Is Elfrid Payton squandering his ‘tryout’ with the Suns?

Mar 21, 2018, 8:34 AM | Updated: 10:48 pm

Phoenix Suns guard Elfrid Payton (2) looks to pass against the Detroit Pistons during the second ha...

Phoenix Suns guard Elfrid Payton (2) looks to pass against the Detroit Pistons during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

The Phoenix Suns acquired point guard Elfrid Payton in a deal with the Orlando Magic at the NBA trade deadline in February.

Considering that the 24-year-old was a former lottery pick, only in his fourth season and the fact that Phoenix only sent a second round pick to Orlando, it was considered a low-risk move and a chance to gauge whether or not Payton could fit into the Suns’ future plans.

The early returns were encouraging.

In his first eight games following the trade, Payton put up big numbers, averaging 17.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.5 assists while shooting .491 from the floor.

In his last eight, however, the numbers look far different. Payton has averaged 8.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists while shooting under 40 percent and has hit only 1-of-8 three-point attempts.

In Tuesday night’s 115-88 loss to the Detroit Pistons at Talking Stick Resort Arena, head coach Jay Triano pulled Payton for a long stretch of time in the second half, and was pretty clear about his reasoning.

“I didn’t think we were getting much out of Elfrid,” Triano said following Phoenix’s ninth straight loss and 23rd in its last 25 games. “I thought in transition (there was a) bad decision. Two defensive coverages in a row. I’m going to hold these guys accountable. If you mess up, I’ve got to get somebody in who is going to play the right way.”

The result was Payton’s second-shortest stint of his brief Suns tenure — 22:15 on the floor. Shaq Harrison and Tyler Ulis logged 15 minutes each off the bench as the evaluation process continued for them as well.

It’s only fair to note that there have been many factors working against Payton in this process. First, the Suns are losing. A lot. Phoenix is 1-15 in games started by Payton, with the only win coming on the road in Memphis — a team in the midst of a 19-game losing skid at the time. Losing like that can wear on anyone, even players who are new to the environment.

The Suns’ three best players — Devin Booker, T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson — have all missed games due to injury in that span as well.

Triano shared his thoughts on what has changed regarding Payton lately.

“I think the numbers are what’s down,” he said. “Just seems like teams have kind of figured him out a little bit. They’re sitting back on him and he’s hesitant to shoot the basketball.

“He’s got to play like he did when he first got here, when he was aggressive going to the basket and figuring out how to get lanes and avenues to the rim.”

To Triano’s point, Payton averaged 4.4 free throws per game in his first eight games. That number is 1.9 in his last eight.

Payton will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and with Brandon Knight slated to return from a knee injury next year, the Suns’ last nine games could be very important in determining the Louisiana native’s future in the Valley.

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Is Elfrid Payton squandering his ‘tryout’ with the Suns?