You can never tell how top NBA Draft prospects will pan out in the NBA, and the Phoenix Suns’ newest point guard is a great example of that.
Coming out of Louisiana-Lafayette, Elfrid Payton was an exciting prospect due to his size, athleticism and length at his position combined with the natural point guard skills of ball-handling and vision.
He was a terror on the break for the Ragin’ Cajuns and profiled as someone who could contribute right away as a defensive-minded floor general as his offense grew.
That is what made him go No. 10 overall to the Orlando Magic in 2014, and that, unfortunately for Payton and Orlando, is not what happened in his development.
Payton’s scoring did improve and his passing has been adequate, but he lost his defensive value along the way.
We will start, first, with the offense.
The best way to describe Payton’s offense is by saying he’s active. He keeps his dribble alive, he’s patient and he is always scanning the floor and aware of where defenses are moving.
His steady average of 6.4 assists a game isn’t something to boast about, but it shows an ability to consistently get his teammates good looks.
Because of his size, he can see opportunities unfold while possessing that aforementioned good handle to make a play last an extra second or two longer, opening up more passing opportunities.
Where this shines through as a scorer is at the rim, where Payton has been excellent.
Per Cleaning the Glass, he’s shooting 68 percent there this season, one of the best marks for a point guard. Better yet, he takes 50 percent of his shots at the rim, which is once again, a top number among players at his position.
Watch as Payton takes his time to reset himself for Bismack Biyombo’s pick to make sure Isaiah Thomas is ended by it. He then uses his athleticism and length to finish around Tristan Thompson even though he picked up his dribble at the elbow.
While past numbers suggest it isn’t sustainable, he has improved as a 3-point shooter this year as well.
Coming into the year posting numbers of 26.2 percent, 32.6 percent and 27.4 percent in his last three seasons, he’s up to 37.3 percent on 1.5 attempts a year this season.
He takes a decent amount of midrange jumpers and is shooting a pedestrian 38 percent on ’em, but because of average shooting numbers and elite finishing at the rim, he’s shooting 52 percent this year. That’s really good!
Where we take a dive is on defense.
His floor sense and basketball IQ were not ready for the jump in competition. The Suns really struggle with working around screens, and Payton is no different.
Watch him see this handoff coming to Goran Dragic, but still manage to be late and fail to have the recovery speed to make up for the error.
Losing shooters off the ball sound familiar? He checks that box as well.
Payton’s defensive rating was the highest on the Magic among rotation players, a horrendous 113.6. Even worse, Orlando’s defensive rating drops to 104.2 when he’s off the floor.
Despite how bad the Suns have been defensively this year, only Greg Monroe’s 115.8 defensive rating was worse on the Suns.
Pair this with an unpredictable 3-point shot and you’ve got someone who isn’t a great long-term fit next to Devin Booker.
With that said, for the price of a second-round pick acquired in the Troy Daniels trade, that doesn’t matter.
Payton has enough NBA skills to be worth a look for the last 26 games of the season, and on the off-chance he takes his most desirable trait out of the draft — his defense — and turns it into a positive, he could be a good long-term piece for the Suns. He is only 23 years old, after all, and has spent all his time in the NBA on one very bad team.
Even better, there’s no question Payton will help Booker this year.
He’s the best point guard on the roster and Booker playing serious minutes alongside him will only help him as Payton takes some of the load off, something sorely needed for the 21-year-old as he continues to rack up injuries this season while trying to pick up playing point guard himself.
Suns general manager Ryan McDonough had too many young players and draft picks with a gargantuan-sized hole at point guard, so controlling Payton as a restricted free agent while seeing if he is worth paying is a smart move, all for the low cost of a second-round pick.
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