Friday, August 20, 2010

Orton Expectations

Daniel Orton - 6'10", 255 lb.
2009-2010 with Kentucky Wildcats
13.2 minutes, 3.4 points (52.7% FG, 52.4% FT), 3.3 rebounds, .4 assists, 1.4 blocks, .6 steals, 1.0 TO

Sucky stats, I know. But Daniel still managed to get selected in the first round based on potential. And I'll now put value to that potential.

Pluses for Daniel: shot blocking, unknown shooting ability, and a high level of athleticism when healthy. Forget every preconception you have about the guy coming off back-up duty as a college freshman and all the anger you have towards him for leaving for the pros early. Orton's career will not be defined by the completion of his rookie contract. He's simply not ready or currently healthy enough for that to be the case. I see him as having an eerily similar career path as Jermaine O'Neal. While under his rookie contract with the Portland Trailblazers, O'Neal struggled to stay on the floor for double-digit minutes for four entire seasons. A year later, he was able to escape Rasheed Wallace's daunting shadow (and influence) and earns 32 minutes a game with the Indiana Pacers. He then proceeds to spend the next 6 years in his playing prime as a premier All-Star post player and noted defensive swatter. Not bad for a guy who still averaged less than 4 points during the year that hypothetically could have been his senior season in college. When given the opportunity after an extended tutoring allotment, Jermaine flipped the switch. That's the best case scenario I see for Daniel Orton.

Jermaine O'Neal - 6'11", 255 lb.
2002-2003 with Indiana Pacers
37.2 minutes, 20.8 points (48.4% FG, 73.1% FT), 10.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.3 blocks, .9 steals, 2.3 TO

Much like O'Neal, Orton has a sick jump shot extending out to around 20 feet. He never once got to show it at UK, but I swear to you it's there. People close to the Wildcat ball club last year would tell you that Daniel was easily one of the squad's top 3 practice shooters. He has a feathery touch, just not the confidence yet to prove it in game action. Hence the disgustingly painful free throw percentage. He also has a few legitimate post moves that were only seen in literally about three play sequences in the entirety of his abbreviated college career. The majority of his adjustments, as dismissive as it is for me to say, rely exclusively in getting healthy, building his body, and getting used to NBA-sized contact. The talent and knowledge of the game are there; every player who played against Daniel daily in practice would tell you the same thing. He's a quality human being with the right combination of height and an understanding of the game, but he's been caught as the proverbial deer in the headlights over the course of the last calendar year. That's why I have such confidence in his potential ability to succeed at the highest level.

Worst case scenario is quite a bit more grim, though. While I hope Daniel finds a team where he can carve his niche and his extensive (and, as of yet, unseen) skill set can be utilized, nothing in the league is guaranteed. His knee may not heal as perfect as he (and the Orlando Magic) may hope. Or he may simply never regain the confidence to explode effectively off his knee, neutralizing his natural level of athleticism for the rest of his career. Maybe because of all the things going on in Daniel's life (the death of his mother, the lack of control shown by his father in the media, the outpouring hatred of a portion of UK fans, his plunge in NBA draft boards), he isn't able to put it all together at the right time and loses his chance at professional basketball prominence. In that case, his career ceiling falls to the disappointing level of a Keon Clark replication. Clark came out of UNLV in 1998 and was drafted by the Magic with the 13th pick. He was a highly talented big who couldn't ever seem to focus all of his attention on the court, resulting in him being relegated to a simple defender who couldn't even manage staying in the league for six seasons. His best outing came in 2002 when he put down the bong long enough to start 31 games for the Vince Carter-lead Raptors.

Keon Clark - 6'11", 221 lb.
2001-2002 with Toronto Raptors
27.0 minutes, 11.3 points (49.0% FG, 67.4% FT), 7.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.5 blocks, .7 steals, 1.7 TO

Besides health and conditioning issues, the biggest obstacle in Daniel's path to early floor time is his own teammates. The Magic probably have more front court depth than any NBA team should. Dwight Howard is the main cog with the rest of the power forward and back-up center minutes taken up by Rashard Lewis, Marcin Gortat, Ryan Anderson, and Brandon Bass. On top of that there's even fellow rookie Stanley Robinson as 12th man competition. Unless the roster is purged for Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul in some massive trade, I don't see how Daniel manages any clock in the early going. Though that's probably not a bad thing since he definitely isn't ready at this point. On a brighter note, Patrick Ewing will definitely be a pivotal piece in getting the right habits going for Daniel's future opportunities.

Here's hoping Daniel manages to steer his way closer to Jermaine territory as an eventual franchise-type player for a regularly competing team as opposed to a journeyman plagued by off court issues ousted out of the pro ranks before his 30th birthday. Make Oklahoma and Kentucky proud, Daniel. I don't know about everyone else, but I'm willing to give you a little extra leeway in your window to accomplish that.

... and do the John Wall.

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