Elfrid Payton’s finish to season make Orlando Magic’s choice harder

Mar 27, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) talks to head coach Frank Vogel against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Magic 131-112. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 27, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) talks to head coach Frank Vogel against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Magic 131-112. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite the Orlando Magic finishing the season with a 29-53 record, they closed out the season with a somewhat positive ending with the help of Elfrid Payton.

The Orlando Magic faced a big decision in the 2014 NBA Draft. It was a turning point draft for the franchise. They had a chance at a top three pick — they ended up fourth — plus a second lottery pick gained from the Dwight Howard trade.

This would be the draft that defined their rebuild. They would add the central players for their rebuild.

The Magic drafted Elfrid Payton with the 10th pick, trading a future (highly protected) pick and their 12th pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for their new point guard. Payton was a more developed junior point guard with great playmaking skill.

The Magic’s foundation was in place. Or so they hoped.

Things have not gone perfectly to plan. Payton has shown flashes of what he could become, but he has struggled for consistency.

It brings Payton to a critical question this offseason and for this upcoming season. One that became even more complicated with the way Payton finished the 2017 season.

With the option for the Magic to extend Payton this summer and restricted free agency looming next summer, the Magic might look back at his most memorable games he played to close the 2017 season as a big part of the decision. They might look at those moments as they consider whether to take a point guard in this point guard-heavy draft.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Payton remains a central conundrum for the Magic as they plan their future. He produced at a high level to end the season in a style the Magic hope to continue. But he was also fairly inconsistent.

Payton averaged 12.8 points per game, 6.5 assists per game and 4.7 rebounds per game. All were career highs. Yet he was still disappointing. Especially in light of how he rallied to end the season.

The Magic closed out the 2017 season with a type of style that could help them play better next season. Payton benefited as much as anyone. After the All-Star Break, Payton averaged 13.5 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game and 8.4 assists per game.

Those numbers jump off the page.

Payton finished the year with a big night for the team against the Detroit Pistons. He dropped a double-double with 21 points, five rebounds and 13 assists. Aside the amazing performance, Magic head coach Frank Vogel enjoyed seeing Payton take over during this game.

Frank Vogel told Fox Sports after that game

"“We put the ball in his hands on the pick and roll and said go win the game for us and he did. That was pretty awesome.”"

Payton hit three key jumpers down the stretch to secure the win. It was an example of what Elfird Payton did in that final stretch to the season.

Something clearly clicked for Payton to end the season, perhaps that is enough to keep exploring and entrust him for one more year as the starting point guard. Orlando opted not to go with a point guard in the Draft, seemingly giving Payton that next chance.

The Magic have to hope Payton can turn the corner and prove that faith correct.

His inconsistency on offense might have been a symptom of the team’s poor spacing and clogged lane. But changing offensive strategies suddenly made him a near-elite point guard.

It did not help his struggling defense. While his offensive numbers soared, Payton posted 2.0 defensive win shares and a 0.6 defensive box plus-minus, according to Basketball-Reference. His defense improved after a rock-bottom year in his second season. But there were still obvious deficiencies.

Orlando hopes, in passing on a point guard in the Draft, the style the team finished the season serves Payton’s strengths.

The Magic could continue to give Payton the ball in pick-and-roll situations. The Magic saw what he is capable of doing when he has the ball in his hands with more space to operate. Payton kind of looks like a prime version of Rajon Rondo.

Payton took more of a leadership role during the last few games than any other games. He seemed to have better command. More than anything, he looked comfortable and free.

Despite the team still losing, Payton put up remarkable numbers for the Magic, racking up five triple-doubles during the season, the fifth-most in the NBA along with Draymond Green.

The Magic kept losing games while Payton stood out against opponents. It is hard to say how much of that is on Payton. Perhaps by upgrading the talent around him and adding more shooters, Payton can continue to produce at this level and lift the Magic up with him.

Payton most likely could be sitting in the hot seat right now. But with the team adding Johnathan Isaac, the Magic bring in a very talented forward. The point guard position still lacks veteran leadership and Payton is still the best answer — even after signing Shelvin Mack.

The Magic do not have enough money to spend on a better point guard than Payton so keeping him might be the best option. Payton has gotten another chance to build some consistency.

Besides the front office also wants the “evalute” this season to understand the pieces they are working with here.

Given that, it probably means that the Magic wants to keep what they have and move forward with evaluating the roster.

Maybe adding a young Jonathan Isaac to the roster could be a boost of confidence in Payton. Since the Magic decided not to draft a point guard, it gives more stability to Payton staying with the Magic.

But it does not guarantee the Magic will offer a contract extension to him. Or stick with him past this season.

Next: Possible Orlando Magic reclamation projects

Payton showed signs of life at the end of last season. The Magic are banking on that to give them consistency at this critical position. But questions about Payton remain.