A Philadelphia 76ers guard sprinted up the court and pushed the ball to the foul line in the Orlando Magic's defensive end. The guard suddenly slowed, then dished to teammate K.J. McDaniels to set up an easy layup.
But Magic rookies Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon saw opportunity. Payton slapped at the ball to prevent McDaniels from elevating cleanly. Then, once McDaniels floated the ball toward the hoop, Gordon slid over and jumped so high that he palmed the ball and snatched it out of midair.
"A lot of people swat it into the second row or something like that," Gordon said. "That's just unnecessary if you can get it and then go the other way."
That sequence, which occurred late in Orlando's 83-77 summer-league win over Philadelphia on Saturday, offered a tantalizing glimpse of what Gordon and Payton might be able to offer the Magic in the years ahead. But most of the game demonstrated that Gordon and Payton have a ways to go before they become comfortable at the NBA level.
Gordon scored seven points, collected five rebounds and dished out one assist. But he made just three of his 11 shots from the field and turned the ball over four times.
Payton played strong defense, but the Sixers limited him to two points. Payton recorded five assists, but he also committed four turnovers.
Some context is necessary: The Magic's summer-league team had practiced only five times before Saturday. Team officials expected some uneven play from the entire team, including Gordon, 18, and Payton, 20.
In last year's summer league, then-Sixers rookie Michael Carter-Williams played poorly all week. But Carter-Williams improved dramatically before the regular season and earned NBA Rookie of the Year honors.
"I think both guys had some first-game jitters," said Wes Unseld Jr., the Magic's summer-league head coach. "Defensively, 'E' was great. He did a nice job late in the game of controlling the tempo and keeping us organized.
"I just think for us it's going to be a process. That was their first sniff of NBA game speed, and that's summer-league game speed. So it's probably more than they're used to, but it's still something they have to get accustomed to."
The 76ers' defense frequently swarmed Payton, a point guard drafted 10th overall last month. Philadelphia regularly sent a second defender to confront Payton and close off space. Last summer, teams used a similar tactic against Orlando's Victor Oladipo when Oladipo was a rookie.
"It brought back a lot of memories," Oladipo said. "Honestly, it took me awhile [to adjust], because in the league, they do it too [in the regular season]. But it's all a process. It's not going to come overnight. For me, I had to watch film. I had to actually be in that situation, turn the ball over, make those mistakes, so I could learn from them."
Oladipo conveyed that message to Payton.
"It's not going to come overnight," Payton said.
Payton figures to be Orlando's point guard of the future. On Saturday, however, Oladipo started at that position and performed better than anyone else on the Magic roster, scoring 18 points, collecting six rebounds and dishing out three assists.
The spotlight shone on Gordon, the fourth pick in the draft, and on Payton.
Gordon, a 6-foot-9 forward, looked shaky at times. He struggled with his jumper and his free-throw stroke during his lone season at the University of Arizona, and on Saturday, he misfired on his shot, missing one of his two free-throw attempts wide left.
Still, on offense, he seemed more comfortable playing away from the hoop. His dribbling is the most underrated aspect of his game, and he drove successfully into the lane against Philly to create scoring opportunities.
"I did OK," Gordon said. "Shots weren't dropping, but I shot the right shots and played good defense. I talked [to teammates] on defense, and we won. I made some good passes. I'm happy. It felt good being out there, so in my book, that's a win."
The Magic hope it was the first of many wins.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun