“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.