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Former Basketball: What does Elfrid Payton miss most about Louisiana?

Trey Labat, The Advertiser, May 27, 2015


Elfrid Payton loves being in the NBA, loves his team and loves the city of Orlando.

But during his successful inaugural season, Payton found himself missing something from his old life.

"The food, man," Payton said. "You can go anywhere and not find food as good as home. It’s not just Orlando, it’s everywhere."

Payton powered through his lack of Louisiana cuisine, though, averaging 8.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game, and was rewarded for his efforts with a selection to the NBA all-rookie first team.

After struggling in the opening months of the season, Payton began to figure things out in the closing portion of the season.

Payton posted triple-doubles in back-to-back nights, joining Jason Kidd, David Robinson, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robinson as the only rookies in NBA history to accomplish that feat.

"Getting those triple-doubles was definitely my individual highlight of the season," Payton said. "There were team highlights and off-the-court highlights, but that was special."

Payton said his ability to penetrate into the lane and bend defenses toward him allowed him to create prime scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.

"I think it was my court vision and being able to get my teammates easy shots," Payton said. "My ability to get into the lane and make plays for myself and others was key to that."

It was off-the-court where Payton made perhaps the biggest difference for those around him.

Payton said another one of his highlights in a season full of flashy plays on the court, was something that he did off the court with his philanthropic work he accomplished with the rest of his Magic teammates.

"NBA Cares" is the league’s global community outreach program, which addresses social issues around team’s respective communities.

Payton said the opportunity to give back to the community helped put in perspective everything he’s been able to accomplish in the last year.

"Just being in a position to give back was a highlight," Payton said. "Those kids look up to me, so I just wanted to set an example and give as much back to them as possible."

Payton said he hopes to up his efforts in the coming seasons, as he grows more comfortable with the NBA lifestyle.

"It’s tough, man. I was trying to get comfortable on the court and take care of that," Payton said. So in year two I hope to be able to do more."

The adjustment to the NBA lifestyle, especially the travel, proved to be difficult for Payton.

With an 82 game schedule and a constant road grind, new coming players often struggle with the workload expected of an NBA player and Payton was no different during those difficult opening months.

Payton said the jump from a college schedule to the pro slate was jarring.

"The travel and the amount of games was the biggest adjustment," Payton said. "Going from college where it is only about 30 games to 82; it’s like another season and a half."

With more and more research being done on rest and recovery, NBA team have adjusted the way they train and prepare players for the grueling schedule.

Payton said it isn’t just one thing, but a multitude of steps to take to prepare for a game, particularly during a back-to-back set or long road trip.

"You need to make sure you are icing everything and getting in the cold tub," Payton said. "Getting a lot of rest whenever you get the chance, but along with that you need to stretch and do the things to keep your body fresh and ready to go.

Despite his success, Payton is hungry to improve and help bring success back to Orlando with the help of a young nucleus the Magic have put together after the Dwight Howard trade.

Payton said he’s worked on multiple facets of his game since the conclusion of the season to further improve his ability to compete.

Chief amongst them being his offensive game.

Payton ranked sixth in the NBA in total drives to the hoop, according to NBA Player Tracking data, comparable to league stars James Harden, Damien Lillard and Kyrie Irving.

But while those players shot, 49, 52 and 49 percent respectively on such attempts, Payton only shot 43 percent.

"I’ve been working on my ball handling, working on finishing at the rim — different kinds of finishes and working on my shooting," Payton said.

Helping Payton work over the offseason is fellow franchise cornerstone Victor Oladipo.

Oladipo came into the league one year before Payton, and the two have quickly struck up an effective partnership on and off the court.

Payton said the two have been in Orlando working out together and through the season developed a friendship and understanding between one another.

"We’ve been working out in Orlando, he’s been down here so we’ve been getting some time in," Payton said. "I have to try to bring him in to my home town sometime this summer."

Payton said the two have bonded over the thing they have most in common: the desire to get better through hard work on the court and in the training room.

"It’s great. We have a great relationship on and off the court. He’s someone who puts in a lot of work to make himself better," Payton said. "It’s obviously going to take a lot of work, but I think we have the opportunity in the next few years to develop a really good partnership."

The two logged the best plus-minus rating of any Magic duo that logged 20 or more minutes this season, so Payton and Oladipo are already well on their way to achieving that goal.

But the thing Payton wants to improve on the most is something that can’t be tangibly qualified by statistics: leadership.

With a young core of Payton, Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic having only 19 years of experience in the league (or only one more than Tim Duncan) the Magic need players willing to lead.

Payton said he hopes to take a bigger leadership role next season alongside his fellow teammates.

"I’ve always been comfortable with a leadership role," Payton said. "I want to help lead this team and bring success back to the Magic.

But for now, Payton will rest, recover and prepare for the season ahead.

As for the Louisiana food, he isn’t sure when he’ll get to taste it again, but hopes it won’t be too long.

"Nothing is set just yet, but hopefully I can get back (to Louisiana) this summer," Payton said.