It’s difficult to find a fascinating storyline in a contest featuring two of the four most statistically inept teams in the NBA. But this match-up actually has one thanks to the return of Elfrid Payton.
At 19-54, losers of 25 of their previous 27 games, the Phoenix Suns have flown the white flag on the 2017/18 season. In addition to trading Eric Bledsoe, the team has opted to sit Tyson Chandler since February (knee and back), and is taking every precaution possible with Devin Booker (wrist), and T.J. Warren (knee). On the anniversary of his 70 point performance, Booker’s presence could have generated great interest as one of the up and coming scorers in the Western Conference.
The Orlando Magic are not far behind. Losers of eight of their past nine, including Thursday’s 118-98 shellacking at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers, the Magic are but a half game behind the third to bottom Atlanta Hawks at 21-51.
Without Booker, Chandler, Brandon Knight, Warren, Alan Williams (meniscus), Fournier (MCL), Isaac (foot), Ross (MCL), and Simmons (wrist), there’s only one storyline truly worth noting in this Saturday night’s contest.
The Return of Elfrid Payton
On February 8th, moments before the trade deadline, the Orlando Magic opted to relinquish its privilege to Elfrid Payton’s restricted rights, and instead traded him for the second most favorable second round pick the Suns will own in the 2018 draft.
Payton initially made the Magic look quite foolish, with triple doubles in his first two appearances in the Desert State.
But with Booker and Warren on the backburner, Payton has come back to earth in a massive way.
In the past eight games, Payton has averaged 7.8 points, 4.1 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 0.6 steals on 37.5% from the floor and 12% from three.
The Phoenix Suns will likely trot out 2016 top ten picks Marquese Chris, and Dragon Bender, alongside Payton, Troy Daniels, and 2017 lottery selection, Josh Jackson.
Jackson has been a bright spot recently for the Suns, scoring 15 or more points in his last five contests.
He also scored 36 points off the bench, the most for a bench scoring rookie since Rodrigue Beaubois in 2007.
Off the bench for the Suns will feature some version of veteran Jared Dudley, lottery selection Alex Len, Tyler Ulis and Davon Reed.
Someone will have to win this battle for the bottom seed. Much of the attention will be on Elfrid Payton. Will he take last month’s trade personally?
Head Coach Frank Vogel
A report published by Marc Stein of the New York Times suggested a source within the Magic organization believes the Coach will be removed at some point following the season. Given the performance of the team in his two seasons, and the changeover in the front office, the writing may be on the wall for the Pacers’ former Coach. Whether he deserves it or not, the Magic must now begin their second rebuild in the past six years.