ORLANDO, Fla. — Aaron Gordon couldn’t buy an outside shot, and Elfrid Payton couldn’t escape repeated double-teams.
Victor Oladipo knows the feeling. It was what he went through this time a year ago during the Orlando Pro Summer League.
On Saturday, he watched the Orlando Magic’s two first-round draft picks try too hard at times to make a good first impression and realized he need to lead by word and example more than usual. So whether it was picking the pocket of Philadelphia 76ers guard Casper Ware for a layup which resulted in a three-point play or diving on the floor like someone desperately trying get a training-camp invitation rather than the highest-paid player on next season’s current roster, Oladipo made his mark.
Gordon and Payton will do the same thing in due time.
"Trust me, I know how it feels," Oladipo said after the Magic’s 83-77 victory on the first day of the week-long 10-team event. "There are going to be a lot of jitters and stuff like that, but like I told them, it’s all a process. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it."
Oladipo’s team-high 18 points were twice the combined total of Gordon and Payton, who were a collective 4 of 15 from the floor with eight turnovers. The 6-foot-9 forward from Arizona and fourth overall selection a week ago in the NBA draft threw up an airball from 3-point range on his first shot and missed badly to the left on his first free-throw attempt.
Payton, who didn’t start but is projected to be paired with Oladipo in the Magic’s backcourt for years to come, found himself harassed time and time again by a combination of 76ers defenders. And except for a driving layup down the lane in the third quarter, he contributed nothing when it came to scoring.
"Philly tried to attack ‘E’ a little bit," Oladipo said. "They were pouncing on them because they’re new and they don’t really know what’s going on. But like the game slowed down for me, it will eventually slow down for them."
"There’s going to be a lot of on-the-job training," said Payton, who was actually taken by the Sixers with the 10th pick before they traded his draft rights to the Magic. "You’ve just got to adjust on the fly as we go and continue to get better."
Even Oladipo admitted his own performance was far from flawless.
"I shot two airballs, three airballs today," he said. "But if you looked at me, you couldn’t even tell. At the end of the day, I’m a human being. I love this game of basketball and I want to be great at it, but I’m not going be perfect. And I’m not going to let anybody know that I’m down or upset."
So if he wasn’t going to be overly critical of himself, neither was Gordon after only a week in his new surroundings.
"There’s a lot of basketball to be played," he said. "If you get down on yourself and let it compound, you’re not going to be happy. So I’m just happy playing."
Gordon looked extremely comfortable getting ball on the wing and driving to the basket. He also displayed some slick ball-handling moves in the open court for a man his size, even going behind his back on one occasion during the fourth quarter.
That came after he blocked a shot by grabbing it in midair.
"A lot of people swat it into the second row or something like that," Gordon said. "It’s just unnecessary."
The best showing by a rookie in the game came from the Sixers’ Nerlens Noel, who had 19 points in 26 minutes after missing all of last season while recovering from major knee surgery. But Magic second-round draft pick Devyn Marble wasn’t far behind Noel. The 6-6 swingman from Iowa knocked down two 3-pointers in the first half and trailed only Oladipo on the Magic in scoring with 13 points in 17 minutes.
"I’ve known Devyn since we were freshmen in college," Oladipo said. "So if there’s anybody who wasn’t surprised by his performance, it was me. The day I found out we got him, I was probably one of the most excited dudes in America. He’s been scoring like that and playing like that since he was a freshman. He can do it."
While Oladipo was credited with only one steal in 26 minutes, he had more energy on defense than he did toward the end of the Magic’s disappointing 23-59 season. The reason for that is because he said he’s 20 pounds lighter than the 230 he weighed in April.
"I’m still strong, and I feel more explosive," he said. "I just feel better out there. Last year, toward the end of the season, if you told me to pick up full (court) like I was today, I would have looked at you like you were crazy."