HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton are 23 and 21 years old, respectively, both taken with top-10 picks in the Draft. They are, seemingly, the Orlando Magic’s backcourt of both the present and the future.
But early in his tenure as Magic coach, Scott Skiles has discovered that he can’t play the two guards together for too long. In Game 15 against the Knicks on Wednesday, Oladipo came off the bench, and the Magic were a better team as a result.
As you’d expect, the Magic rank as one of the league’s most improved defensive teams under Skiles, who has a history of transforming teams in that department. Orlando has allowed 4.7 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season, jumping from 25th to 13th in defensive efficiency.
But Orlando has been bad both offensively and defensively with both Payton and Oladipo on the floor. They’ve been much better on both ends with one or the other on the bench.
Among 165 players who have attempted at least 100 shots this season, Oladipo (40.8 percent) ranks 152nd and Payton (37.5 percent) ranks 160th in effective field goal percentage. Not only are they both poor shooters from the outside, but they’ve been the two worst shooters in the restricted area among players who have taken at least 60 shots there.
Defensively, the Magic have forced a lot of turnovers with Oladipo and Payton on the floor together. But opponents have also shot better and more often from the restricted area.
Skiles made note of the defensive end of the floor when talking about the lineup change on Wednesday.
“It was not an easy decision and in some ways, it’s not even right,” Skiles said. “We’ve been preaching ‘Play better defense’ from the beginning and I’ve commented multiple times that Victor is our best defender, and oh, by the way, you’re out of the lineup. Victor is kind of a victim.”
The other three players on the floor have something to do with the defensive numbers,which could improve over time. But the Magic’s offensive issues with both guards on the floor is no surprise.
Oladipo and Payton actually were actually on the floor together more in Wednesday’s win over the Knicks (14.4 minutes) than they were in Monday’s loss in Cleveland (13.8 minutes). And the Magic scored 37 points in those 14.4 minutes, by far their best offensive output this season with the pair on the floor. Oladipo himself scored a season-high 24 points in his first game off the bench in more than a year. Payton recorded a season-high 11 assists.
If the Magic can sustain their new offensive success, they need to have a good showing on Friday (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV), when they host the worst defensive team in the league. The Milwaukee Bucks rank last in defensive efficiency and has allowed an incredible 119 points per 100 possessions in its last five games. Tougher tests for Orlando will come after that.