This week’s Orlando Pro Summer League has been intriguing so far, but Daniel Orton seems to be stealing the show. The past two days have been Orton’s best performances as he continues to turn heads in Orlando. The center for the Oklahoma City Thunder has been creating quite the buzz for speculator and NBA personnel. In his first two games, the former Bishop McGuinness standout averaged 12 points and 5.5 rebounds. He went 11-for-16 from the field and blocked three shots in just 36 minutes.
The two-game breakout performance suddenly came to a halt when Daniel Orton collided heads with teammate Reggie Jackson. Orton would miss the next two games with a mild concussion.
The Orlando media especially payed close attention to Orton the past few days. The Orlando Magic fanbase base, who watched Orton sit the bench for the first two years of his career, have seen things they hadn’t seen before from Orton. They were all amazed with how much aggressive and explosive Daniel Orton had become.
“All credit is due to the Thunder, the organization and the staff,” Orton said.
“I’m just putting in work. Every day going to work and working hard.”
His final chance to put his development on display will be Friday at 11 a.m. Central, when the Thunder plays the Rockets in the championship game. Orton, however, might not be able to play. Orton underwent his final medical exam on Thursday, and even though he hopes to play against the Rockets, the Thunder and staff still could hold him out for precautionary reasons.
“With this being his fourth year, he knows it’s time to turn the corner,” Jackson said of Orton.
Orton has been in the league for awhile now, and he hasn’t impressed anyone until recently. He has spent the majority of his time working out and getting in beter shape for the physicality of the NBA. The gym has been Orton’s key to getting better, and it definitely has been showing.
“Leading up to summer league he was in the gym every day,” said Thunder guard DeAndre Liggins. “Even times when it was (scheduled) weeks off, he went to the gym. And it showed in the first two games he played.”
DeAndre Liggins and Daniel Orton have been teammates before, and Liggins sees a major difference in Orton’s frame of look. Orton is slimmer, his arms have greater definition, and he’s lost major weight.
“After watching him play, you know that he has the talent and he is an NBA player,” said Thunder coach Rex Kalamian. “He’s got a lot of skill.”
“He is a good screener and he’s a good popper and he can really step out and make the 17-, 18-foot jump shot,” Kalamian said. “And I think he’s relied on that for a long time. And now, what we’re trying to get him to do is really roll to the basket because he elevates so quickly … that we’re looking for him to do some of those things.”
According to Reggie Jackson, Orton’s success has had a major part from listening and coaching.
“He’s listening more,” Jackson said. “It’s hard for all of us. You think you know it, but you’ve got to listen more and close your mouth even more. He’s doing a good job of that and he’s just learning.”
The confidence can be seen in Orton’s eyes on the court now. Confidence seems to have played a major role in in his comeback , and that’s exactly what’s been missing from him in Orlando with the Magic. But he seemed to find it last year when juggling between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, where he averaged 12.5 points and a team-leading 7.8 rebounds for the 66ers.
“It was huge,” Orton said of his 29-game D-League stint last year. “More so than anything as a basketball player, you need confidence. And I think that helped me to gain a lot of confidence back in myself. Over the past two or three years I didn’t play at all and didn’t really have any game-time experience so it made me start to wonder after a while. But I think that really reminded me of the type of player I am and how good I am.”
It’s good to see a former Kentucky Wildcat take a step forward in their career as a player. Daniel Orton was a disappointment in Orlando, but I don’t think they missed out him overall. The time ran out for Orton in Orlando and things had to change. They played their cards for him but Orton just wasn’t coming through. Fortunately for the Thunder, they seemed to have turned this young man around. Hopefully, he continues to make a statement and progress as a center in the NBA.