bit more under control for sure, at the very least. A big improvement taking Oladipo off the floor, at least by this isolated metric.

With Payton and Oladipo on the floor together without Fournier, the Magic posted a 112.6 offensive rating and 106.5 defensive rating — a +6.1 net rating. The net rating alone, suggests the Magic were better with Payton and Oladipo than with Payton and Fournier without the other shooting guard option.

There are a few elements to consider too. Two-man rotation numbers are not necessarily indicative of a team’s success. It is less than half the players on the floor and the interplay of other players within the lineup and opponent matter too.

There are also minutes to consider. There is the risk for smaller sample sizes. Payton and Oladipo played 522 minutes without Fournier last year and Fournier and Payton played 812 minutes together without Oladipo. This would suggest Orlando was already making that decision to split Payton and Oladipo even during last season. And that always came against starters, most likely.

The statistics from last season would seem to suggest the Magic made a mistake picking Fournier over Oladipo in the long run. Perhaps the Magic saw these defensive numbers and valued the defensive consistency over any offense. There were certainly other factors involved in the decision than just Payton and the Oladipo’s fit with him.

And the shooting was still a concern. Was that kind of offense truly sustainable and did it come at the defense’s expense. Defense is clearly the team’s identity now. It may seem counterintuitive to dump a better individual defender in Oladipo for Fournier, but maybe Oladipo did not fit a team scheme as well as everyone may think.

The other factor too is Oladipo may have just been a more marketable and tradable player. The Magic looked at these and other numbers and other considerations and determined the risk was worth it for them.

Orlando’s once backcourt of the future of Oladipo and Payton though seemed to be working well statistically. Last season, it appeared to work better than the Fournier-Payton backcourt the Magic will likely use this upcoming season.

It may be a question that remains a mystery for the Magic. They made their decision — whether it be a basketball one or a financial one — to cash in Oladipo for an elite defender in Ibaka. Maybe the presence of a true rim protector behind them will make the Payton-Fournier pairing work — again, who else is on the floor is another important factor to consider.

The questions surrounding Payton though will only increase as he plays out his third year. His extension summer is coming at the end of the 2017 season and the Magic will have a new financial decision to make on him.

They already made one and committed to Fournier.

Next: Orlando Magic Offseason: An identity created

The better question now might be whether Payton is the best point guard to fit around Fournier — or whoever this Magic team’s core might be. If the question were about shooting guards, it seems Oladipo might have been the better option.