Nearly two years after trading Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic on Thursday night clarified the vision for their rebuild with their 2014 NBA Draft selections of Arizona forward Aaron Gordon (fourth overall) and Louisiana-Lafayette point guard Elfrid Payton (10th overall, via trade with the Philadelphia 76ers). Though Gordon and Payton play different positions, they have similar strengths and weaknesses, and those strengths sharply align with what Orlando, under general manager Rob Hennigan, values most.
"As we went through the [pre-Draft] process, there were quite a few things that stood out about him that we really grew to like," said Hennigan, who listed Gordon's "competitiveness," "toughness," willingness "to play team basketball," "athleticism," and ability to "impact the game in a variety of ways" as some of the factors which made him attractive to Orlando.
But what the Magic may value most of all is Gordon's defense. "I think any time you have someone who wants to defend, and gets excited about defending, that's a positive thing in our eyes," said Hennigan. "His desire to want to compete at that end of the floor is genuine, in our opinion, and we feel that will bode well for him in his career, and also our team."
Hennigan said he would "sing a similar tune" about Payton: the 6-foot-4 point guard loves to defend, and Hennigan praised the former Ragin' Cajun for his "competitiveness" and "toughness" as well.
Both players have limitations offensively, particularly in the halfcourt. As Grantland scribe Kirk Goldsberry wrote Wednesday, Gordon shot just 23 percent from mid-range in his lone season as a Wildcat. Those woes continued at the foul line, where Gordon connected on just 42.2 percent of his offerings. And while Payton averaged 19.2 points per game in his junior season, he connected on 25.9 percent of his three-pointers and 60.9 percent of his foul shots.
Hennigan, however, is optimistic that both players will address those deficiencies: "We're excited to see them develop and grow into what we believe will be quality, two-way players." He later said coach Jacque Vaughn will ultimately determine how to go about improving the rookies' shooting touch.
In the short term, neither Gordon nor Payton figures to command much defensive attention outside the painted area, which still leaves Orlando looking for more players to stretch the floor. If nothing else, Payton can get into the paint and draw contact: he averaged 8.6 free-throw tries per game as a junior.
"He was able to get to the rim quite a bit in college," Hennigan said of Payton. "I think it speaks to his mentality. Elfrid is someone I think who sees the game in attack mode, and we like that about him."
In their strengths and weaknesses, then, Gordon and Payton aren't too different from Victor Oladipo and Maurice Harkless, two other members of Orlando's young core. These picks figure to upgrade the Magic's defense, but potentially at the cost of their offense.
It's unclear how Orlando will keep the floor spread or generate efficient shot attempts in the half-court. What's become increasingly clear, however, is that Hennigan values versatile, athletic players who relish the opportunity to defend.