At approximately 9:50 this morning, my iPhone arbitrarily began to shriek Crystal Blue Persuasion to awake me for what I thought would be a normal Wednesday. Then, I checked my phone and saw an email from Roy Burton in the Liberty Ballers email thread about the Sixers waiving Tim Ohlbrecht to bring in 6-10 forward/center Daniel Orton. I screamed, fist-pumped and immediately typed the former Kentucky big man’s name into the search box on Twitter.
It was true. Let us rejoice.
I flopped back onto my pillow in celebration and began to reminisce about my multiple encounters with Orton this July at the Orlando Pro Summer League.
This year’s OPSL was essentially the week that Andre Drummond’s bandwagon became sold out. Down in Orlando, Drummond towered over everyone, even NBA players, making us mere media members look like LEGO figurines. But the one man who seemed his physical equal was Daniel Orton and his 7-4 wingspan.
In 3 games at the Amway Center, Orton scored 12.0 points, grabbed 5.0 rebounds and record 1.7 blocks in 16.7 minutes per game. In his brief playing time, Orton was outplaying the Thunder’s 12th overall pick Steven Adams and I even heard a member of ESPN’s True Hoop Network mutter that Orton had the potential to replace Kendrick Perkins in OKC’s rotation if they chose to amnesty him.
Yes, it was just Summer League, but if Orton’s play was making such a big impression on the hoards of media watching him smash his enormous body into other abnormally large young men and barrel through them, why is this former first round draft pick now on his third team since being drafted in 2010?
For starters, he’s often struggled with his weight, ballooning to 269 pounds —with 13.8 percent body fat— back when he was with the Orlando Magic. According to the Sixers’ official press release, he’s down to 255, a far more ideal playing weight.
He also has had issues on defense, which were on full display in Manchester last week when Spencer Hawes overpowered him in the post, prompting this tweet:
Daniel Orton needs to get lower when he defends the post. Standing completely erect totally negates all of his over-powering strength.— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) October 8, 2013
If you don’t tease my word choice, as Sean O’Conner kindly did, this comment is a big red flag. Sure, you can’t teach size, but if a player doesn’t utilize his God-given gift, all that sheer mass goes completely to waste and allows three-point shooting big men to get quality looks over you in the paint.
Take 70 seconds out of your day to watch the following D-League highlight from last season’s matchup between the Tusla 66ers and Texas Legends:
Orton shows off his soft touch around the rim and his dynamic power on a ferocious dunk around the 25-second mark. But, at 38 seconds, Orton stands straight up in the post on defense yet again. He forces a kick-out, but against an NBA big, he would have likely been beat baseline for an easy dunk.
In fairness, Orton’s defensive struggles solely occur when it comes to positioning, as he’s shown flashes of competency to make weak-side rotations and protect the rim.
With that all in mind, it’s crystal clear how Brett Brown and his miracle staff of player developers can help turn Orton into a serviceable bench big man. He certainly has more potential impact than Lavoy Allen does.
"He could work his way into a rotation with his size if he can improve and stay healthy," An executive from a rival Atlantic Division team texted me. "He’s not very mobile or skilled, but long and strong."
I agree, and immersing Orton into Brett Brown’s fitness program and game plan that’s predicated on defense could be just the thing to turn him into the efficient backup center he was drafted to be.