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Scouting Ben Simmons

With help from 76ers coach Brett Brown, Ben Dowsett scouts rookie sensation Ben SImmons’ unique game.

Ben Dowsett

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As Ben Simmons warms up before an eventual win against the Jazz on Tuesday, the 76ers’ fifth straight at the time, nothing about a fairly standard group of observers stands out. Simmons is a star in the making, but he’s still a long way from drawing the kind of four-figure crowds that supernovas like Steph Curry and LeBron James regularly attract just to watch them put up jumpers hours before tip-off.

The keen eye, though, would have noticed a couple telling differences from a standard visiting player warmup. It would have picked up Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey, not usually visible at times like these, taking in Simmons’ warmup from a second-row chair. It would have noticed a couple visiting scouts, neither of whom work for the Jazz or 76ers, watching intently from the baseline. Were any of these parties necessarily on the court just for Simmons? Probably not, but you can damn well bet they’re going to watch when they can.

Even among these kinds of league people, Simmons is just emerging from a curious shroud of basketball mystery that isn’t common for first overall picks.

His pre-college days were mostly a highlight reel punctuated by occasional stops at national events like the McDonalds All-American game and the Nike Hoops Summit – talent evaluators can get a lot from these gatherings, but Simmons’ unique qualities and a, shall we say, limited commitment to the defensive side of the ball made parsing the details tougher. His year at LSU was much of the same, and the Tigers’ failure to make the NCAA tournament meant he only played a handful of games against prospects anywhere near his level. Then he missed his entire rookie season in the NBA.

So now, at 21 years old, it’s no surprise even top league thinkers with access to the best scouting data available are still craning for a look at Simmons. The kid is dominating NBA athletes night in and night out, and the league is still trying to figure out just what in the world he actually is as a basketball player.

If there’s one person who might know, it’s 6ers coach Brett Brown. Brown coached Simmons’ father, Dave, a generation ago. “That [means] two things: I’m really old, and the history and knowledge I have with his DNA and his gene pool and his background is strong,” Brown said with a laugh.

Combine that with more one-on-one time than anyone else on earth to this point, and he seems like the best guy to ask if you want to find out just what Ben Simmons is on a basketball court.

So that’s exactly what Basketball Insiders did. Let’s scout out Ben Simmons the basketball player, with a few assists from Brown and one of his peers.

Handling and Distributing

His skills as a distributor have been Simmons’ primary calling card ever since he showed up on NBA radars, and he was elite here from the moment he stepped on the court for his first regular season game.

No player in the NBA has thrown more nightly passes than Simmons. He ranks fifth in the entire league in potential assists per game, per SportVU data, trailing only Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, James Harden and John Wall (all stats are prior to Thursday night’s games unless otherwise noted). He’s also generating a top-10 figure in terms of secondary assists (“hockey assists”). The 76ers’ three-point percentage falls of a cliff when he sits compared to when he plays, this despite his own total lack of a three-point jumper.

Few players have ever entered the league with this level of passing skill; possibly none. It starts with a unique physical profile.

“You talk about quarterbacks are born? Point guards are born,” Brown said. “You take somebody that’s 6-foot-10 and really is a willing passer and wants to pass, his vision lines are different than 6-foot point guards. And it just makes him unique with the ball.”

Simmons hit the genetic lottery no doubt, but it’s how he spends the proceeds that really defines his game. His understanding of angles and space is savant-like at this age. It often takes even the most gifted passers a while to re-calibrate to NBA speed and length; Simmons walked in as one of the best in the game instantly.

Does this pass, over the longest set of arms in league history attached to Utah’s Rudy Gobert, seem easy? Maybe it does if you’re only watching how casually Simmons serves it up on the run, but is sure isn’t.

He’s quickly gotten in tune with the speed and spacing of NBA defenders, as well. He makes great use of his own body as a tool, and it’s uncommon to see players this age with this level of understanding about how their movements will affect defenders – even ones who are ostensibly multiple passes away from the central play.

Simmons looks like a seasoned vet with the way he’ll throw his passes at unexpected times to keep help defenders a half-step off-balance. Most guys would take another step to gather energy for this cross-court dime; Simmons jumps a step early and crushes a Pistons rotation:

He’s already anticipating defensive rotations to his drives, and easily has the strength to throw these kinds of high-difficulty skip passes.

He’s generating nearly two assists per night just from drives to the basket, per Second Spectrum data. Among high-volume drivers, only LeBron turns the ball over less often: Simmons has committed just seven turnovers on 182 drives, a mind-blowing figure for a player ostensibly still adjusting to this pace – and even more impressive when you remember that every defense he faces is playing him to drive every time he has the ball.

To get at what really drives his ability to run as a 6-foot-10 point guard from his first NBA game, though, you have to look at an even more foundational skill: Simmons’ handle. Jazz coach Quin Snyder described it best.

“There’s not many guys that big that are able to handle the ball as effectively as he is against smaller guys,” Snyder said. “Usually a point guard can disrupt a bigger guy guarding the ball. There’s a lot of guys that can handle the ball, but it’s a three-man handling it against a three-man.

“If you have a smaller guy on him, he’s capable of going into the post, he sees over him. If you have a bigger guy on him, his ball skills – both passing and dribbling – they’re superior. I think it’s safe to say he’s one of the best passers in the league. And for his size, I don’t know that anybody handles the ball better.”

This is where we see one difference (among many) between Simmons and a player like Nikola Jokic, another all-world passer who’s a lot bigger than most guys who get that designation. Jokic handles the ball better than most his size, but he can still be ripped by quicker hands; Simmons is running right at smaller guards and outright daring them to try and swipe away. Add in crazy acceleration and speed for his size, and you’ve got a guy poised to be the most lethal passer since LeBron himself.

Defense, Rebounding and Transition

Much is made of Simmons’ jumper as the ultimate test of his eventual ceiling, and there’s no doubt it’s important (more on this in a bit). To hear Brown speak about it, though, the way he defends and rebounds the ball could be even more vital. Brown knows what kind of ceiling there is in his DNA, after all.

“His dad competed – he was from Harlem, New York City,” Brown said. “He could have been a linebacker, he could have been a prizefighter. He chose to play basketball. And I see the world through that lens [with Ben].”

It’s a constant task for Brown to stay on Simmons defensively. He readily admits the huge minutes and role he’s placed on his rookie contribute to the possessions Simmons will take off on this end from time to time, though eventually that will be on Simmons himself to eliminate.

He did that basically every possession at LSU, though, and those worried that this would be the case at the next level can mostly rest easy. He’s no worse than other high-volume handlers who occasionally take a rest on defense; his combination of IQ and physical skills make up a lot of ground when he lags behind, though one worries about developing negative habits.

But when he’s locked in, he might have one of the highest defensive ceilings in the league among young guys. Look at the raw ground he covers to block a thoroughly unsuspecting Raul Neto:

It’s not just physical feats, either. The best examples of his defensive ceiling come when he combines these with his high-level basketball IQ.

Watch Simmons for this entire defensive possession (he starts out in the lower middle of your screen):

That’s scary intelligence, man. Look at how Simmons is positioned when Ricky Rubio starts his fateful drive:

He’s not even facing him! Somehow, though, he has the presence of mind to abandon his man in an instant. Simmons even goes for a flat-footed reach-in, probably not a great idea:

Does any of that matter? Nope. The jets are back on when he needs them.

“I think he can be elite. I think that it’s easier for him to be elite defensively than [it has been for him] offensively,” Brown said. “When he puts his mind to it, and he sits in a stance, and he’s a 6-ten – and he is 6-foot-10 – athlete with a wingspan and hands and athleticism, [plus] the quickness that he has. That’s a gamechanger. And that’s a multi-purpose defender.”

Quietly, though, Simmons’ greatest strength in a skill profile chock full of them might be his rebounding.

Consider Russell Westbrook, who at one point during his historic triple-double season became the subject of a curious debate. As the year went on, it became clear that Westbrook’s Thunder teammates were taking every opportunity they could to “gift” him rebounds – that is, to box out their man but do nothing else, allowing Russ to swoop in and grab the board uncontested. As the thinking goes, the idea was to pad Westbrook’s rebounding stats and let him chase history.

There’s no question this was part of the tactic, but it also served another, more legitimate purpose: Getting the ball in Westbrook’s hands sooner. As one of the preeminent transition threats in the league, it absolutely suits Westbrook to have the ball as soon as possible after an opponent miss – more time to catch the defense running back and find some easy points.

Simmons, on the other hand, is 6-foot-10. He doesn’t need any box-out help to approach double-digit rebounds per night. The 76ers’ rebounding percentage plummets from a robust 53.7 percent when Simmons plays to an ugly 48.1 percent when he sits – the former would be a top-five figure in the league, while the latter would be a bottom-10 mark.

This was what stuck out to multiple scouts during the draft scouting process, even more than his insane physical skill or his remarkable passing IQ. When asked about his first impressions of Simmons pre-draft, one Western Conference executive simply raised his hands over his head to mimic a rebound. Simmons is already a fearsome transition presence; the 76ers are scoring a ridiculous 1.78 points per-possession on his transition sequences (including passes), per Synergy Sports, in the league’s 94th percentile. Having the ball in his hands right away after as many misses as possible just cuts out a middle-man that slows him down.

And from there, it’s mismatch heaven. Simmons is often guarding different guys than those who are checking him on the other end, and teams are scrambling to get in his way before it’s too late.

“Sometimes the mismatch looks like it’s a mismatch on Simmons, and it’s really a mismatch somewhere else as well,” Snyder said.

Here’s what he’s talking about: Look at the panic Simmons induces as he barrels into the frontcourt after a miss.

Let’s pause things again and take a look at just how jumbled Simmons can make a retreating defense. As he crosses midcourt, all five Pacers players on the floor are singularly fixated on him – and therefore not on J.J. Redick, one of the best three-point shooters in league history, standing wide open a simple pass away:

All of this is unlocked by Simmons’ rebounding. The faster he has the ball in his hands, the faster he can create this kind of chaos – and nothing is faster than just getting it yourself. It won’t ever get the play that his passing or his developing jumper do, but it’s just as important to his success.

Scoring

Yes, Simmons’ jumper is a bit broken. He probably is using the wrong hand; this is something that’s been covered ad nauseam, perhaps best so to this eye by The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor. It’s also an ongoing situation, one O’Connor continues to track.

And while there’s no doubt a more reliable J could up his ceiling even further, there’s mounting evidence that Simmons will be able to succeed even if it remains iffy. Simmons plays on his toes, both literally and figuratively – as an exercise, watch a stretch with him on the floor sometime and see how often the heels of his feet ever touch the ground when he has the ball.

He has an incredible first step for someone his size, but it’s the recognition and the way he uses it so early in his career that really stands out. He’s being guarded here by Wesley Matthews, certainly not a slow guy; watch him wait patiently for Matthews to slightly alter his stance in anticipation of a ball screen, then use that microscopic window to blow by him for a dunk.

Simmons is already aware of what his size and length can mean, even when teams beg him to shoot jumpers. The 76ers will set picks crazy low for him, even nearly inside the paint sometimes, and he’s adept at using spins and other dribble moves to get himself a bit closer to the hoop.

Once he’s in the general range, he’s got a bit of early-career Blake Griffin in him. Simmons knows he can finish if he’s anywhere close – he’s shooting nearly 70 percent within three feet of the rim – so he simply bumps and contorts his way into the neighborhood, then figures the rest out later once he’s in the air.

******

The best part of everything we’ve been over here? There’s still so much more to come. Simmons has skipped many of the hurdles guys at his experience level usually have to navigate; a “redshirt” year, as Brown likes to call it, helped some, but that’s far from covering it all. If Simmons can grow at a similar rate to what you expect from guys drafted in his range, his ceiling is almost limitless. The picture is already starting to come into focus.

There will be struggles. Good opponents will game plan for him and do a better job making him uncomfortable than anyone has so far. His effort level on defense definitely comes and goes, and that has to improve. But Simmons has already set such a high baseline that he’s got plenty of room for error.

“You could see it,” Brown says. “But how was it going to translate on an NBA court? And I see it clearly now. You wished and you hoped, but you didn’t know, and I feel like now I know.”

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.

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G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts

David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.

David Yapkowitz

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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.

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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.

Dennis Chambers

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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.

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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.

Spencer Davies

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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.”

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