ORLANDO, Fla. — Daniel Orton was on his way to being the star performer at this week's Orlando Pro Summer League.
Through the first two days, the Thunder center was turning heads and being praised like never before.
That was before he collided with teammate Reggie Jackson. The two bumped heads, and Orton missed the next two games with a mild concussion.
But who knows what the story coming out of summer league would have been had it not been for a fluke injury, had Orton stayed healthy?
Those first two days clearly belonged to Orton.
Fans and media members from all over were gushing about how good Orton looked.
“A monster” was what one person said Orton looked like, using the word as a term of endearment to describe his play.
But no group was more surprised than the locals in the Orlando media — the same people who watched Orton sit the bench for the first two years of his career before his unceremonious exit.
They couldn't believe how well Orton moved, how explosive he had become, how feathery his touch had grown and how aggressive he was around the rim.
“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.”
In his first two games here, 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.
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. It's unclear if Orton will be cleared to play. He underwent what was expected to be his final medical exam on Thursday, and even though he said he expects to play, the Thunder still could hold him out for precautionary reasons.
It'd be a shame for a player who so many in those first two days had seen come so far.
“With this being his fourth year, he knows it's time to turn the corner,” Jackson said of Orton.
Orton has given himself a head start by working relentlessly. He took a week off immediately after the Thunder's season ended in the second round of the playoffs and then got right back in the gym. He hasn't missed much time since.
“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.”
Orton looks slimmer, his arms more chiseled. Shedding some pounds, Orton said, has been a boost to his explosiveness, which he flaunted on several occasions Sunday and Monday through offensive rebounds and powerful dunks.
“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.”
When healthy, Orton really impressed rolling to the basket out of screen-and-rolls. His 6-foot-10, 245-pound frame provided a big target, and he had no trouble catching and finishing with consistency. Those were two of the points of emphasis for Orton coming into Orlando.
“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.”
A part of Orton's progress, according to Jackson, is Orton is taking to coaching more.
“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.”
Most importantly, Orton said he's located his confidence. It was lost for two years in Orlando. But Orton said he found it last year bouncing 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.”
Had it not been for an ill-timed collision, Orton might have reminded all of Orlando.