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The ‘Shop: MVP Talk & Scoring Outbursts

Jabari Davis and Lang Greene continue their weekly barbershop conversation about the NBA at large.

Jabari Davis

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Welcome back to The ‘Shop, folks. Always great to catch up and talk some hoops, so let’s go ahead and jump into the mix…

Jabari: Alright, Lang, good to back at it. Let’s start with OKC and specifically with Westbrook the Destroyer. The dude is currently averaging a triple-double (31 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 10.9 APG) and the team has gotten back into the winning side of things of late. Part of why I worried about OKC this year was because it looked like they would need Westbrook to essentially play like a madman and essentially average a triple-double all year. I didn’t think that would be fair to expect, nor realistic at the time… But here we are about a quarter of the way in and he’s doing exactly THAT. Can it last?

Lang: Dude, it’s good to be back in the mix. Don’t know about you but I had to gain at least five pounds over the Thanksgiving break. My goodness, man. The waistline doesn’t have the bounce back it used to have, but there was no way I was turning down that food, bro.

I absolutely believe Russell Westbrook’s play can last. The guy is a man on a mission. Taking no prisoners, no holds barred. Shooting first and asking questions later. I can go on and on. Remember, Kobe Bryant has been telling anyone that would listen over the past three years about Westbrook having a lot of Mamba in him. Let me say this: Kobe is a truth teller. No question about it.

Now here’s the deal. Do Sam Presti and the crew try to bring in reinforcements at the trade deadline to help Westbrook down the stretch? This is just my opinion, but a guy like Enes Kanter is owed big money and is averaging less than 24 minutes per night behind Steven Adams in the rotation. Dude is a scorer on the low block, but his defensive lapses keep him on the bench. You wonder if Kanter is truly part of OKC’s long-term plans, especially at that price tag and playing those limited minutes. What do you think?

Jabari: Bean was dead-on with that one, and I can certainly appreciate that mentality and approach. Westbrook is simply phenomenal and I’ll admit that it makes me chuckle a bit that so many folks continue to look for ways to question and criticize what he’s doing. The whole “he’s selfishly gunning for triple-doubles” narrative is annoying and ridiculous. It seems like it’s actually rooted in, “I just don’t like the guy or his style, so let me shift my complaint…” I love how everyone went into the year knowing he would play like a madman, but now you have folks essentially complaining that he’s trying to do more than he should. We, and I’m speaking generally, love to build athletes up simply to tear them down a bit too much at times.

You nailed it with that assessment of Kanter. He can be really good on the offensive end and particularly on the backboards when he wants to, but doesn’t seem to provide the same type effort consistently on the defensive end. I actually don’t mind them staggering the two big men all that much, but do agree that he is probably the team’s most tradeable asset and someone opposing teams would value. Not sure if  they end up electing to move him, but (along with continuing to develop the young guys) I do think Presti has to find a way to continue solidifying that roster over the course of this season and into the summer. What Westbrook is doing is phenomenal, but I shudder to think of what that team will look like if he were to go down or miss any significant amount of time at any point.

Transitioning to another topic, and even though I realize we’ve discussed some of these guys over the weeks, let’s bring it together with our own version of a “WAAAAAY too early” discussion about the MVP race. My top guys right now are Westbrook, LeBron James, James Harden, Kevin Durant (Yup, look at his numbers) and Kawhi Leonard. Any chance Ant Davis can truly sneak into the mix and at least get into the discussion if his Pelicans keep rolling? Anyone that didn’t get mentioned that deserves some shine?

Lang: I can’t believe there are people out there really trying to question what Russell Westbrook is doing. I mean, really? Come on. You lose one of the top five players on this green earth over the summer for nothing in return and people expect Westbrook not to be out here playing possessed right now? Give it a break. You might not like his TYPE of greatness, but as a basketball observer, you should at least be mature enough to RESPECT it.

I think your MVP list is accurate, bro. You have to throw Westbrook on the list as a frontrunner. But I love the fact you threw LeBron on the list because people have this false notion that he is “coasting” until the playoffs. If averaging 24-9-9 is coasting, then sign me up all day every day and twice on Tuesday nights. I absolutely love what James Harden is doing in Houston too. I remember arguing at length around the water cooler that Harden is the BEST two guard in the league with folks insisting it was either Jimmy Butler or Klay Thompson. Now those guys are better two-way players, but Harden is my pick out of the litter if I was starting a franchise. That might not be a popular pick, but he passes all of my eye checks with flying colors.

Durant is an interesting pick. But the numbers support consideration. He’s been the most consistent Warrior to start the season and when Draymond Green missed time, the man pumped in a double-double with SIX – I said six! – blocked shots. When I see Durant I see a man, come playoff time, that is going to have some Russell Westbrook type of performances. He knows what’s at stake if he comes up empty handed this season. I think Kawhi is a stretch, compared to the others, but the Spurs do have the second-best record in the league and that should count for something.

I love the Brow. I love his potential. But the Pelicans have to be north of .500 for me to even consider him. Check back with me come All-Star break and I’ll reassess. Ha!

Now let me ask you. Who do you think will be the first trade domino to fall? Nerlens Noel could be the odd man out in Philly. Brandon Knight could be a valuable asset for Phoenix with Devin Booker as their guy for the future. We’ve already talked about Enes Kanter in Oklahoma City. Who else do you have hearing their names on the trade market?

Jabari: The Nerlens rumors intrigue me because I honestly wonder whether they can get what they would probably consider a fair deal given his injury history. We can romanticize about potential and promise all we’d like, but at some point, the likelihood of player’s availability has to be factored in.

What about Bradley Beal? I know the Wizards have at least made it sound like they intend to keep their main pieces in town, but at 6-13 you just wonder how long before they are forced to make a significant move. I also wonder how much longer Orlando plans to keep paying Bismack Biyombo $18 million a year to split time with Nikola Vucevic? Vucevic has been solid and is actually signed to a very favorable contract (about $12.5 million for each of the next two years), but you wonder if GM Rob Hennigan has any plans to at least explore what options might be available on the market.

While I’ve heard absolutely nothing in terms of trade rumors involving Lou Williams, I also wonder if we’ll start to see teams actively trying to inquire about the former Sixth Man of the Year as the season moves on. He’s on what looks like an insanely cap-friendly deal at just $7 million for next season and is actually in the middle of his best year to date. Williams is averaging a career-high 18.4 PPG off the bench for the Lakers and shooting 39.3 percent from deep. I know he’s actually been a great fit with this group under Luke Walton and the Lakers have enjoyed a bunch of unanticipated success during the early going, but it still wouldn’t shock me to see GMs bidding for his services as they try to bolster their rotations in the second half.

How long before we say they need to consider another move in Indiana? I was intrigued by that mix when the season started, but things haven’t quite worked out the way many anticipated. Why are they so poor defensively?

Lang: I am on record saying I liked what Pacers team president Larry Bird was cooking over the summer by bringing in Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson. He said he wanted the Pacers to improve offensively and move away from their plodding style. What better way to do that than by adding three proven 15-19 points-per-game guys into the mix next to Paul George and once-high-scoring guard Monta Ellis. But the problem Indiana has faced is that head coach Frank Vogel’s calling card was defense and he’s now in Orlando – who have been playing very strong defense as of late, by the way. Secondly, Father Time has taken over Big Al, who is only two seasons or so removed from an All-NBA selection. My goodness. It also appears Monta Ellis is no longer capable of putting up huge scoring nights.

Lastly… and I know this may get me some heat… but maybe, just maybe Paul George isn’t the GUY we thought he was a few years ago when the Pacers were a thorn in the Miami HEAT’s side. Make no mistake, he’s a very good player, but NBA history is absolutely littered with very good players that were unable to lead their respective teams to paradise as the top dog (such as Paul Pierce before the 2007 reinforcements). We can look at T-Mac and his woes as the leading cast member during his prime. Heck, you might be able to throw Carmelo Anthony into this mix. Two of those guys are a lock for the HALL one day and the other could possibly get in – eventually. So Paul George as an individual player is the goods, but as a franchise player you can strap a load to his back and his recent play hasn’t justified our collective expectations.  

Jabari: Point taken on guys like ‘Melo and PG, although I would still like to see what George might look like when paired with another player of his level while in his relative prime. I think we, as writers, can fall victim to social media narratives at times as well. The truth is, no one wins in the NBA without a strong and connected supporting cast. Even if we “say” guys like LeBron or Jordan did this (they didn’t) those would be extreme outliers.

Speaking of outliers, I know you saw what Klay Thompson did the other night. 60 points. SIXTY points in about 29 minutes of action. I think there was a crazy stat about dude literally having the ball in his hands for less than 90 actual seconds of action. Calling that level of production “phenomenal” somehow seems like an understatement, and before we (speaking generally) find a way to tear down the performance and question “how open” all his looks were, let’s just take a few moments to appreciate a great night on the basketball court. How does that shooting exhibition rank among some of your favorite scoring outbursts over the last 10-15 years?

Lang: Man, Klay was smoking the other night. I think it’s criminal they didn’t trot him out in the fourth quarter for a few minutes. Let the man make a run at 70 because how often will he ever reach that level of a zone again in his career? He’s gotten hot before, but I mean making a run a 70-75 points type of heat is totally different. I get it, the Warriors were trying to be good sportsmen but let the man cook a bit more.

It’s funny you mention the critics. The man had just scored 60 points, in 29 minutes, and less than 10 hours later there are a plethora of YouTube videos dissecting the performance. Come on, man. Just enjoy one of the greatest scoring displays in NBA history.

Some of my favorite scoring outbursts are Reggie Miller’s eight points in nine seconds rampage versus the Knicks back in the 1990s. Also, in my top three is T-Mac’s 13-point barrage in 33 seconds versus the Spurs. If you want to visually see the impact of the absolute carnage T-Mac caused with that outburst check out the following link and fast forward to the 2:08-second mark and witness the look on Devin Brown’s face.

Jabari: Devin Brown’s expression was absolutely classic and I’m sure it was exactly how everyone in that arena felt. From 2000-2008, T-Mac was a serious problem for opponents. That’s kind of why I hate the way we (speaking generally) consume sports these days. Let Twitter or other forms of social media tell it, McGrady wasn’t great over that stretch. Have we become so jaded and lazily dependent upon the “yeah, but how many rangzzz did he have?” mindset that we can’t acknowledge a seven-time All-Star and seven-time All-NBA selection as one of the greats from his generation? Anyhow, I’ll hop down off my soapbox for now.

The last thing I’ll say about scoring outbursts is that if the conversation is going to be had, then you know I’m obligated to bring up Kobe, once again. I mean, folks may not have loved his personality or even may have had legitimate reasons to dislike his approach at times, but there hasn’t been a more explosive scorer over the last 20 years than Bean. Klay’s 60-point outbreak reminded me specifically of the 62 points in 32 minutes Bean put up against the Mavericks just about 11 years ago (December 20, 2005). I know we focus on the 81 he gave Jalen Rose, a young Chris Bosh and the Raptors, but that 62-point night was always slightly more impressive to me given the opponent (eventually a 60-22 team ranked seventh in overall opponent’s points against) and the fact that no other teammate reached double figures that night. Not sure some of the younger folks were able to fully appreciate that game, but dude outscored the entire opposing team through three quarters.

Anyhow, let Google/YouTube be your friends if you want to appreciate that performance for the first time (for perspective) or simply to revisit a pretty incredible scoring run. We’ll wrap things up on that note for the week, but want to remind you to continue offering your feedback and suggestions for upcoming topics via the comments section below or Twitter (@JabariDavisNBA, @LangGreene).

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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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