Elfrid Payton reinvigorates Orlando Magic’s offense

The Orlando Magic's Elfrid Payton (2) passes in front of the New York Knicks' Willy Hermangomez (14) at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. The Magic won, 112-99. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic's Elfrid Payton (2) passes in front of the New York Knicks' Willy Hermangomez (14) at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. The Magic won, 112-99. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images) /

Elfrid Payton‘s return brought the dormant Orlando Magic offense back to life. And perhaps a bit more as his pace and drive were much-needed for this team.

27. Final. 112. 38. 99

Aaron Gordon was clearly a bit excited to have his longtime running mate Elfrid Payton back on the floor.

After Tuesday’s practice, he said it had been a while since he caught a lob and Payton was the best at feeding him the ball.

On the Orlando Magic’s first play of the game, Elfrid Payton engaged a pick and roll with Aaron Gordon and the lane opened up as it always had. The connection was back. Payton lofted the ball to Gordon for a two-handed jam.

If that was not a sign Payton was back — playing for the first time since injuring his hamstring Oct. 20 against the Brooklyn Nets — then his play throughout the game certainly was.

Especially a third-quarter fast break where Payton squeezed a pass through the defense from the 3-point line toward the rim. Gordon knows how to finish those.

And Payton and the Orlando Magic finished off the New York Knicks 112-92 at the Amway Center on Wednesday.

"“That’s what I’m here for — to make everyone’s job as easy as possible,” Payton said. “We’ve got to continue to keep pushing, keep getting better and get good shots.”"

It was indeed a sight for sore eyes, as coach Frank Vogel described it after the game. The Magic were extremely happy to have Payton back.

Payton finished with 11 points, 11 assists and six rebounds. He made five of his nine shots. He was a +20 on the +/- line. But the statistics rarely reflect his true impact.

Payton showed no signs of rust as he dribbled and probed through the lane. The Magic’s offense hummed along well for the first time in three games.

He really does not have to do much offensively except dribble and drive. It is not like the Magic are asking him to shoot very much. And teams are happy to do so.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Payton’s patience remains impressive. Both with his shot and off the dribble. He darts into the lane, keeping his dribble as he looks for a lane to attack the basket or to suck the defense in. And the defense knows this. They watch him waiting for him to make that move, even as he waits to bait them.

He then takes that space and dishes it out to the perfect player. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and the way he can float passes on a dime across the court to the open man only opens things up further.

For an offense that had been struggling, it was reinvigorating. It created the ball movement the team had lacked.

Payton just does not need a lot of space to operate. And the effect on the offense was pretty immediate.

"“He’s a point guard,” Vogel said. “He finds people, he makes sure everybody’s involved in the flow of the offense. And I’ve empowered him to call the plays when he’s out there. He does a great job just making sure everybody is involved. Obviously, he’s a terrific passer so he’s not just orchestrating stuff, but he’s able to create for others. Everybody gets hot as a result.”"

It is truly hard to define exactly what Payton does so well. But the effects are undeniable.

The Magic scored 112 points and shot 53.8 percent from the floor. They hit 13 of 28 3-pointers on their way to an 115.8 offensive rating.

This looked more like the offense that terrorized the league through the first eight games rather than the one that struggled the last two.

It makes sense considering the team was without multiple natural point guards in those defeats. Orlando needed the balance and pace Payton can bring.

Payton more naturally gets the ball up the floor and looks to push the pace. His speed and quickness help him get up the floor quickly and transition from offense to defense faster than most teams can transition.

It is something a bit more subtle than anything on the stat sheet. Payton can help click many of the team’s players into place with his passing and the way he pressures defense. Payton is able to find his way into the lane even without his shot.

It is easy to forget just what kind of impact this control over the pace Payton has can have for the team. It was undeniable after the team struggled so much recently without a point guard.

"“EP is huge for us,” Evan Fournier said. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence if on the first play we had a lob. The biggest thing with EP is the pace. He’s incredible getting into the paint, making decisions and pushing the pace. When your point guard is running, as a wing player, you have to run. It’s just better for us offensively.”"

The Magic played at a 96.7 pace in this game, well below their season average. But the number of possessions was not the trick for the Magic.

Instead, it was the speed with which they played. How quickly they pushed the ball after makes and misses and their transition opportunities. Orlando scored 21 fast-break points and 29 points off 23 New York turnovers.

Payton quickens that tempo. And it keeps the Magic offense humming along. Orlando is at its best in that transition mode. And Payton gets them there.

It was the resurrection the team needed on that end. And the running brought the entire team’s pace up.

The Magic want to be this team and Payton gets them there.

It is not likely this is some passing thing. Payton has helped elevate the team’s pace and rhythm for some time now. It was easy to forget with Payton playing just a game and a half this season.

Next: Grades: Orlando Magic 112, New York Knicks 99

That impact became clearer as he breathed the Magic offense back to life.