The 2017/18 season has been a tumultuous one for the Orlando Magic.
After shocking the league with their blazing hot start, the Magic fell back to earth, and fast, losing nine in a row after starting the season 8-4. The loss’ began piling up when rookie Jonathan Isaac went down with a sprained ankle, and continued to rack up with injuries to Terrence Ross, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier.
In Saturday night’s blowout loss to the Washington Wizards, the Magic’s eighth straight, and third in a row by double-digits, the team lost Nikola Vucevic for the next six-to-eight weeks with a broken hand.
While they could get the likes of Gordon, Fournier and Isaac back as soon as Tuesday night in Miami, they’re still going to need someone to step up without Vucevic, who has been their best player for much of the season.
That falls on the shoulders, and hair, of Elfrid Payton.
Payton, who missed time of his own early in the season, tried taking matters into his own hands against the Wizards, finishing with a career-high 30 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and four steals. While it wasn’t enough, seeing Payton try, and successfully, take the game over some on the offensive end is encouraging.
One of the biggest issues Payton has faced all season, and for much of his career to this point, is inconsistency. There are times he appears way too relaxed on the court, and has consistently struggled to keep his energy up, especially on the defensive end.
Now, with four of the five opening night starters down, Payton has to step up. This is his chance to take the bull by the horns, and show what he can do as “the guy” for a team.
The fourth-year point guard has shown flashes of strong play —he had five triple-doubles in the final 20 games of last season — but hasn’t been able to do it on a consistent basis.
Despite the team’s struggles over the last month, Payton has scored in double figures in all but two games, and dished out six or more assists in 11 of those 17 games.
Now down another 18 points a game, Payton will have to be the strong, hard nosed attacking guard he was on Saturday night. He’ll have to score more, while also continuing to find his teammates for quality shots.
His more consistent play on the offensive end aside, the Magic desperately need Payton to step up on the defensive end.
As a whole unit, the Magic have been dreadful on defense, giving up over 100 points in 20 of their last 22 games, including over 110 in 13 of those — they gave up a season high 133 to the Golden State Warriors in that span. Teams have attacked from the perimeter at will, getting no resistance what so ever from practically any Magic guard.
Payton, who was supposed to be a strong defender coming out of college, will have to bring more on that end. If Payton isn’t able to step up his level of play on a consistent level defensively, and breath some life into his otherwise lifeless teammates, things could get even worse for the Magic.
At the end of the day, the Magic will need to get bigger contributions from multiple sources with Vucevic out.
Arguably the biggest one will be Payton, as he gets his chance to be “the man” for the reeling Magic.