There will be plenty of great storylines to keep an eye on this upcoming NBA season, but today we’ll take a look at some of the players who could potentially be their team’s X-Factor in the 2016-17 campaign. While there are a ton of young talents like Devin Booker (Suns), D’Angelo Russell (Lakers) and Ben Simmons (Sixers) who will be eventually be asked to lead their respective teams in their ongoing rebuild efforts, today’s list features players who are either expected to take that next step forward, entering a new locker room or simply being asked to shoulder a larger portion of the basketball burden for teams with title or playoff aspirations.
Here are the players who could ultimately serve as lightning rods for their each of their respective teams:
#7 – Dennis Schröder – Atlanta Hawks
Schröder is set to take over the starting duties in Atlanta now that Jeff Teague is a member of the Indiana Pacers. He started just six times last season and only 16 times in his career. Head coach Mike Budenholzer must be very comfortable with the idea of placing the added responsibilities on Schröder, but the 22-year-old German-born player has yet to average more than the 20.4 minutes per contest he played in 2015-16 for the Hawks.
His per-100-possession stats (above) look pretty good, but Schröder will have to step up as Atlanta’s floor general as he attempts to also work center Dwight Howard into the action. Regardless of whether you feel Howard is worthy of such considerations at this stage in his career, the 30-year-old big man was clearly brought in to be a key figure and Schröder could go a long way toward controlling the team by keeping Howard and returning big man Paul Millsap as happy as possible. The two of them should balance each other out relatively well, but it will be left to the coaching staff and Schröder (by on-court extension) to make those parts fit as nicely as possible.
#6 – Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks
To paraphrase the character Bodie Broadus from HBO’s The Wire, “The Greek Freak… he’s a problem.” Although we can’t necessarily fault you if you’ve failed to keep a close eye on the state of Milwaukee Bucks basketball over the last couple seasons, that won’t stop us from telling you you’re missing out on one of the league’s more intriguing and unique young talents in Antetokounmpo. Below are his stats per-100-possessions:
Antetokounmpo still isn’t where he needs to be when shooting from distance, but he was the 20th-ranked player in the NBA in terms of overall efficiency in 2015-16, according to TeamRankings.com. As you can see from the video above, Antetokounmpo is an absolute nightmare in transition or the open court, and he appears to be growing more comfortable facing up and attacking in the halfcourt set. His shift to a point forward role after the All-Star game earlier this spring seems to have helped with said comfort; the 21-year-old averaged nearly 19 points, 8.8 rebounds and seven assists while blocking 1.9 shots and swiping 1.4 steals per contest over a 29-game stretch to end the year. Head coach Jason Kidd has already declared him the team’s point guard heading into next season.
The timing of the decision is somewhat of a surprise since the team also has Michael Carter-Williams and the recently acquired Matthew Dellavedova, but the move makes sense if you’re Kidd and trying to maximize every position on the court. The Eastern Conference has improved and the path to the postseason certainly won’t be as clear as it was a couple seasons ago, but a strong year from Antetokounmpo could put them back into the discussion.
#5 – Andrew Wiggins – Minnesota Timberwolves
It may surprise some to see Wiggins on this list with Karl-Anthony Towns already being the team’s best player – and one of the league’s more versatile, young big men in general – but newly hired head coach Tom Thibodeau will absolutely need Wiggins to take the next step on both ends of the court and continue to develop into the transformative talent many anticipated him being at this level. At 6’8 and about as rangy as they come, Wiggins has the prototypical swingman’s build for today’s game. You’d like to see him continue to extend his range and get that three-point percentage (30.4 percent for his career) to at least somewhere in the mid-30s, but the real challenge for Thibodeau will be extracting the best defensive player possible out of Wiggins.
Showing flashes of defensive prowess at times, Wiggins has yet to find a way to maintain a balance of intensity and focus on that end as of yet. Those are areas you wouldn’t expect to be issues on a Thibodeau-coached team, so the hope would be that guys like Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Ricky Rubio (if he’s around) will embrace the challenge of being asked to compete on the defensive end on a nightly basis. The Wolves are expected to be an improved lot, but for them to truly compete for a playoff spot in this Western Conference mix, they’ll obviously need a each of those players to collectively progress. However, they’ll specifically need Wiggins to cause match-up issues for opposing teams all while being a problem solver on the perimeter in a conference full of wings scorers.
For anyone concerned about Wiggins’ durability since Thibodeau often asks a lot of his players, the 21-year-old has already averaged 35.7 minutes per contest and has played in 163 of a possible 164 games.
#4 – Aaron Gordon – Orlando Magic
After a few years of aiming for (and missing) the postseason in the East, it appears the Magic have finally added the right blend of talent to make that a realistic possibility. Along with the shift toward newly hired head coach Frank Vogel’s preferred style of play, the frontcourt positions were each bolstered by the additions of Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo (to backup Nikola Vucevic).
Gordon was already reportedly slated for the small forward position in the starting lineup, but he spent the summer continuing to work on his shooting and playmaking and sounds as confident as ever about the idea of attacking and slashing from the wing.
The one area where Gordon can be instantly more impactful is on the defensive end. At 6’9 and in the best shape of his career, Gordon possesses the athleticism and natural defensive instincts to defend as many as four positions at a highly effective level. His per-100-possession stats (seen above) project to be impressive. He should earn additional playing time under Vogel, and there’s a feeling that he could really excel playing alongside Ibaka. If Gordon can fully tap into his ability to be a flat-out disruptive force on the defensive end, then it should provide him enough opportunities to make an impact in the open court and semi-transition, especially as he continues to adjust to life at the three and attacking primarily from the wing in the halfcourt set.
For Orlando to stand a chance at improving enough in year one of Vogel’s tenure to truly get into an improved East’s playoff race, Gordon will need to play a huge part of that progression in a jack-of-all-trades role not unlike the one Shawn Marion played for the Phoenix Suns about a decade ago.
#3 – Rodney Hood – Utah Jazz
After a strong finish to 2014-15 followed by just narrowly missing the 2015-16 postseason, the Utah Jazz now find themselves not only poised to break through and return to playing beyond the regular season for the first time since 2012, but maybe even in position to challenge for a top-six spot that would allow them to avoid the top two seeds in the opening round. While we won’t get ahead of ourselves by predicting any playoff openers from Salt Lake just yet, one player who could really be a determining factor for their overall success could be Hood. Gordon Hayward remains the team’s “go-to” guy on most nights, while Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are the anchors below the basket, but the up-and-coming shooting guard could be the guy who puts them over the top if he’s able to somehow duplicate last season’s rate of progress.
Playing alongside dozens of the league’s best players and sharpening his craft as a member of USA’s Select Team certainly shouldn’t hurt, as younger guys have consistently shown progress and growth after participating in the workouts and training camps. Here are his per-100-possession numbers throughout his career:
Even with the addition of veteran Joe Johnson over the offseason, there should be enough minutes between the shooting guard and small forward positions so all the swingmen are kept heavily in the mix. He nearly doubled his output in certain areas (and increased or improved in just about every aspect) from year one to his sophomore campaign.
Upgrading the point guard position with a defensive presence like George Hill and a healthy Dante Exum looking to return to the fold was key for Utah. But to truly compete this postseason, it will come from continuing to strengthen from within. Hood presents their most promising prospect of a player who can ascend to an even higher level of play in a relatively short period of time.
#2 – Derrick Rose – New York Knicks
Rose was mocked for his assertion that the Knicks could be one of the league’s upcoming “super teams,” and while health will obviously play a considerable role in such a proclamation coming to fruition, we can’t necessarily fault the seven-year veteran for expressing confidence in his new surroundings. When you consider that the 2015-16 season was about as strong and consistent a year as we’ve seen from Rose in at least four seasons, and it’s easy to see why he’s feeling optimistic again. His 66 games played were by far the most he’s been healthy for in a single season since his MVP campaign back in 2010-11.
Rose may no longer be the blazing fast and freakishly athletic guard that would routinely get to the rim and finish in fantastic fashion, but he is starting to look more comfortable taking his man off the dribble and at least finishing in or around traffic. If the Knicks are able to limit the burden he places on his body by divvying up playmaking duties while limiting his on-court time to right around the 31.8 minutes per contest he played for the Bulls in his final year in Chicago, then Rose could really see a resurgence and even an improvement in his game from an efficiency standpoint.
Having a capable backup in Brandon Jennings will help, but being paired in the backcourt with Lee – a guy who can defend the opposing team’s top guards and shot 37.8 percent from deep last year – while suddenly having offensive firepower like Carmelo Anthony and even Kristaps Porzingis at his disposal should make life easier for Rose as a scorer himself. Rose is in a contract year, on a big stage and looks as good physically as he has in years. If ever there were a perfect confluence of circumstances for a player to come out and prove he is still a star (and worthy of star money next summer), this could be it.
# 1 – Russell Westbrook – Oklahoma City Thunder
While some may have placed shooting guard Victor Oladipo on this list, the shift in the franchise’s priority list and the huge burden on Westbrook were too much to pass over. The reality is that we are about to see a ton of Westbrook this season, and he’ll be asked to carry the Thunder.
We’re 18 months removed from that 2014-15 season that featured about a 50-game sample size of what Westbrook-centered basketball can look like, and OKC fans should take solace in the fact that the 27-year-old has continued to show progress over that stretch. He’ll likely wind up in the top five of both the PER and Usage Rate categories when all is said and done, but Westbrook also has a nice selection of weapons to help with some of the responsibilities. The pairing with Oladipo should be exciting since they’re probably the most athletic backcourt in the NBA, while Steven Adams and Enes Kanter each progressed to a level that head coach Billy Donovan was able to rely on lineups with both big men playing (and they were effective even against small-ball units).
The addition of power forward Domantas Sabonis makes the roster even more intriguing, since the No. 11 overall pick seems like a good fit for OKC if he can transition well to this level. We can probably hold off on the legitimate MVP contender talk until we see that OKC is at least able to compete for a top-five seed in a crowded Western Conference, but that doesn’t mean Westbrook will not have done absolutely everything in his power along the way. The league’s single-season record for triple-doubles was the great Oscar Robertson’s 1961-62 year that featured 41 of them.
Westbrook may not eclipse such a seemingly ridiculous total, but is it beyond the realm of possibility that he could accomplish the feat as many as 30 times in 2016-17? Keep in mind, he had 18 of them while quasi-sharing the load with Durant last year. The ultimate question will be, can he take that next step of dominating the league while winning a majority of OKC’s games? He’s undoubtedly going to try, and that’s why we love him.
Honorable Mention X-Factor Players:
Al Horford, Clint Capela, Myles Turner
G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts
David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.
Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.
Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.
Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.
With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.
1. Christian Wood
Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.
His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.
2. Jameel Warney
Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.
With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.
3. Melo Trimble
After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.
He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.
4. Joel Bolomboy
Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.
At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.
5. Jeremy Evans
Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.
With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.
Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.
NBA Daily: Potential Trade Targets to Get the Sixers to the Playoffs
On the cusp of a playoff appearance for the first time in six years, the Philadelphia 76ers could cement their postseason status with a move at the trade deadline.
At times this season, the Philadelphia 76ers look like they’re capable of going toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best teams. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at their disposal, along with capable three-point shooters, the Sixers have shown flashes of being a force to be reckoned with.
And at other times, well, they look like a discombobulated young team, with serious flaws in the construction of its roster.
Despite the lapses they display, the Sixers are still right in the thick of the playoff race. Currently, at 21-20, they hold a half-game advantage over the Detroit Pistons for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference.
While they await the return of top overall pick Markelle Fultz, who has still yet to hit the court after being shut down earlier this season with a shoulder injury, the Sixers will continue to miss depth on the wing and a particular skill set that holds them back from winning games they seem to have locked up with double-digit leads. For all the greatness that is Embiid, and all of the promise that is Simmons, when the former isn’t on the court, the latter struggles to shoulder the scoring load due to his inability to shoot jump shots.
Initially, that’s what Fultz was drafted for. A player that head coach Brett Brown has said many times before, has the talent to tie everything together with the Sixers’ roster. What he means by that is Fultz represents a scorer from multiple levels of the court who forces the defense to lock in on, potentially leaving the teams’ shooters open on the wing.
Without Fultz, and when Embiid is on the bench, the team lacks a player who can put the ball on the floor, create and knock down jumpers. Although long-term success is still very much the attention for Philadelphia, that doesn’t discount the fact that a team that finished with 10 wins just two seasons ago is on the verge of making a playoff appearance for the first time since 2011-12 with a core of young, promising players.
Because of that possibility, and because of the clear holes in team’s makeup that could prevent this from happening, the Sixers could become an interesting player at the trade deadline — especially considering the names that appear available, according to reports.
It’s no secret that Sixers’ president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo wants to keep financial flexibility heading into this summer, that’s the main reason players like J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson were signed to one-year deals last offseason. Before the team has to start signing their own players to big extensions, the Sixers are in a unique position where they not only have elite homegrown talent, but the money to complement those players the best they can. Because of that, any deal that would return a player with money on the books past this season seems unlikely.
That being said, it just so happens that two players potentially on the trading block right now fulfill the Sixers’ most crucial need, and also aren’t on the hook for money past this year. Marc Stein of The New York Times reported that Rodney Hood could be moved before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, and that multiple teams are expressing interest in his services.
Along with Hood, Stein also reported that Lou Williams, who’s been the center of many trade talks around the league given his career-year and impending free agent status, was involved in specific discussions that would send him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
What should intrigue the Sixers about these two players is not only their ability on the court but also their flexibility off of it.
Let’s start with Hood. Before the rise of Donovan Mitchell this season, Hood looked to be in a position to assume the role as the dominant scorer on the Utah Jazz following Gordon Hayward’s departure. At just 25 years old and in the final year of his rookie contract, Hood may not be worth the price tag for Utah this summer considering their find with Mitchell.
Should the Jazz actually move on from Hood, it’s unclear what they would ask for in return at this point. Yes, Hood his an impending free agent, which could diminish his value. But the team trading for him would assume his Bird Rights, therefore giving them a better shot at retaining him this summer should they choose to do so.
The best part about his potential fit in Philadelphia is that he fits the timeline of the rebuild while also addressing a need in the present. Being just 25, Hood fits alongside the core of Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, Dario Saric and Robert Covington as a young player. If the Sixers were to miss out on whoever they were planning to target with their financial flexibility this summer, Hood would still be there to plug in for years with a contract extension.
Shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc this season, and displaying the track record of being able to fill up the score sheet, Hood could become the go-to-scorer for Philadelphia when Embiid isn’t on the court, or late in games when they need to stop an opposing team’s run.
While he appears to at least be on the table as of now, Hood is certainly worth checking in on from the Sixers’ standpoint.
Now, onto Williams. Drafted by Philadelphia all the back in 2005 with the 45th overall pick, Williams is enjoying the best season of his career for the Los Angeles Clippers. At 31, he doesn’t represent the long-term upside that Hood does, but for this season alone, bringing Williams on to this current Sixers’ roster could be that extra jolt to get them cleanly into the postseason.
Averaging 23 points per game and shooting 41 percent from downtown, Williams fits the role as an iso-scorer better than any player on the Sixers’ current roster. Alongside Simmons and Embiid, Williams could assume the role Fultz was supposed to this season.
Another interesting ripple to the potential Williams fit is that he was on the last Sixers’ roster to make the playoffs. Adding him to this roster would bring his career full circle. This summer, Williams is most likely going to test the market and given his age and potential price tag he may not fit so well into the Sixers’ plans moving forward. But with his history with the club and city, getting him on board for another playoff run with an exciting young team could arguably help in the negotiation process this offseason.
Neither of these potential trades are slam dunks, and it remains to be seen if either player will even be moved. But for where the Sixers stand currently, coupled with their growing postseason expectations, checking in around the league on trade targets that can fulfill obvious needs should be at the forefront of Colangelo’s agenda for the next few weeks.
Payton Blocking Out Trade Talk, Believes Magic Will Turn It Around
Spencer Davies sits down with Elfrid Payton to discuss his fourth year, trade rumors and a trying season for Orlando in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
It’s hard for a team to look for positives when it’s living in the basement.
The Orlando Magic have had a rough go of it this year. They’re 13-32 at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, they’ve have had a ton of setbacks, and they currently rank 29th in the NBA in defensive rating.
There is a bright spot hidden in there, though, and head coach Frank Vogel sees it growing as the season progresses.
“We’re frustrated with our record, but we’re encouraged with the development we’ve had with our young players,” Vogel said before Thursday’s game in Cleveland. “Aaron Gordon, Mario [Hezonja], and [Elfrid Payton] have all had strong individual seasons and continue to get better. All those guys are improving individually and at some point, it’s gonna lead to more Ws.”
While Gordon stands out more to some than the others because of his star appeal, Payton is right up there with him as far as making the next step goes.
“Elfrid’s shooting the ball better from the perimeter and at the rim,” Vogel said. “He’s worked on his left hand. He’s worked on his floaters. Shooting 52 percent from the field and that’s pretty darn good for a point guard, and the 39 percent from the three as well.”
Those are your more traditional statistics that don’t address the leap he’s taken in efficiency. Sure, Payton’s scoring the same amount of points per game, but it’s the way he’s been getting that’s been most noticeable.
According to Basketball-Reference and NBA.com, he’s making nearly 70 percent of his tries between 0-3 feet and ranks third among point guards in restricted field goal percentage (min. four attempts).
But Payton doesn’t like to evaluate himself using numbers, so he doesn’t know how to feel about how he’s played for Orlando this year.
“It’s tough to say because I like to measure my success by winning and we haven’t been doing that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “So tough to say.”
He’s not kidding. Since starting out the season 8-4, the Magic have taken a hard fall, only winning five games since November 10. In this stretch, there have been three hefty losing streaks—two 9-game slides and most recently a 7-game skid.
“Not to make excuses—we had a lot of injuries,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of what happened. “Haven’t really been playing with the group of guys that we started the season with, so kinda derailed us a little bit.”
As the losses pile up, so does the chatter. Indicated by multiple recent reports, Orlando has made it clear that many players on the roster are available on the trade block. Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja, and Payton were recently brought up as names who could possibly on the move if the right deal presents itself.
When asked about the rumblings, Vogel claimed he doesn’t have a message for his guys.
“They understand it’s part of the business,” he said. “Just focus on playing the game.”
Like his coach, Payton doesn’t have a reaction to the noise.
“I don’t get caught up into the things like that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Today I’m an Orlando Magic. I play for the Orlando Magic and I’m gonna give them 100 percent of me. I’m somebody that likes to finish what I started, so I definitely would like to see this through and try to turn this organization around.”
So who does he see on this team that can help jump-start the process in flipping the script?
“Everybody,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I like Vuc. I like AG. Evan [Fournier] is somebody who can fill it up. T Ross is somebody who can fill it up when healthy. I think we have a lot of talent on this team. Even the rookies—Wes [Iwundu] plays well for us in stretches. Jon [Isaac] when he was playing he’d do well.
“You could see the potential there. So I think we have a lot of weapons on this team. I’m very confident in the group we have here. I think we have a lot of talent, we just have to do it.”
Saying you’re going to right the ship is one thing. Actually doing it is a whole other challenge. With where the Magic sit in the standings currently, their work is cut out for them. That being said, Payton isn’t giving up.
In fact, he’s still got his eyes on making it to the postseason, and it starts with him.
“Definitely trying to get a run going,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Make a playoff push. It’s definitely not out of sight right now, especially with the way the East is. We win a few games and we right back in the thick of things.
“Do whatever I can to help us to get more wins, man. I think that’s what it all boils down to. I figure if I’m playing well, that means we’re winning for the most part.”
Defense matters the most, and it’s something Payton and his group know they need to get better at if they have a chance to play past mid-April.
“Just be tied in together a little bit more,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I think sometimes we have too many breakdowns on the backside. So just being more in-tune with each other.”
One thing is for sure—Orlando is going through this difficult time as a team, but refuses to fold. Payton says Vogel has constantly stayed in their ears with uplifting advice.
“Keep fighting,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of his words. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. No one’s gonna feel sorry for you, so just keep fighting.”